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All’s Fair in Blackjack, including Breaking the Bank



Perhaps blackjack is fair when considering wins and losses across all celebrities and even fairer when those who break the bank become celebrities. Miami Heat guard Ray Allen’s US $30K loss at a Vegas blackjack table in early February is more than balanced by socialite Paris Hilton’s massive US $50,000 win in Atlantic City around the same time. This is the same city that saw Don Johnson break the bank with an almost US $6 million at the 30-year-old+ Tropicana Casino and Resort in 2011.

Breaking the Bank

To break the bank at a casino describes the rare situation of winning more cash than the house has available.

The Tropicana isn’t the only place where Don Johnson won big. Johnson took the Borgata for US $5 million, which was the limit they artificially imposed upon him, and US $4 million at Caesars, also an imposed limit.

Breaking the bank can refer to a particular casino table as well. One of the most famous table bank-breakings was more than 100 years ago at the Monte Carlo in Monaco. Englishman Charles Wells walked into the casino with the 1891 equivalent of US $2,000 and left with almost US $200,000. At that table, Wells broke the bank a dozen times and continued the streak for two days. The story of Charles Wells was by the Monte Carlo management for publicity in attracting many would-be winners to the casino. Losing everything to the Monte Carlo the year after his spectacular win, Wells admitted that he had no system beyond luck.

Going Beyond Luck

When MIT students broke the bank in Vegas, if there was any luck it was overshadowed by pure strategy and discipline. Popularized in 2008 by the film “21”, the MIT blackjack team has been a consortium of students and graduates from both Harvard and MIT beating casinos successfully from 1979. Their strategies all involved multiple people who played various roles at the blackjack table. Besides standard card counting, players would using shuffle and ace-tracking to achieve an edge of 2-4 percent.

In May of 2013, two members of the MIT Blackjack Team returned to Vegas as panelists for the 15th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking. Perhaps one of the most intriguing revelations: the real blackjack pros leave the table for much bigger fish, like running hedge funds or building dot-com start-ups.