It takes money to make money, an old adage goes. So being the CEO of a successful company means ace blackjack player Don Johnson has the kind of cash it takes to win big. Johnson says he won more than $15 million playing blackjack at Atlantic City casinos in 2011. His blackjack success has generated a great deal of publicity, but it also got him banned from several casinos, which generally protect themselves by limiting or banning the action from skilled professional gamblers who tend to win more than they lose.
Don Johnson is the chief executive officer of Wyoming-based Heritage Development, which develops computer programs to help bettors wager on horse racing. Johnson, 51, also has owned thoroughbred race horses and began playing blackjack about 17 years ago when he discovered he has a knack for the game. He says he doesn’t count cards but he does have 8 secrets that he revealed that greatly improve his ability to win. He relies on smart play, luck of the draw and a few smart negotiations to generate winnings. Of course, that does not always happen, but Johnson generally wins more than he loses over the long run, which makes him a truly professional gambler.
Johnson said from about December 2010 until about five months later in April 2011, he won more than $15 million from three of the biggest casinos in Atlantic City. He also incurred gambling losses during that time and did not net $15 million total. Those were just the total winning from three impressive runs over a matter of hours in which he won up to $6.8 million in one sitting playing blackjack for 12 straight hours at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City.
Don Johnson said he is not “bullet-proof” and suffered losses in between his large winnings. He attributes his wins to luck, although he is an acknowledged expert at blackjack, poker and other table games. Still, Johnson said he does not count cards or employ any tricks other than simply playing the game to the best of his ability and trusting to luck. Aiding his streak was a 20 percent payback from the Tropicana, which came in handy after he lost $500,000 in one day. The casino refunded him $100,000, and he was able to parlay that into his best day ever at the blackjack tables and likely the best day anyone ever had gambling in Atlantic City.
Johnson won some $5.8 million over 12 hours of play at the Tropicana Casino in April 2011. Because gambling revenues had taken a large hit during the Great Recession that reached its lows in 2009 and 2010, many Atlantic City casino officials started calling whales like Johnson and offering special deals to entice them to come and gamble at their casinos. A “whale” is a gambler casinos know will bet large sums of money while visiting, and with the house having the odds in their favor, they know they will relieve whales of money they don’t need and profit handsomely over the long run.
But when a whale like Don Johnson goes on a hot streak, the casinos can get cleaned out. So when officials from the Tropicana, Borgata and Caesar’s in Atlantic City agreed to his terms, which included the 20 percent refund on gambling losses and adjusted rules for the house, Johnson booked several trips over about five months and grossed $15 million in winnings during the time. After taking the Tropicana for nearly $6 million in a half day of gambling, casino officials revoked his special terms.
Johnson also won $4.23 million from Caesar’s in December 2010, about $1 million from the Borgata Hotel & Casino that same month followed by nearly $2 million March 2011 and another $2.25 million over two days in April. The winning streak drew the attention of local professional gamblers and gambling media, which had heard about big winnings at the card tables at three of the top casinos in New Jersey. Casino officials later figured out Don Johnson was the hot gambler who had great success at the three casinos, and they promptly either banned him from further play or removed his special incentives, such as the 20 percent kickback on gambling losses.
Johnson said he bets up to $100,000 per hand when playing blackjack and has drawn a great deal of attention from professional gamblers who recognize him as one of the best at what he does. Although he won more than $15 million over several months playing blackjack, he said it was just a matter of time before someone had a hot streak and took the casinos for a lot of money. But Don Johnson also says that over the long run, the casinos likely would recoup their cash from most gamblers, himself included, when they continue betting with them over the long run.
The house always depends on long-term odds and statistical significance to keep them profitable at table games and the horse racing that Johnson enjoys so much. While he won $15 million, the casinos did get some of that amount back during that time from him and certainly won more from other gamblers. When a whale like Johnson generates buzz from impressive winning streaks, casinos generally see an influx of new bettors and more money coming in, which helps to improve their profitability despite the steep short term losses inflicted by Johnson and other gamblers from time to time.