Isn’t that the fantasy of every player? To take the casinos to the cleaners and walk away with millions? Of course in my fantasy life this only happens a la “Ocean’s Eleven” – by pulling off a casino heist. (Here’s a thought. Wouldn’t it be easier to rob the chip manufacturer? Here’s another thought. How hard would it be to counterfeit casino chips? Hmmmm…) So it was rather refreshing to hear of someone who actually wins a boatload of money from the casinos through flawless playing, without card counting or any of that Rain Main stuff.
The question in my mind as I watched the documentary was “What was his edge?” Sure, he knew his stuff, but how was he able to pull it off? What was his advantage? About 30 minutes into the film I began to understand.
In 2010, with the country in the depth of a recession, casinos were desperate to attract the “whales,” or big gamblers. Gamblers that would bet twenty, thirty, forty thousand dollars or more a hand. One high roller who has a bad night can determine whether a casino’s table games finish a month in the red or in the black.
In their desperation, the casino marketers would offer incentives. I don’t know about you, but when I think of incentives, I think of the usual high-roller comps you hear about all the time, like a free meal, a free weekend at a casino’s hotel, even a free flight on a private jet. But whales are not your typical high-rollers and the casinos were desperate enough to offer more than the typical incentives. Don Johnsen, considered to be a mediocre player by the casinos, was able to negotiate incentives like:
- A 20 percent rebate on losses (Meaning if he lost a cool million, he would only be on the hook for $800,000.)
- Splitting and doubling up to four times in one hand
- Dealer forced to stay on a soft 17
- $100,000 limit per hand
But Johnson had other strategies, too, namely antagonizing and intimidating dealers into making mistakes. Every time a dealer made a mistake, Johnson essentially received a free bet. And when you’re playing $100,000 hands, receiving a free hand could be huge.
With this in mind, Johnson went out of his way to distract the dealer. Some sessions he'd bring porn stars. Other visits he'd just look angry. More often than not, these tactics led to free bets.
By Johnson's account, he won $4.23 million at Caesars Atlantic City in December, 2010. Next, he conquered Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, winning about $998,000 in December, then $1.8 million in March and April and $2.25 million over two nights later in April. Most remarkable was his haul of $5.8 million during a 12-hour spree at Tropicana Casino and Resort in April, a record loss for the casino.
While most of us probably don’t have any hopes of being in Don Johnson’s league of $100,000 bets, there are lessons to be learned from watching The Player, and I encourage everyone to see it. The biggest lesson for me was the importance of paying attention to what the dealer is doing. I’ll be the first to admit, when I’m winning at the Craps table, I don’t count what the dealer gives me for my winnings. Heck, it’s hard enough for me to keep track of the amount of odds I need to lay behind the Pass Line. As I go through my journey of educating myself, and by extension you, the reader, it is my goal to know the game (whether it be Craps, Poker, Blackjack or whatever) inside and out, to where I don’t need to have a cheat sheet in my palm with the odds written out (yes, yes, I’m guilty of that, too). Education is power. It makes one a more confident, successful player.
Watch The Player - Secrets of a Vegas Whale. You can also find it on Netflix.
Did you ever see a dealer made a mistake? Please post your experiences in the comment section below.