We recently looked at how Fred Smith “saved” FedEx by playing blackjack. Today we’ll look at another popular blackjack tale. This might be the most well-known blackjack story for anyone in the 40-year-old range.
Don Johnson (not the Miami Vice actor) took down Atlantic City between 2010 and 2011. He won a total of $15 million during this period without card counting. Rather, Johnson negotiated rules to reduce the house edge, used special offers that weren’t available to most players, and played perfect basic strategy.
Together all of this helped him to some amazing blackjack wins that have gone down in the books as one of the greatest runs in the history of casino blackjack.
Johnson wasn’t a shy man and shared his tale with just about anyone that would listen. There are plenty of stories and interviews with and about Johnson but this interview with CNBC – a business TV station – is a good look at how he presented himself and his tactics to mainstream media.
Reducing the house edge
Johnson shared his blackjack strategy willingly with mainstream media (above) as well as gambling media. Over the years the information about his game strategy and negotiation has become pretty well known.
Part of Johnson’s negotiation to play at certain casinos was to reduce the house edge. He was able to achieve very fair blackjack rules. The casinos still had an edge in the game but it was tiny. Johnson was able to secure a blackjack game with a 0.26% house edge. Here are some of the rules.
- Six deck shoe
- Blackjack pays 3:2
- Dealer hits on soft 17
- Double any two cards
- Double after split
- Resplit aces
- Late surrender
The blackjack rules are great but still give the casino a house edge even if Johnson played with perfect basic strategy. Reducing the house edge was a major part of his negotiations with casinos but that wasn’t all he needed.
Big bets and big rebates
Once the house edge was knocked down to almost even, Johnson changed gears when negotiating with casinos. He was able to secure a large maximum wager of $100,000. The real coup was negotiating an amazing loss rebate.
A loss rebate is exactly what it sounds like. Johnson would get a rebate based on his blackjack losses. These are sometimes offered to high rollers but Johnson pushed the casinos hard to get a loss that would tilt the theoretical edge his way.
Johnson negotiated a 20% loss rebate. Simply put, he would be paid 20% of his losses if he had a bad session. This is a massive loss rebate. Casinos often tie rebates to other parameters like minimum spend or length of a session.
Johnson was given clean rebates without extra guarantees from him. For example, if Johnson would lose $1 million, he would receive $200,000 in a rebate.
Johnson beat multiple New Jersey casinos for a total of $15 million in about six months. He wasn’t a card counter using a tactic that’s frowned upon by casinos. He used basic strategy, played a game with good rules, and negotiated rebates for blackjack sessions where the cards didn’t go his way.
It’s not likely a casino will offer the same terms to gamblers today. Having said that, some of these terms are available to anyone willing to do the right work.
- Find a blackjack game with the best rules and low house edge
- Learn to play with perfect basic strategy
- Play limits that work best
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for loss rebates or other perks. The worst the casino can say is no.
The casino corporations of today are very risk-averse so a player might not want to ask for anything above and beyond the stated rules in order to stay under the radar. You might not take a city for millions but you can lower the house edge and increase the odds of possibly walking away as a winner. There’s nothing wrong with that.