The Legend of Don Johnson

If you are a keen casino enthusiast, chances are you have heard of Don Johnson; not the actor, the Atlantic City legend that won millions of dollars playing blackjack without counting cards. If you haven’t heard his story, settle in because this one is a really inspiring tale of how one man took down three major casinos in Atlantic City for a cool $15 million.

Born in 1962, Donald Johnson had always been involved in gambling in some way or another. He started his illustrious career managing racetracks in Oregon. Donald used his experience and keen intellect to serve as a state regulator in Texas, Oregon, and Wyoming. Having built up enough capital, Don founded a company that used computer-assisted wagering programs for horseracing. At the time, his job title was simply “corporate executive.” Having led a fairly low profile life, Don quickly became a household name when he won a massive $15 million at three casinos in Atlantic City by playing blackjack. So how did he do it?

Negotiating the Odds

Straight off the bat, you are probably thinking, “card counting.” Well, that’s what everyone else thought as well. In fact, the truth is actually more interesting than that. It turns out that Don was never really good at card counting and did not use any card counting techniques when he was in Atlantic City. When he was interviewed by the press, Johnson said that he did not simply walk into a casino and start playing as most people tend to do.

According to Johnson, playing casino games at Atlantic city was like throwing money away, as the rules of the game are set to give the house a significant advantage. What Don Johnson did, and what most sophisticated gamblers do, is negotiate better terms before even approaching the tables. While the average Joe may not be able to sway the hand of the casino, anyone with a large enough bankroll can certainly negotiate a deal with casino management.

Desperation for Atlantic City

After the financial crises of 2008, Atlantic City casinos were seeing a significant drop in revenue and were keen to attract high rollers or “whales” as they were fondly known. By 2010, Atlantic City casinos started getting desperate with casino marketers offering deals that no one in New Jersey had ever seen the likes of before. In the history of the gambling industry, no such perks were offered to players, even to those who were worth billions. The idea was that the casinos would accept a greater risk for the possibility of a larger return.

Starting out at the Tropicana, Don Johnson brought along a boatload of cash and negotiated a deal that effectively allowed him to play a 50/50 game of blackjack. Johnson also negotiated a 20 per cent discount on his losses on a visit-by-visit basis. Having the cash to back himself up, Don was approved a $100,000-a-hand limit. Over the next 12 hours, Don managed to work the odds in his favour, rolling with the punches and cashing in on the big wins. The result was a $6 million windfall that resulted in the Tropicana CEO being fired a week later.

During his epic 12-hour stint, Don was constantly monitored by video cameras to see if he was using card counting as a way to push the odds in his favour. It turned out that Don didn’t have any card counting skills and was winning fair and square. He was simply using the basic blackjack strategy to ensure that every hand was played according to its merits. Having ruined the Tropicana’s revenues for the month, Johnson then set his sights on more unsuspecting Atlantic City casinos.

Sticking to the Plan

Using his rather large bankroll as a hook, Johnson negotiated similar deals at the Borgata and at Caesars. Over a six-month period, Don was able to win a massive $15 million at the blackjack tables in Atlantic City. He picked up $5 million from the Bogata and another $4 million from Caesars before being politely asked to leave the premises. While not specifically banned from the casinos, after having his face printed across the newspapers, Don is not likely to be handed those kinds of odds ever again.

Since taking down Atlantic City, Don has become a local legend. His story is one that inspires many gamblers to focus on what they want and strive to achieve it. So, what lessons can we learn from this? Don Johnson himself said that there is no point in risking your cash and playing a casino game where the odds are never going to be in your favour. It all comes down to the math. If you want to start winning, you need to find a way to improve the odds. With blackjack, this means playing the perfect game, sticking to the strategy and looking for the best odds.