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Blackjack Player Breaks the Bank At Atlantic City 294

Posted by timothy
from the applied-mathematics dept.
Hugh Pickens writes with a link to Atlantic writer Mark Bowden's account of how one gambler has cleaned up against casinos: "[B]lackjack player Don Johnson won nearly $6 million playing blackjack in one night, single-handedly decimating the monthly revenue of Atlantic City's Tropicana casino after previously taking the Borgata for $5 million and Caesars for $4 million. How did Johnson do it? For one thing, Johnson is an extraordinarily skilled blackjack player. 'He plays perfect cards,' says Tony Rodio. But that's not enough to beat the house edge. As good as Johnson is at playing cards, his advantage is that he's even better at playing the casinos. When revenues slump as they have for the last five years at Atlantic City, casinos must rely more heavily on their most prized customers, the high rollers who wager huge amounts and are willing to lessen its edge for them primarily by offering discounts, or 'loss rebates.' When a casino offers a discount of, say, 10 percent, that means if the player loses $100,000 at the blackjack table, he has to pay only $90,000."
Pickens continues: "Two years ago the casinos started getting desperate and offered Johnson a 20 per cent discount. They also offered playing with a hand-shuffled six-deck shoe; the right to split and double down on up to four hands at once; and a 'soft 17,' whittling the house edge down to one-fourth of 1 percent. In effect, Johnson was playing a 50-50 game against the house, and with the discount, he was risking only 80 cents of every dollar he played. Johnson had to pony up $1 million of his own money to start, but, as he would say later: 'You'd never lose the million. If you got to [$500,000 in losses], you would stop and take your 20 percent discount. You'd owe them only $400,000.'"
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Blackjack Player Breaks the Bank At Atlantic City

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  • Decimate (Score:2, Informative)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:24PM (#39443859)

    I don't think decimate means what the submitter thinks it means. (or it doesn't mean what I think it means).

    I was always under the impression it meant to take "one tenth" based on the practice of the Roman's killing one in ten men of a legion that showed undue cowardice.

    It sounds like the gambler took more than one tenth of their income based on the article.

  • Re:Decimate (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:27PM (#39443899)

    Only if you're a pedantic twat. Or living during the Roman rule.

    Here's what the Random House dictionary (via dictionary.com) says:

    1. to destroy a great number or proportion of: The population was decimated by a plague.
    2. to select by lot and kill every tenth person of.
    3. Obsolete . to take a tenth of or from.

    In other words, unless you're talking about the specific case of people, not only is "to destroy a great proportion of" the first definition, but your definition is marked obsolete.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:36PM (#39443979)

    I can't help but feel like this article is just designed to put the idea into millions of readers' heads that you can go into a casino with a strategy or method or system and take home millions at the blackjack table.

    It might help if you read the article, then you'd lose that feeling. It made it abundantly clear that he made deals that reduced his losses and gave him better odds. The word "discount" must be in the story a hundred times. Just skim the article and you'll see your feeling is dead wrong.

    Anyway, I've known a number of "strategy" morons and there's nothing you can do to convince them that luck doesn't exist and that odds don't change after a run.

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:44PM (#39444049)

    For some Blackjack games, Crown casino has gotten the gambling regulators to allow the dealer to go bust, but not pay out to the players: Crown can bust and still not lose [theage.com.au]

  • by Kelbear (870538) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:51PM (#39444121)

    Well to put this in perspective, while Tropicana AC's (a.k.a "East") Net revenues was $279m, their operating income was only $2.3m after operating expenses are deducted.

    So no, Tropicana AC's management definitely does feel a $6m hit. It's not a lot of money compared to consolidated net revenues of $623m. However, on a consolidated level, Tropicana entertainment had a net loss of $2.8m.

    Bear in mind that Tropicana AC had also gone through a bankruptcy reorganization in March 2010.

    A $6m hit still stings them considerably when margins run tight. Atlantic City in general has not been doing well over the past few years due to the recession. While house odds are in their favor, they're not wildly in their favor, so to make money they need lots of people playing a lot of lot of rounds. When attendance drops, their operating costs can't be cut as quickly, they do have unionized employees.

    All of this information can be found on their latest 10-K: http://sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1476246/000144530512000602/a20111231-10k.htm#s18F7C3BC4B5443E4BDFBC1717B852C6C [sec.gov]

  • Card counting (Score:5, Informative)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:52PM (#39444125) Homepage Journal

    and being allowed to vary his bets as he saw fit

    Isn't that just the old standby of card counting, like what the MIT Blackjack Team did? The system relies on the fact that 10s and aces are better for the player than for the house because of the 3:2 payout on a player's blackjack (two-card soft 21) and make it more likely for the dealer to bust on a hard 12-16. The common "high-low" system looks like this:

    • 2-6: +1
    • 7-9: 0
    • 10-A: -1
    • When the running count is more than four times the number of decks left in the shoe, bet high.

    And Atlantic City casinos can't do smurf-all about it except end shoes early, as blackjack is legally a game of skill there (Uston v. Resorts International).

  • by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:54PM (#39444155) Homepage Journal

    I worked for Harrahs. We had poker at both Council Bluffs properties. Certainly it makes less money directly than other table games, and less money than slots. But Harrahs owning the World Series of Poker creates a lot of visibility for the company and gets people in the door.

    Often men don't enjoy slots as much as women. For some, having poker allows a couple to come and have both partners play something they enjoy.

    Slots will make more money in the same space, but I don't know that you're more profitable overall dropping poker in the long run.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:56PM (#39444175)

    Poker is promoted so heavily, because it makes the Casinos so much lucre.

    Are you talking about Video Poker? Because that's not really heavily promoted. But if you're talking about table poker, you're just dead wrong. In table poker, players play each other, not the house, so the house makes a shitty fixed percentage, significantly less than it makes on any other game. The only reason they keep it around is because it's hugely popular and gets people in the door. It's very common for poker winners to piss away all their winnings on other games.

  • Re:Decimate (Score:5, Informative)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:57PM (#39444193) Homepage

    The dictionary shows common usage, not correct usage.

    As has been pointed out in countless threads on Slashdot -- by the time it's been in common usage long enough, it is the correct usage.

    Since you're talking about a word which originated with the Roman Army [wikipedia.org], it's had a lot of time to change its meaning. In fact, it's apparently been in use like this since the 19th Century [reference.com]. So, well over 100 years by now.

    In fact, in my lifetime, I've only heard it in its modern form. So, sorry you're all bummed out that the usage of the word has changed over time ... but I'd suggest getting over it. :-P

    Hell, even Oxford [oxforddictionaries.com] says:

    Some traditionalists argue that this is incorrect, but it is clear that it is now part of standard English.

    Language evolves over time. This is just one instance.

    But, hey, cling to your pedantry if that makes you feel better.

  • by XxtraLarGe (551297) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:09PM (#39444337) Journal
    When I go to a casino, Blackjack is the only game I'll play, since it has the best odds of any card game. I don't count cards, I just play by the standard strategy. It's also important to know the house rules. What's the payout on a Blackjack? Some casinos pay 3/2, but many have switched to 6/5. I don't play there. I also like to play either $5 or $10 tables. You can go to a $5 table and play for hours on $200. The most important thing though is money management. Only gamble what you can afford to lose. I have two stacks in front of me. The left is my betting pile, and my right is my winnings pile. When the left pile is gone, that's when I quit. I might take a break, put my original amount in my pocket, and then just gamble on the houses money if I feel like it. At that point it's pure entertainment. This strategy has served me very well. I have very seldom left the casino with less money than I walked in with.
  • Re:Decimate (Score:5, Informative)

    by sirlark (1676276) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:26PM (#39444511)
    The term decimate refers orginally to the roman army's collective punishment for desertion. Every ten ten men in the deserters unit drew lots, short straw was killed immediately. Deci = 10, i.e. to kill one tenth of your force. I agree decimate isn't used in science/maths generally, but it's common meaning is still correctly to reduce/destroy 1/10th, although mainstream media and other wannabe sound like smart people who use big words on T.V. have generally corrupted this meaning.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2012 @05:43PM (#39445375)

    There's a huge chasm between fraud and the border of non-GAAP. And GAAP (which is itself not even required) leaves an incredible amount of room for playing with numbers, especially in specialized industries where "generally accepted" can be made relative. Making movies in Hollywood or running a casino in Atlantic City is nothing like selling widgets in Omaha.

    Ask Donald Trump what GAAP means. Every business he touches goes bankrupt. I'm sure he tells his partners and investors, "Oh, don't worry; we use GAAP like everyone else."

  • by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 23, 2012 @09:37AM (#39450323) Homepage Journal

    For what it is worth, I did seriously consider turning down the job over moral objections. I won't work for a company I see as evil.

    When I was offered the job working for Harrah's, my wife had just been laid off, she was pregnant and we were a broke couple. I really needed work.

    And while my experiences working for Harrah's weren't great, at no point did I feel like they were out to get people. The company tried to detect people with gambling problems and banned them from their properties.

    Gambling is an entertainment expense like any other. I don't partake in it, but I don't believe it is ultimately evil.

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