Don Johnson, famous blackjack player

Don Jonson

Don Johnson may be the greatest advantage player in the history of the world. An advantage player is one that figures out how to find an edge over the house and exploits it. Johnson figured out exactly how to do that in Atlantic City during a six month period at the start of this decade.

Johnson had an extensive background in the gaming industry. He held various executive positions at racetracks and related services. He started at Philadelphia Park, which later became Parx Casino. He would later becomeDonJohnson a gaming regulator in Idaho, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming. After leaving regulatory bodies, he developed programming for the off track betting industry.

The economic meltdown of the late 2000’s turned out to be a blessing for Johnson. Atlantic City casinos were desperate for players, especially high limit ones. Casinos in Pennsylvania were eroding Atlantic City gaming revenue before the recession started. The financial crisis compounded the problem. Johnson knew that he could negotiate favorable blackjack conditions at Atlantic City casinos during these tough times. He approached Tropicana, Borgata and Caesars to see what kind of deal he could receive for his action.

He negotiated the most favorable rules available on a six-deck shoe game. This included the dealer staying on all 17’s. Johnson could also double down on any two cards and after splitting. Aces could be split and surrender was available. Pairs could be split up to three times into four hands.

The favorable rules did not give Johnson the advantage he needed to beat the house. He was able to negotiate a 20% loss rebate on daily amounts of $500,000 or more. In at least one instance he also received $50,000 in cash just for showing up. Johnson’s side of the deal was that he had to deposit $1 million in front money.

His maximum bet ranged between $50,000 and $100,000. He was allowed to play multiple hands. This part of the deal gave Johnson a player advantage of over .5%. This did not mean he won every time, just as players seated at a blackjack game with this house edge may sometimes beat the house.

Johnson also deployed a game of deception. He invited beautiful women to the table. The liquor poured as these women enjoyed the high roller life for a few hours at a time. Johnson claims the party atmosphere distracted the dealers. This caused them to make mistakes in payouts from time to time. A single error of paying a losing hand just once out of 100 hands would increase his edge by 2%. Making an error on a push would increase his advantage by 1% per 100 hands. He claimed that he caught every mistake the dealers made against him, but allowed the many errors made to his advantage to stand.

The wins were staggering. He hit Tropicana for $5.8 million, the Borgata for $5 million and Caesars for $4 million. His bet limits were dropped at Caesars to the point he might as well be banned. He is still allowed to play at Tropicana and Borgata, however, the invited VIP status is no longer available to him. Read more on Don on Wikipedia


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