The Man Who Broke Atlantic City

Don Johnson is a blackjack player who’s done well for himself. He’s done really well for himself, actually. He’s made nearly $15 million from three Atlantic City casinos (and won nearly $6 million in one night at the Tropicana).

The man knows his cards. Notes the Tropicana’s CEO Tony Rodio: “He plays perfect cards.” But the real story isn’t so much about his play and his skill. It’s not about how he was dealt two eights, split the hand, got dealt two more eights, split those hands, doubled down on his original bet of $100,00 on all of them and won $800,000 in one hand.

It’s not about his skill, which does seem impeccable. The real story is in the math, to all the numbers and calculations that happened before Johnson even sat down at the table.

“We have a very elaborate model,” Rodio says. “Once a customer comes in, regardless of the game they may play, we plug them into the model so that we know what the house advantage is, based upon the game that they are playing and the way they play the game. And then from that, we can make a determination of what is the appropriate [discount] we can make for the person, based on their skill level.

Capitalizing on “loss rebates” and special rules reserved for high rollers, Johnson was able to set up scenarios with casinos that maximized his chances for winning. When asked how Johnson was given this “huge edge” to play, his response was: “I think somebody missed the math when they did the numbers on it.”

The Man Who Broke Atlantic City is a fantastic read, even if you’re not all that much into gambling. It’s by Mark Bowden, who is the author of Black Hawk Down and also wrote a fantastic book/essay on the Conficker Worm. His writing style is fantastic, and Bowden seems to be especially good at describing complex subjects to laymen.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. looks awesome gonna check this out.

    jon Reply

  2. Talk to Cathie’s uncle…he’s on that guy’s level. Stuff he pulls at casinos is ridiculous. Most people wouldn’t even think to ask for what he does. Definitely something different to witness.

    Anthony Reply

    • That’s craziness. I know that at a certain point, you can’t really think about the total value/amount on the table. At the end of the day, you’re dealing with odds and ratios/percentages.

      Whether you’re betting $1 per hand or $100,000 per hand, the same odds/logic should determine your next course of action. But man, at those levels… those are some big numbers to ignore.

      avoision Reply

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