Last Updated on 29 May 2016 by Nicholas Lim
When most Singapore casino players play blackjack, they don’t even think to negotiate deals with casinos. But Don Johnson did, and it helped him win millions of dollars with the game.
Card counting aside, nearly every experienced blackjack player will agree that the house always has a slight edge in the game. In fact, even those who play blackjack with perfect basic strategy will yield around a 0.5% house edge to casinos. However, there’s always that one player who comes along and gives people hope that basic strategy can beat blackjack. And in this era, that player is Don Johnson.
We’ve discussed Don Johnson at Online-Casino.com.sg before since he went on a torrid run in 2011, and sent several Atlantic City casinos reeling. The 49-year-old loves to play casino blackjack in Atlantic City, and he’s caused the Tropicana some major troubles and losses during his incredible streak.
The first time that Johnson showed up to the Tropicana to play casino blackjack, they let him make $100,000 bets for over 12 hours. Now during this span of time, most players would have lost money because they’d be at the table long enough for the house edge to take effect. But not Johnson…..his lengthy session saw him up $5.8 million by the end.
Although he’d been earning plenty of money at Caesars Atlantic City and the Borgata, the huge Tropicana session is what cemented Don Johnson as an instant legend in the blackjack world. He would go on to play blackjack at the Tropicana at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012, and both of these excursions led to a collective $4 million in profits. After doing some math, you can see that Johnson has earned $9.8 million off of the Tropicana Atlantic City alone. Looking at his total profits, Johnson has made close to $19 million since the spring of 2011.
How did he do it?
You don’t just play casino blackjack for seemingly endless sessions, make millions of dollars in profits, and walk out the door without being questioned. Don Johnson knows this better than anybody since his play has been closely examined by both casinos and curious players. The end goal here is to figure out Don Johnson’s blackjack strategy, and if he is indeed a card counter or not.
After all, it would be so much easier to find out that the “Beast of Blackjack” counts cards and makes his winnings this way. However, Johnson has repeatedly denied that he counts cards, and instead uses basic blackjack strategy to beat the house. Seeing as how dealers have carefully watched him play casino blackjack and not thrown him out for counting cards, it would seem as if Johnson is telling the truth.
So what’s the secret here? Well if there’s something in blackjack that Johnson knows which others don’t, he likely picked it up during his numerous years spent working around casino games. As The Atlantic Magazine wrote about the American, “What gives Johnson his edge is his knowledge of the gaming industry. As good as he is at playing cards, he turns out to be even better at playing the casinos.”
A Wealth of Experience
Continuing on our quest to discover how Don Johnson manages to play blackjack better than anyone else, it’s worth looking more closely at his background. Johnson, who is a former horse jockey, began working for racetracks after hanging the saddle up. This led to a job at the Philadelphia Park Racetrack, which eventually added a casino. Once in charge of the casino operations, Johnson developed a keen understanding of how these games work.
His other roles in the industry include serving as a gaming regulator in various US states such as Texas, Oregon and Wyoming, and running a software company that handicaps horseracing. The latter has really helped Johnson to hone his math skills, which is essential any time he chooses to play casino blackjack.
How Johnson sees Blackjack Math
Seeing as how he’s so good at math, basic blackjack strategy is certainly no problem for Don Johnson. But his knowledge goes deeper than common scenarios such as what to do with 17 when the dealer’s upcard is 9. Johnson says that optimal basic blackjack strategy is based off of millions of hands, which is far more than he’ll ever play. So while he pays attention to typical blackjack strategy, Johnson’s plan is to negotiate game rules and terms so that he gets a favorable deal over a small sample of hands.
High rollers have the power to negotiate for cashback on losses or better rules than the average player because they’re betting so much money when they play blackjack. For instance, if a player is making $100,000 bets, they might be able to ask for 10% cashback on losses. But even 10% cashback won’t make one a winner, so Johnson waited for an even better opportunity.
Over the past few years, Atlantic City has had a rough time attracting new customers amid an American recession and increasing competition from nearby Pennsylvania and New York. So many casinos there began offering incredible deals to high rollers who play casino blackjack. Johnson had played in Atlantic City before, so the Borgata called him one day to discuss a deal.
Unlike most high rollers who play blackjack, the future “Beast of Blackjack” didn’t want a private jet or penthouse suite. Instead, he wanted the best possible chance of winning, so he began negotiating the terms of his play. Basically, this entailed a 20% discount if losses hit $500,000, coupled with favorable rules such as the ability to split and double down four hands at once, and a hand-shuffled shoe with six decks rather than eight. In the end, this gave the house a 0.25% edge, and Johnson would only owe $400,000 if he lost as much as $500k.
After doing the math, Johnson realized that he had a slight advantage overall, whereas the Borgata was off on their calculations by a little bit. Interestingly enough, Caesars and the Tropicana also offered the 49-year-old similar deals that gave him a small edge. They all got burned when Johnson won millions of dollars off the three casinos while making himself a celebrity in the process.
Now the Bensalem, Pennsylvania native has partied with rocker Jon Bon Jovi and actor Charlie Sheen, spent the most money ever at London’s One For One club ($271k), and hosted a Las Vegas birthday party for former Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson. Not bad for a guy who became famous through his ability to play blackjack!