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Blackjack Player Breaks the Bank At Atlantic City

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the applied-mathematics dept.

Math 294

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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294 comments

That's how it's done... (5, Interesting)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#39443855)

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.

Re:That's how it's done... (-1, Offtopic)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#39443887)

BTW, FP.

Byotches!

Re:That's how it's done... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39443915)

BTW, FP.
 
Byotches!

Does your grandfather know you're using his Slashdot account to post?

I Can't Help But Feel (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#39443907)

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:I Can't Help But Feel (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444533)

I think he was referring to the rest of us who don't get discounts.

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (3, Insightful)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444053)

If they do, it will be just to demolish the building to build an even bigger more expensive casino on top of the site.

With blackjack, and hookers!

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (5, Insightful)

Enderandrew (866215) | about 2 years ago | (#39444119)

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:I Can't Help But Feel (4, Interesting)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about 2 years ago | (#39444411)

I want to contradict you, but after reading the entire article, there's no claim that he had actually proved a way to beat the house, even with his custom rule changes.

The article seems to indicate that he always like gambling (ie. playing even when you can lose), but only increased his rate of gambling once he started getting these special custom deals. Since he hadn't played big before, he wasn't known at the time, and that gave him the opportunity to get in and out fast. The evidence that he took enough from 3 chains to be banned is anecdotal evidence only.

I saw a 60-minutes special on a sports gambler who hired 4-5 people to do full-time research for him. He turned it into a sustainable business, and kept extremely close records of every wager placed. I don't see any evidence that Don Johnson has done the same thing. He could have won big a few places and been thrown out, and lost just as much at other casinos, and the article would still have been written.

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444517)

Exactly. The only special thing he did was know how to negotiate these high-roller deals with the casino management. He also benefited from the fact that casinos are more willing to wheel and deal now because of the economic situation and the increased competition among casinos in the USA.

What's more, their numbers guys checked out his play patterns and they actually found no evidence that he was using a system, counting cards, or anything like that. He just got lucky, plus took advantage of the casinos' willingness to change their incentives in his favor.

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (5, Informative)

Kelbear (870538) | about 2 years ago | (#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]

"Hollywood accounting", Vegas style. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444467)

I guarantee you whatever "loss" is on paper, is exactly that, only on paper. I worked in the backroom, everyone in there is either ex-IRS, or current IRS who happen to be on the payroll.

Re:I Can't Help But Feel (2)

jazman_777 (44742) | about 2 years ago | (#39444403)

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.

You are not a Jedi. Do not trust your feelings on this.

Re:That's how it's done... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39443941)

Calculation of odds and risk is entertaining.

Re:That's how it's done... (5, Insightful)

Caratted (806506) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:That's how it's done... (5, Informative)

Enderandrew (866215) | about 2 years ago | (#39444155)

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.

Re:That's how it's done... (5, Interesting)

Caratted (806506) | about 2 years ago | (#39444237)

Our properties are relatively small, but stay busy. That real estate is way more important to us than it would be in a Harrahs, especially during any given promotion. I've shopped both of those properties :)

I have figures from about a year ago showing a promo year over year. The poker tables were full the first year, gone the second year. Sure, there were some men who were displeased. But, response on the promotion went up (as a result of the men having something to do other than head directly to their table until their wives were broke), and profit on the night is up significantly. It could be a shift in play, but analysis says otherwise - the tables never went back in.

Re:That's how it's done... (4, Insightful)

f97tosc (578893) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:That's how it's done... (1)

DamnStupidElf (649844) | about 2 years ago | (#39444221)

He could also have been hit by a bus walking to church instead of going to a casino, probably with higher probability than losing $500,000 in his situation. It's relatively easy to cause unlucky events to be of the unavoidable kind instead of the avoidable (gambling irresponsibly) kind.

Re:That's how it's done... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444425)

Busses walk to church?! Why wouldn't it just drive there?

Re:That's how it's done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444543)

It already spent all its gas driving to the casino and changing its mind.

Re:That's how it's done... (2)

mcmonkey (96054) | about 2 years ago | (#39444299)

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.

Just like the folks at CERN and the LHC are relying on luck. What an atom or subatomic particle does at any particular moment is as much subject to chance as what card is dealt next.

But just like the scientist doesn't fire a single particle down the collider, this guy didn't play a single hand.

Re:That's how it's done... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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:That's how it's done... (4, Interesting)

228e2 (934443) | about 2 years ago | (#39444437)

^Story of my life, heh.

I go to AC with my roommate maybe 3-4 times a year, along with 1-2 vegas trips. We can easily take in +1000 a weekend playing poker. We then turn around and burn 800 or so playing everything else and having a big meal. Leaving up 200 is usually depends on how reckless we are on the craps table.

Re:That's how it's done... (1)

f97tosc (578893) | about 2 years ago | (#39444213)

There are 3 such games: Craps, Blackjack and Baccarat. Poker is promoted so heavily, because it makes the Casinos so much lucre.

It may be true that they make more money on poker, but it is still an easier game to beat, because you primarily fight other players and not the house.

In black jack, only the most extremely skilled players under very unusual conditions can generate a positive average return based on their strategy.

In poker, there may be one player at every table of 10 (i.e. 10%) that shows a positive average return based on their strategy.

Re:That's how it's done... (4, Insightful)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 2 years ago | (#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:That's how it's done... (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#39444277)

I have an unbeatable system too. If I tap each machine in my row three times, then I'll beat the odds on the slots.

God, I just hope it works.

Re:That's how it's done... (5, Funny)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#39444429)

My system's better. I tap a machine of my choosing three times, take my roll of quarters out of my left pocket and put it into the right pocket and then go home!

Re:That's how it's done... (1)

bigdavex (155746) | about 2 years ago | (#39444531)

There are 3 such games: Craps, Blackjack and Baccarat. Poker is promoted so heavily, because it makes the Casinos so much lucre.

Yeah, no. Poker is not a great casino money-maker. It's a way to draw players into the building for the more lucrative games

There are many professional and semi-professional poker players. I'm sure there are some successful blackjack players, perhaps like the article is suggesting, but nothing on the scale of poker.

Think about it -- player poker profits are fueled by the innumeracy of the general population. This is an abundant resource.

 

Re:That's how it's done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444575)

The casinos don't care who wins at poker because they pay rake regardless. However, poker doesn't have a built-in house edge. It's still the most profitable game you can find in a casino game for the good players, by far. I'd argue it's more fun too.

And that's why (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39443857)

That's why I bought a Saturn.

Decimate (2, Informative)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Decimate (1, Insightful)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 2 years ago | (#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).

Re:Decimate (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444307)

I also come from a science/math background, and I'm not sure I've ever heard it used in it's "remove 1/10th" manner.

Roughly where in the world do you live?

I also apologize for being a bit of a tard in my previous post. People "correcting" non-mistakes is a bit of a pet peeve of mine.

Re:Decimate (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | about 2 years ago | (#39444451)

Well... don't read this in one breath... I'm an anglo-magyar-german-romanish-gypsy-american.

Spent my formative years in England- but have lived about half my life in South Carolina.

Re:Decimate (4, Informative)

sirlark (1676276) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Decimate (0, Flamebait)

spottedkangaroo (451692) | about 2 years ago | (#39444061)

The dictionary shows common usage, not correct usage. This usage was clearly based on a mistake. They mean devastate and it caught on because people didn't know better. The educated should defend the word imo.

Re:Decimate (2)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 2 years ago | (#39444151)

I basically disagree except that they missed the golden opportunity to use "decimate" instead of "discount". They decimate his losses by discounting them 10%.

Re:Decimate (4, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#39444193)

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.

Re:Decimate (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444535)

You're missing the point. Whoosh, there it goes.

This is not about one word, it's about not looking like a stupid person during the shift of a word's meaning. 'Decimate' may have shifted in meaning irrevocably, but it's not complete yet, and using its incorrect but popular meaning before the shift is complete makes you look dumb to people who know better.

Oops, sorry, I just sneaked (not 'snuck') in a lesson for you in the guise of pointing out your misapprehension. And by the way, your pedantry in trotting out that lecture in not being a pedant is breathtaking.

Re:Decimate (-1, Flamebait)

EdIII (1114411) | about 2 years ago | (#39444097)

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.

Aside from you being a bit of jerk about if, I have a very hard time seeing how it is obsolete. Especially since the value of 10 is in the word. That would logically involve the number 10 in whatever action is being taken.

If you have any understanding of language at all, possibly speak multiple languages, the word defines itself. So while some dictionaries may have "claimed" that definition to be obsolete due to the unwashed masses being progressively less and less educated each year, anybody with a modicum of education would reasonably assume it to be about taking 1/10th of something. That's without any knowledge of the Roman empire.

Decimate is not the only word that defines itself either if you have knowledge of word roots. For example, ambulatory. Without a dictionary I already know it is about walking and with the suffix, probably about the ability to walk.

I never got higher than a C in English either, and far from the most educated person with language and literature. I'm sure some Spelling and Grammar Nazis could give you a Blitzkrieg like lesson if you ask.

Re:Decimate (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444259)

I understand the origin and the historical meaning. But I dispute your assertion that it is 'obvious'. Why couldn't it refer to reducing something to one-tenth, rather than by one-tenth? Decimate a meter, end up with a decimeter. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

Re:Decimate (0, Redundant)

datavirtue (1104259) | about 2 years ago | (#39444455)

I'm going to have to side with the 1/10th thing. The non-pedants are wrong in this case. I guess that means they are trying to be pedantic about the pedantry. Slashdot, who would have known?

Re:Decimate (0)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#39443903)

That was the original meaning of "decimate". It has since gained another meaning akin to leaving them with one tenth what they started with!

Re:Decimate (2)

Arrepiadd (688829) | about 2 years ago | (#39443927)

You are right, but so is the submitter...
Decimate [merriam-webster.com]

Re:Decimate (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39443971)

Don't do this. Now 'decimate' is in the top 20% of lookups on Merriam-Webster.com and etymologists everywhere will be confused by its popularity.

Re:Decimate (0)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#39444089)

So in this case the casino would line up all their dealers and kill one out of every ten.

The problem I have with the use of decimate is that it does imply that 1/10th is gone. So I get a little annoyed when a newscaster is talking about a town being decimated by a tornado when, for all intents and purposes, the entire village has been destroyed. Or in this case, where it is implied that the entire profits have been wiped out. Wiped out is not decimated, it is wiped out.

The question is will he live to collect it (1, Flamebait)

Wansu (846) | about 2 years ago | (#39443861)

The house doesn't like to lose.

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (5, Insightful)

BradleyUffner (103496) | about 2 years ago | (#39443969)

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:The question is will he live to collect it (1)

jesseck (942036) | about 2 years ago | (#39444035)

I agree... I doubt a casino (no less three) will gladly let a person take their monthly income's worth home in winnings if there wasn't more to gain.

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444099)

I also heard Google is involved, targeting ads at the players in every step of the way.
Seriously, people, get real.

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#39444257)

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.

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (1)

timeOday (582209) | about 2 years ago | (#39444473)

Who's to say even this particular guy will be a winner, in the long run? How much did he lose before and after his miracle month?

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (1)

bloodhawk (813939) | about 2 years ago | (#39444353)

The thing is, given such a discount and the same rules anyone "can" do exactly the same thing. The problem is the vast majority of people are not discipled enough to do it or have the starting capital required (even when the odds are in your favour you can lose to start with). So yes they will probably make a ton off undiscipled people, but if they continue to offer such discounts you can be assured many others will take them for a fortune.

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (5, Interesting)

Enderandrew (866215) | about 2 years ago | (#39444177)

I worked for a casino. I worked in IT, but the company trained all employees to root for the customer. Celebrate their winnings. The house isn't worried because they know they'll win in the long run.

Re:The question is will he live to collect it (1)

dreemernj (859414) | about 2 years ago | (#39444483)

It's like in a horror movie when a psycho killer steadily follows after a group of fleeing campers. He doesn't have to run. He knows he'll catch enough of them.

Rebate didn't matter (5, Interesting)

punker (320575) | about 2 years ago | (#39443885)

The rebate did not factor in at all once he was ahead. The soft 17, playing perfect cards, and being allowed to vary his bets as he saw fit did it. Kid Dynamite covered this much better.

http://kiddynamitesworld.com/why-cant-journalists-who-write-articles-about-gambling-understand-math/ [kiddynamitesworld.com]

indeed - Rebate didn't matter (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444123)

from your link
"Johnson, 49, of Bensalem, Pa., is the chief executive officer of
Heritage Development LLC, a Wyoming-based company that uses
computer-assisted wagering programs for horseracing."

Google: "Don Johnson" heritage wyoming. Click on his LinkedIn link (a year ago about 15 down from the first). Read.

Sure enough, Don Johnson is "CEO of Heritage Development, LLC". Sure enough, Heritage Development is in the "Cheyenne, Wyoming Area". And what business is Heritage Development in? Programing? Software? Investment? Gaming? No, no, no & no. Rather...it's in "Public Relations and Communications".

Methinks the Johnson/casino story has a wee bit of the rotten egg stink about it.

Card counting (4, Informative)

tepples (727027) | about 2 years ago | (#39444125)

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).

Re:Rebate didn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444271)

THIS is the article that should have been on the front page.
If we are all not going to read the article and still speculate wildly, THIS is the article we should not be reading!!!

Carry on.

Not impressed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39443897)

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.

Re:Not impressed (5, Insightful)

Reasonable Facsimile (2478544) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not impressed (1)

Translation Error (1176675) | about 2 years ago | (#39443967)

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 were desperate because they weren't taking in enough money. According to the article, the casinos want to encourage the high rollers who aren't great gamblers to come while discouraging those who are. In Johnson's case, they mistakenly classified him in the wrong group.

As for why they'd do this, even for the poor gamblers, in blackjack, it's simple: you only get those odds if you play perfectly, making the mathematically optimal choice in each situation. Most players don't play that way and end up giving the house a huge edge. So, when you're talking about people with lots of money to throw around, who according to your records, don't play optimally, it becomes pretty clear why they'd do this.

Re:Not impressed (2)

publiclurker (952615) | about 2 years ago | (#39444261)

What's strange is that he was able to do this multiple times. I always thought the Casinos kept tabs on people like this and shared the information between themselves.

Re:Not impressed (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 years ago | (#39444571)

What's strange is that he was able to do this multiple times. I always thought the Casinos kept tabs on people like this and shared the information between themselves.

They do. But, since he wasn't cheating, and was playing according to the rules they established, it's not like he was doing anything wrong.

In fact, they were competing for his business:

Johnson had not played a game at the Borgata in more than a year. He had been trying to figure out its blackjack game for years but had never been able to win big. At one point, he accepted a âoelifetime discount,â but when he had a winning trip he effectively lost the benefit of the discount. The way any discount works, you have to lose a certain amount to capitalize on it. If you had a lifetime discount of, say, 20 percent on $500,000, you would have to lose whatever money youâ(TM)d made on previous trips plus another $500,000 before the discount kicked in. When this happened to Johnson, he knew the ground rules had skewed against him. So it was no longer worth his while to play there.

He explained this when the Borgata tried to entice him back.

"Well, what if we change that?" he recalls a casino executive saying. "What if we put you on a trip-to-trip discount basis?"

Johnson started negotiating.

Once the Borgata closed the deal, he says, Caesars and the Trop, competing for Johnson's business, offered similar terms. That's what enabled him to systematically beat them, one by one.

Basically he managed to negotiate terms that allowed him to beat the house odds.

They screwed up on the math to keep a high stakes player coming to them. He won, fair and square. Well, at least as fair and square as if they'd won it from you based on the same math.

They might not offer him the same terms, but he did nothing at all that would cause them to ban him. They just won't be stupid enough to change their edge in such a way as to give him the advantage.

Re:Not impressed (3, Insightful)

suso (153703) | about 2 years ago | (#39444197)

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.

Re:Not impressed (1)

durdur (252098) | about 2 years ago | (#39444305)

Au contraire, I'm quite sure everyone in the casino business knows the house has a built-in edge. And if the marketing side of the house is spending money (e.g. by granting comps) you can bet there is a bean counter deciding that it's an investment worth making.

The quote of the day seems oddly fitting (1)

sgrover (1167171) | about 2 years ago | (#39443921)

The quote at the bottom of my page is currently
"He flung himself on his horse and rode madly off in all directions."

This seems oddly fitting for this story.

Not much skill (2, Insightful)

leathered (780018) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not much skill (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | about 2 years ago | (#39444203)

Also the article states that in the last casino, his $100,000 a hand bets were authorized by a high ranking employee meaning those large bets are not normally allowed. The employee was let go afterwards. The article suggests that similar events happened in the other casinos.

Re:Not much skill (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444355)

Card counting using nothing but your intelligence is legal in AC.

If you use a mechanical device of any kind, it is not.

Re:Not much skill (1)

Depili (749436) | about 2 years ago | (#39444383)

If you would have read even the summary he got the casinos to play with hand shuffled decks defeating many of the card counting counters, also as mentioned in another comment in atlantic city black jack is considered a game of skill legally so card counting must be allowed.

Re:Not much skill (4, Interesting)

SpinyNorman (33776) | about 2 years ago | (#39444481)

Actually the real news wasn't mentioned in this awful slashdot summary. The discount didn't help him win - it would only have reduced his losses if he lost.

The real reason he was able to win, was because the casinos were willing to drastically negotiate the rules of the game (in addition to the discount) to the point where the house had only the tiniest advantage.

The guy was of course under heavy scrutity at the casinos (gambling $100K per hand), and they didn't detect him card counting, but I suspect he probably was counting but only acted occasionally when the payoff was huge (such as the single hand where he split twice and won $800K, mentioned in the article).

One of the many rule changes he negotiated was a small hand shuffled shoe, so he may well have been tracking cards through the shuffle too, as the top players are able to, thereby giving him a further edge beyond that nominally calculatable per the agreed rules.

Money to burn? (3, Funny)

John3 (85454) | about 2 years ago | (#39443981)

'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.'

Only $400,000? This guy has money to burn.

Re:Money to burn? (1)

PeanutButterBreath (1224570) | about 2 years ago | (#39444059)

'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.'

Only $400,000? This guy has money to burn.

No, he's planning to make it up on volume!

Re:Money to burn? (1)

Dog-Cow (21281) | about 2 years ago | (#39444077)

Thank you Captain Obvious.

The whole premise is that the guy is a "whale", aka someone with a lot of money to burn.

Re:Money to burn? (1)

John3 (85454) | about 2 years ago | (#39444227)

True.

However the example seems to be poorly thought out. Shouldn't he have said "If you got to $1,000,000 in losses you would stop and take your 20 percent discount. You'd owe them only $800,000". Why did he choose the arbitrary $500,000 to stop at for his example, especially since he was explaining how you'd never lose the $1,000,000.

Even someone who flunked math wouldn't lose the million if they stopped at $500,000 in losses (with or without the 20% discount).

Re:Money to burn? (2)

the phantom (107624) | about 2 years ago | (#39444589)

The 20% discount only applies to the first $500,000 lost. After that, there is no discount. Thus, the casino requires him to bank a million, but he won't lose that much, because he will stop when the discount no longer applies.

Re:Money to burn? (5, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#39444113)

Overheard on the flight to Atlantic City: "I hope I break even this time. I sure could use the money."

Roulette (5, Interesting)

THE_WELL_HUNG_OYSTER (2473494) | about 2 years ago | (#39443991)

I worked as an intern for two summers at the Casino Dealers School in Atlantic City in the late 1980s. Roulette wasn't a legal game in the casinos there at the time, but he had a table in the back for kicks (nobody was trained on it). He said anyone who's dealt roulette for 10 years could make the ball land wherever he wants 8/10 times or more. He then showed me first-hand, telling me in advance the color and number on which the ball would land. 8/10 times.

Re:Roulette (5, Insightful)

Enderandrew (866215) | about 2 years ago | (#39444241)

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.

Re:Roulette (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444415)

Considering that there are computers which can quickly and accurately guess what the result will be when an observer inputs some initial parameters about how the ball is thrown/dropped, I have no problem believing a skilled dealer could control the result.

Re:Roulette (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444523)

My brother is a trained roulette dealer. He is quite adept at making the ball go where he wants. Not sure about the 80% percentage, but certainly high enough to be beyond chance.

The casino's will be just fine (4, Interesting)

onyxruby (118189) | about 2 years ago | (#39444025)

The casino's will still come out ahead though in the end. This guy will inspire a thousand some imitators and those imitators will repay the casino in spades. They lose money on one guy just to make it up by the throng inspired from the first. It's the same reason casino's put a big winners in their advertisements and a jackpot has lots of flashing lights and noise. /Credit to the guy for doing this without cheating, not an easy thing to do.

decimate? (1)

spottedkangaroo (451692) | about 2 years ago | (#39444043)

He split the bank into 10 parts? Or did he apply a 10% tax maybe? ... Maybe the author means devastate?

Re:decimate? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444117)

Or maybe your vocabulary isn't what you thought it was?
If you haven't ever seen the modern usage of decimate, you can't be much of a reader.

Re:decimate? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444165)

For every ten croupiers, he ordered the rest to kill one.

And don't forget to tell your friends. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444157)

I hope they treat him better than deNiro did to this poor sap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYa1IsxGVuc

"And don't forget to tell your friends what happens if they fuck around here."

50% expected return still not enough to "live on" (4, Interesting)

goffster (1104287) | about 2 years ago | (#39444275)

you have to play roughly 100,000 hands of blackjack to
establish a reasonable bell curve. You need about a 60%
expected return (and there do exist such methods using
teams and card counting)

Eventually, a losing streak will break your bank.

Las Vegas wins because it is able to play 100,000 hands of blackjack
in a relatively short amount of time while risking only a fraction of their bankroll.

Anybody can win at casino games (2)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#39444331)

People who think they're winning tend to remember the hands they win and forget the hands they lose. Lottery winners are the same way, spend $100/week and brag when they hit a $500 ticket every six months...

Blackjack is the only game I play (3, Informative)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | about 2 years ago | (#39444337)

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.

His secret (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39444563)

He did it by not tipping the waitresses!

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