The Story of Don Johnson

Everyone dreams of going to the casino and hitting it big, most who think about it seriously figure they’ll do so with basic strategy and maybe some card counting if they’re quick enough for it. Don Johnson also had that dream of making money off gambling but his method and approach was one of pure mathematical calculation that relied on one key facet: the casino’s making a bad bet.

Starting from the beginning – Don Johnson has a history in gambling. His background was in horse racing, first as a jockey and later by founding and managing Heritage Development, a company that used computer-assisted wagering programs to calculate the outcomes of horse racing. As you might imagine, the possible variables involved in horse racing is significantly greater than the ones in a hand of Blackjack. So, with this experience under his belt, Johnson had a significant leg up when he went to the casinos to make some money playing Blackjack. But he had more than just a head for numbers. He knew how to play the casinos.

Starting in 2008 there was a great deal of uncertainty following the financial crash and casinos are not well-suited to operating in a recession. With that in mind, a lot of casinos starting offering high roller’s discounts – effectively, if you had a discount of 10% and then lost \$100,000, you only had to pay up \$90,000. Johnson had developed (or maybe even cultivated) a reputation as a player who was a high roller but not exceptionally skilled. Which is the perfect kind of player for a struggling casino, the kind of player who’d spend thousands on champagne and lose even more over the night. Their first major mistake was in letting him negotiate the discount.

Johnson himself admits that he thinks someone ‘missed the math’ when going through it. The deal was something to the tune of him having a 20% discount after his losses hit \$500,000 and a few changes to the rules that shaved away some of the house advantage, things like the right to split and double down on up to four hands and the dealer having to stand on a soft 17. In effect, the house edge was around .25% which is significantly lower than normal. While this may help an average player, for someone like Johnson who was incredibly good at the mental mathematics required to play Blackjack professionally, this was almost a guarantee that he’d win. By careful play and proper deployment, Johnson wound up winning huge amounts of money at all the casinos that accepted his terms.

His victories ended up netting him almost \$6 Million from the Tropicana, \$5 Million at the Borgata and \$4 Million at Caesar’s. As well as, on one occasion, winning a total wager of \$800,000 on a single hand where he kept doubling down and enjoying the safety net he’d established with the discount and terms. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that, once they’d figured out how badly he was winning, the casinos all cut him off. He’s still allowed to stay at a few of the casino’s he played in, but he’s no longer allowed to use his particular discount and rules combination. Though with a total profit of almost \$15.1 Million, he’s probably not too worried about that.

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