Numerous blackjack professionals, from the MIT Blackjack Team to Edward Thorpe, have amassed fortunes through card counting. Don Johnson is an exceptional blackjack player because he did not rely solely on card counting to defeat casinos.
Instead, he made secret agreements with the casino that gave him an enormous advantage, unsuspected to the casino’s employees. By the time his remarkable blackjack streak came to an end, Johnson had earned more than $15 million before casinos banned him.
How did Johnson accomplish this?
Find out as we discuss Johnson’s history, one of the finest blackjack runs in history, rule negotiations, and his current endeavors.
From Jockey to Casino Management Too Tall for Jockeying
Born in Salem, Oregon in 1962, Johnson’s first passion was horse racing. His uncle owned the horses he mounted, and he began racing competitively as an adolescent.
The objective of Johnson was to become a professional equestrian. But his hopes were thwarted when he grew to 6’1″ — significantly taller than the typical equestrian height range of 4’10” to 5’6″
Managing Racing Courses
Even though Johnson was unable to ride horses professionally, he remained involved in the industry by working at the racetracks where he once competed. At the age of 30, he was recruited to oversee daily operations at Philadelphia Park, which in 2009 became Parx Casino and Racing.
Before working as an executive for racetracks and casinos, Johnson was a gambling regulator. This combination of employment allowed him to observe blackjack players and analyze their strategies.
“I’ve observed them as a supervisor. As a racetrack proprietor, I observed them,” Johnson told Bloomberg.
Equine Software Corporation
While still a casino executive in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, Johnson established a Wyoming registered software corporation called Heritage Development. Heritage Development provided computer-assisted programs for horse race wagers before their time.
The programs operate by collecting results from horse races and applying them to the track’s real-time probabilities. The software then determines the actual probabilities of a horse’s victory.
By comparing these odds with the track’s odds, a speculator can identify horses with the highest value. Occasionally, this value can be discovered in multiple horses in the same race, necessitating the wagering of a small proportion of one’s bankroll on each horse.
These advantages enabled Johnson to not only operate a flourishing software company, but also profit from horse race wagering.
Johnson’s Beginnings with Blackjack Beginning as a Casual Player
Johnson’s blackjack career began humbly in 2001, long before he became renowned for winning millions of dollars from casinos. As a state gambling agent and casino agent, he became interested in blackjack and enjoyed playing for modest stakes.
After leaving his position as a casino executive to become an advantage horse race handicapper, he used baccarat as a method of relief after studying racing statistics.