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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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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:28PM (#39443907) Journal

    That's how it's done ...

    Conversely, 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. I can assure you that neither the Tropicana nor Borgata nor Caesars will be closing its doors anytime soon despite losing millions to this guy. If they do, it will be just to demolish the building to build an even bigger more expensive casino on top of the site.

    Going to Atlantic City is a mistake, putting any real money down on a blackjack table is a bigger one. The casinos I've been to actually promote handing out these little cards that tell you (statistically) what to do given your two cards and what the dealer is showing. They want you playing "perfect cards" because it's just a steady continuous stream into their pockets and you feel like you're doing everything correctly as it happens.

  • Re:Not impressed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Reasonable Facsimile (2478544) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:30PM (#39443929)

    I'm really not impressed. Why did the casinos give him such advantages? Why were they so desperate? What is it about him specifically that made the casinos give him the advantages and not everyone else? Winning when you practically have a 50/50 chance is not that difficult in Blackjack. It really isn't.

    They did this because whatever the casino "lost" is nothing compared to what they'll rake in from all the wannabes that now think they have a shot a making a big score.

  • Not much skill (Score:3, Insightful)

    by leathered (780018) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:33PM (#39443947)

    There is little skill in playing Blackjack. Sure there's an optimum strategy that everyone should follow but I would hardly call that 'skill'.

    Of course you could say that he was card counting, but if there was any suggestion of that his ass would have been out of the door and he would have been banned from every casino in the city. The casinos have counter measures to this anyway, such as more frequent shuffling or stopping players from entering half way through a shoe.

    The only news here is that the casino offered a discount which negated the house edge. In other words the casino gambled and lost.

  • by BradleyUffner (103496) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:35PM (#39443969) Homepage

    The house doesn't like to lose.

    Sounds to me like he didn't so much "win" as was "paid for a commercial". This is going to attract tons of people who think they can do the same thing. They will make their money back 10 fold thanks to him.

  • Re:Decimate (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:36PM (#39443973)

    Not pedantic- just come from a science/math background where decimate is used to refer to removing 1/10th.

    I've honestly never heard it used with such a vague meaning. I did do a quick glance on wiktionary to prove I'm not crazy before posting (although looking closer- I do see it has the more vague meaning at the bottom).

  • by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:39PM (#39443999)

    Conversely, 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.

    Only if it ends with a guy trying to sell just such a "system". The only sure-fire get-rich-quick scheme is selling get-rich-quick schemes.

  • by Caratted (806506) * on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:46PM (#39444069)
    Hi. DBA at a gaming company, here. We dropped poker from the majority of our locations as a result of entirely too small hold percentage (% the house holds on your average bet). Something around 1-2%. This is primarily an artifact of players playing players, instead of playing the house. It is hardly worth the labor when you can push those players to one of two things: Other table games (craps/blackjack run around 8-12% hold on average) or video poker (about 6-7% and no labor involved).

    No insult intended, this is just anecdotal evidence that your statement may be misinformation. The reason some of our locations hold on to poker is because the outcry from these players is so dramatic that it effects the turnstyle numbers in a statistically significant way. Even if it is only a fraction of a percentage, it is relevantly outside our margin of error - and so can cost those locations money. This is not because of the game itself, but because word of mouth keeps people off other games.
  • by f97tosc (578893) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:50PM (#39444105)

    Not a game - or entertainment or luck. Just calculation of reall odds and risk.

    Luck is a huge component, as the winner himself said he was ready to walk away with a $400k loss which could have happened had the cards come out differently.

    Only if you have an infinite amount of time and an infinite loss tolerance (or if you cheat) can you avoid the impact of luck.

  • by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@noSPam.gmail.com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:51PM (#39444119) Homepage Journal

    I worked for Harrahs which has two casinos in Council Bluffs. We had a customer take us for a few million between our two properties in a month. There is a competing casino in town. He ended up losing the millions back to the third casino.

    People focus on the stories when people win big, but that usually isn't sustained long term. If the casinos gave up their statistical advantage, that is foolish and they'll revise those decisions. But you're absolutely correct that people should not for a moment believe that this is something you can do under most circumstances.

    The house wins over time.

  • Re:Not impressed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by suso (153703) * on Thursday March 22, 2012 @03:58PM (#39444197) Homepage Journal

    The casinos lost because their marketing and sales people probably know nothing about Expected Value [wikipedia.org]. The expected value on a blackjack game is slightly positive in the casino's favor. This is also why the dealer always stays on 17. My college probability professor told us a story about a guy who found some casino game back in the mid 20th century where the expected value worked out to be negative and in the players favor. The guy took out a loan and broke the casino. Maybe that's just a story, but it really doesn't take much.

  • by Obfuscant (592200) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:01PM (#39444235)

    Not a game - or entertainment or luck. Just calculation of reall odds and risk. There are 3 such games: Craps, Blackjack and Baccarat. Poker is promoted so heavily, because it makes the Casinos so much lucre.

    The first three games you mentioned are all played to the house advantage against the house. The best of the three for the player is blackjack where the house percentage can be low (and depends on the specific house rules). But it still favors the house. Blackjack is also the game where counting cards can help you win.

    Poker is played not against the house, but against other people. The only money the poker rooms make is from the rake, or a percentage of each pot. The rake doesn't change the odds of winning a hand, only the amount you win by a small amount. It biases the expected return calculations and thus should have a small effect on how players bet.

    The largest effects on player behaviour are the bonuses like "high hand" or "bad beat", where players who know they are likely to win $500 for getting four of a kind are going to underbet their hands to keep the other players in until the end (trading pot size for jackpot). Or, as I did once, a player who knows the other person has made their straight flush may stay in the pot hoping to complete quads so he'd win his half of the bad beat jackpot.

    The other money poker brings in is from the players who play other games waiting for a seat, or visit the buffet. Getting people in the door is the first step to robbing them blind with Carribean Stud or Craps or Roulette.

  • Re:Roulette (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@noSPam.gmail.com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:01PM (#39444241) Homepage Journal

    Having worked for Harrahs and having been trained on roulette, I'm highly skeptical. Even if you spun at roughly the same force every time, the position of your hand, the twist of your fingers, and the variables of a BOUNCING ball will change greatly.

    There are a few individuals who have exceptional fine motor control with their fingers (card magicians come to mind), but I doubt even someone with exceptional fine motor control could get a ball on a certain number 2 times out of 10, let alone 8. And I certainly don't believe all experienced roulette dealers could do this.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:03PM (#39444257) Homepage

    Sounds to me like he didn't so much "win" as was "paid for a commercial". This is going to attract tons of people who think they can do the same thing. They will make their money back 10 fold thanks to him.

    Sure, all you need is a million of your own money, and a rep with the casino as a big spender.

    Once that happens, you too can have 50/50 odds at blackjack if you're skilled enough at it.

    I'm sorry, but if I walk into a casino, I'm not getting any of the things he did which skewed the house take. By the time you've put in enough time to "game" the system this way, they've probably already collected just as much money from you.

  • by afidel (530433) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:35PM (#39444593)
    Yes, for the plebs who can't get these kinds of discounts the house always wins, he was able to get some amazing discounts and the pit bosses made it even worse in that a discount that is normally across all play for a year was given to him on a per trip basis meaning he could actually come out ahead. Basically he pulled an old cracker trick and rather than attack the system (card counting), he attacked the human who could manipulate the system.
  • by tnk1 (899206) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:36PM (#39444609)

    With a proper size bankroll, and correct play, you can profit. Usually that goes more for poker against actual players, but blackjack with discounts can (obviously) approach that sort of profit.

    When you discuss risk in play for profit, you have to realize that even if the odds are on your side, you have to be able to keep playing when there are dips. That is the function of the bankroll. You need enough money to not be wiped out by a few correctly played hands where the luck did not come out on your side.

    For instance, in hold'em, you have an 80% chance of winning on AA against one remaining opponent on the flop. At that point you try to induce an all-in and go all in yourself. 80% of the time, you win, but 20% of the time, you are cleaned out. Despite the chance for being cleaned out, this is the exact play you have to make to make a profit over time. You need to make sure you have enough money to cover the hands that you are going to lose despite correct play. Thus, if you lose your first few potentially profitable hands due to luck, you're still there to collect the other 8/10 times you don't lose.

    So being "prepared" to lose 400K meant that his bankroll was set to that much and he could absorb that much bad luck to keep himself playing long enough to realize a profit on correct play. Mind you, he did have to play perfect cards, because the odds require that. You only get the percentage if you play the exact cards under the exact conditions and be ready to assume the risk of losing. It is *not* easy to do, and it is rarely fun in the same way that a miraculous alcohol fueled victory would be. It is an exercise in patience and consistency.

  • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999&gmail,com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:36PM (#39444617)

    Only if it ends with a guy trying to sell just such a "system". The only sure-fire get-rich-quick scheme is selling get-rich-quick schemes.

    Well, there's always opening a brown envelope and briefcase store in Washington DC during lobbying season.

  • by tragedy (27079) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @04:54PM (#39444807)

    With a proper size bankroll, and correct play, you can profit. Usually that goes more for poker against actual players

    That depends on who the "you" is. If by "you" you mean the average poker player, then what you're suggesting is self-evidently wrong. Poker between a group of players is a zero sum game, therefore, the hypothetical "average" player breaks even. Add the house taking a cut, and the average player is losing money. Those who make money from poker are making money because the money is coming from suckers who hope that they'll make money from poker. Therefore, it's in the interest of good poker players to constantly try to push the image that "you" can make money playing poker because it helps ensure a fresh flow of suckers to the bottom rung of the pyramid scheme.

  • by residieu (577863) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @05:00PM (#39444893)
    And now we have this story that a player won big (really big) at the Tropicana. How many people visiting Atlantic City are going to pick the Tropicana to gamble at from a (perhaps unconscious) idea that they can win big too (when they lack the real prerequisite here, having enough money to be considered a high-roller)
  • by iamhassi (659463) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @05:04PM (#39444943) Journal

    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.

    I think this is the only quote I needed to lose the feeling of heading to a blackjack table to be a millionaire:
    "He had to pony up $1 million of his own money to start, [theatlantic.com] 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.” "

    So he was already a millionaire... actually, multi-millionaire, because he had one million to just hand to the casino to play a game.

    The whole article they make him sound like Joe the Plumber that just played one day and won millions. Nothing could be further from the truth, this guy reaches in his pocket and hands out a million dollars to play a game.

  • by tragedy (27079) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @07:52PM (#39446413)

    If all players played correctly, you are right. It is a zero sum game

    I'm right no matter how all players play. It's easy to figure out. At the end of the game, you add up all the money the winners won and all of the money the losers lost then subtract the latter from the former, it comes out to $0.00. The fact that better players take advantage of poorer players and end up with their money doesn't make it somehow not a zero sum game.

    However, bear in mind, I never said *you* are an "average" player, in fact, I pretty much imply that you are not. I only said that profit is possible.

    But you're on a public forum addressing the public. You're not addressing "sharks", you're addressing "fish" and telling them "you too can be a shark". That's exactly what the "sharks" want the "fish" to believe so that they can exploit them. People sitting around a poker table are just looking to exploit each other. Nothing is produced, wealth is just shuffled around so, for anyone to profit, there either needs to be a steady stream of fresh suckers, or a stable base of people who lose money consistently and don't quit playing. Sadly, the latter exist and can go a lifetime losing massive amounts of money and deluding themselves into thinking they're winning because they remember their victories but forget their losses.

    The "fish"/"shark" metaphor actually works pretty well. The important thing to remember is that sharks are, in fact, just another type of fish.

  • by Phroggy (441) <slashdot3 AT phroggy DOT com> on Thursday March 22, 2012 @11:38PM (#39447673) Homepage

    I know a guaranteed way to become a millionaire!

    Step 1: start with a billion dollars...

  • by hawk (1151) <hawk@eyry.org> on Friday March 23, 2012 @12:01AM (#39447779) Journal

    Yes.

    so do we.

    hawk, las Vegas local, who doesn't have to pay taxes over these "systems"

    Seriously, we understand the system math here. It's not that hard to make one where you're almost certain to win. The catch, though, is that you're risking $3k to win $5.

    Casinos don't even kick people out for counting cards: first, they analyze the counting. Most such systems still favo4r the casino, and the person may get comped instead of kicked.

    This town does have a standard response to people with systems, though: "Welcome!"

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Friday March 23, 2012 @09:01AM (#39449947) Journal

    Exactly... I show up to the table with $100 dollars and leave with $600 (sometimes more) all the time. He didnt do anything special here except play really high limits...

    There's a word Im thinking of, let's see if yo can guess it?

    Clue: it rhymes with fullshit.

    If you could regularly make 500% profit a visit, you'd start with a lot more than $100 and you wouldn't be posting as an AC on slashdot when you could be out snorting cocaine off supermodels' tits with the vast fortune you would have earned by now.

"How do I love thee? My accumulator overflows."

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