At first glance, Don Johnson might appear to be just a former racetrack executive who enjoys playing a little high-stakes blackjack on occasion. However, a deeper look reveals he’s a seasoned professional gambler with the kind of slick negotiating skills that have helped him turn the typical casino’s house edge in his favor and earn millions of dollars gambling.
In fact, Johnson has taken some of Atlantic City’s top casino properties for close to $15 million and rightfully earned the title of one of New Jersey’s most notorious gamblers.
Working the system
In 2010, casino revenues in Atlantic City were in the middle of a decade-long nosedive, and the casinos tried everything they could to stop the earnings free fall. This included offering all sorts of favors to wealthy whales willing to gamble millions in the hopes they could turn monthly casino revenues from red to black with just one night’s roll of the dice.
Johnson took full advantage of this fact, and more than just enjoying high-end hotel suites and top-shelf booze, he was able to negotiate favorable gambling terms with the casinos that reduced the house edge in blackjack games to almost nothing.
Johnson got the casinos to agree to let him play with a six-deck shoe that they were forced to hand shuffle. He was allowed to split and double down on four hands at the same time and ensured dealers would stand on soft 17. He also made the casinos promise to pay him a 20 percent rebate on any losses over and above the $500,000 mark.
Thanks to a number of other small, but significant changes Johnson forced the casinos to agree to that he has yet to reveal publicly, dealer errors and his own ability to play blackjack almost perfectly and raise the bets dramatically once he was clearly in the black, he soon took those same casinos for millions.
Johnson claims to have won $5.8 million at the Tropicana Casino And Resort in one night, $5 million at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, and $4 million at Caesars Atlantic City, under these favorable conditions and before the casinos got wise and pulled the deal off the table.
No stranger to the game
Johnson had been a racetrack manager at Philadelphia Park and other racetrack properties around the country. He worked as a state gaming regulator in Oregon, Idaho, Texas, and Wyoming and was involved with a Wyoming development company that designed computer betting programs for horse racing operations.
But thanks to the favorable gambling conditions he was suddenly able to negotiate in 2010, Johnson turned himself into a highly successful professional gambler, living a jet-set lifestyle and plying his trade around the world.
He has reportedly partied with Jon Bon Jovi, Charlie Sheen, and hosted a birthday party for Pamela Anderson in Las Vegas. He has flown around the world on private jets comped by the casinos and once sprayed a $200,000 bottle of Armand de Brignac champagne on a crowd of partygoers at a nightclub in London, England.
He’s not the same Don Johnson that starred in the 1980’s hit TV series Miami Vice, but all the new celebrity friends, partying, gambling and winning has come with it’s fair share of notoriety, and Johnson has since been the subject of a number of media reports chronicling his story, include a front-page article in The Press of Atlantic City Newspaper.
Atlantic City casinos no longer allow Johnson the favorable conditions they once did, but that measure seems to be too little and too late, as Johnson has already etched his name in New Jersey history as one of the state’s most notorious gamblers.
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