INTRODUCTION

Back in the early 2000s, Don Johnson became famous for winning millions of dollars playing blackjack without counting cards. For those of you who don’t know, here’s a news piece on his exploit.

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/blackjack-player-won-15-million-reveals/story?id=15971410

His method was not complicated. He simply used losing to his advantage.

In this article, I am going to explain how he did it. The TL;DR version is that when he lost, he was able to extract concessions and loss rebates, and when he won, he simply went on his way.

Even if you don’t win $15 million, you can use this knowledge to your advantage and extract money and other concessions from the casino.

I’ve been doing a much smaller version of the ‘Don Johnson’ approach for years. It’s become more difficult to execute because of Mr. Johnson’s publicity, but it’s still possible. While Don Johnson did it playing blackjack, my method involves a similar exploit on the craps odds.

For purposes of this article, since I am writing it from my own experience, I am going to refer to the craps odds bet; however, this method can really apply to any low edge casino game.

Here is the method, as I applied it to my craps play…

YOU MUST BE WILLING TO THINK ABOUT THE INEVITABILITY OF LOSING

If you’re the type of gambler who wants to bury their head in the sand and never think about losing, then this article is not for you. But if you want to tackle reality, then you can be a smart gambler and win more. Ironically, by never thinking about losing, you will lose more often.

There is a way to turn the inevitability of losing to your advantage. The key is discretionary comps, reimbursements or loss rebates, with reimbursements and loss rebates being the more powerful factor.

This article was inspired by the frequently asked question, ‘Do casinos comp odds’? I’m a heavy odds player, and I get this question frequently.

Despite myths about the odds bet, it’s mathematically undeniable that the odds bet has a zero house edge.  So if the player can convince the casino to comp or give reimbursement based the odds play, and if the comps or reimbursements exceed the expected loss on the pass line bet, the player can then be in a profitable situation.

First, let’s do a quick primer on the question of comps on the odds bet.

At the end, I’ll give you some advice on how to get the casino to comp your odds bet, despite…

THE TECHNICAL ANSWER

Most savvy craps players and craps writers will state that casinos do not apply comps points to the odds bet. But not so fast!

This is true if we are talking about earned comps. The house may apply comps on odds bets, depending on circumstances.

If you don’t know the difference between earned comps and discretionary comps, you need to read my guide to comps and understand that difference. It’s very important to your long term success to know the difference.

https://roadgambler.com/gambling-guides/comps/

The first step to turning a negative result into a positive is to understand how casinos work. As they say, knowledge is power.

A REFRESHER ON EARNED COMPS USING A SIMPLE ANALOGY

A game of craps, like most gambling games, is effectively a gussied-up coin flip. Sometimes, you might bet straight up heads or tails, and sometimes, you might bet that a certain sequence of events might happen, and that sequence will pay long odds.

Let’s pretend for a second that you and I are playing a coin flip game that is completely fair and true (it’s a 50-50 proposition). In this coin flip game, you have heads, and I have tails. When heads comes up, I pay you $1, and when tails comes up, you pay me $1. It’s a true odds proposition.

Let’s now make this more ‘casino-like’ (because casinos must make money to stay in business): when heads comes up, I pay you 99 cents, and when tails comes up, you pay me $1. I have approximately a .5% edge on you, assuming no ties (which is actually possible on a coin flip).

Let’s evolve this coin flip game to be even more ‘casino-like’…

Since I have a .5% edge on you, I will want you to keep playing. So in order to induce you into continuing your play, I tell you that for every hand you play, I will give you back .1% of your bet. Notice it’s ‘point 1 percent’, not ‘one percent’. This means that it takes ten coin flips for me to reimburse you 1% of your bet. I tell you that you can do whatever you want with the .1%. You can cash it out or spend it at my restaurant or gas station down the street.

I am giving you back a portion of your expected loss to me. Sounds exactly like a casino, right? This scenario is known as ‘earned comps’. You’ve earned the .1% by playing with me, and I give you the .1% based on our deal.

That’s earned comps in a nutshell.

WHY LOSING CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU AND HOW TO ABUSE THAT KNOWLEDGE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

In this coin flip game, you will naturally sometimes lose, and naturally, you will sometimes win. Despite your best hopes and dreams, and despite your prayers to Fortuna, you will inevitably lose. Knowing that you will inevitably lose, you can then take advantage of the inevitability.

How?

Just so that I can illustrate my point, let’s use an example that clearly shows what we are trying to do.

Let’s pretend – continuing the above example – that you’re a big brat, big bully, or sore loser. After every single coin flip that you lose, you throw a tantrum. I’m afraid of looking bad to the other customers of my coin flip game, or I might just want you off my back because you’re giving me a headache. So after EVERY SINGLE coin flip that you lose, in order to calm and soothe you, I give you a 1 penny certificate to my store. That’s in addition to the .1% rebate I’m going to give you.

Every single time you lose, you throw a tantrum, and I produce a certificate that says, ‘Good for 1 cent worth of gas to the RoadGambler Gas Station’. This comp that I use to get you off my back is effectively a discretionary comp. It’s discretionary because I don’t have to issue it; rather, I issue it as I see fit, and I can decline to offer it.

Let’s now make the example more accounting friendly and say that instead of the discretionary 1 cent every flip, we prorate it out to a day’s worth of coin flips. Every day, we determine that you and I play 1000 games of the coin flip. Since I’m giving you 1 cent per loss, you will lose theoretically 500 times, which means I will give you 500 pennies, i.e., $5. So every day, I give you $5 in addition to the .1% that you ‘earn’.

If the RoadGambler gas station is not gouging at the pump, you are now playing a positive expectation game, especially since you naturally consume gas as part of your daily routine.

Notice that you can only throw a tantrum when you lose. When you win, you collect your prize money and move on. It’s the additional payout when you lose that brings you into positive expectation territory. In other words, on a win, you collect 99% of the true payout, whereas on a loss, with the bonus calculated, you are collecting 1.1%. 99+1.1% = 100.1% total payout.

Without the loss added to the equation, you cannot go over 100%.

Note that even if you are a coin flip ‘coin influencer’, and you think you can make your side of the coin land more often than 50%, the above ‘losing is good for you’ theory doesn’t change. Let’s say that you think you can influence the coin to land on your side to where you have an astounding 10% edge. Well, in that case, your theoretical total payout on the win will be $1.20 in the long run + 1.1 cents on the loss = a total edge of approximately 11.1%, using my very rough but simple math. Notice that even as a ‘coin flip influencer’, losing is still good for you because it adds to your total return.

Knowing what I just told you…

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU LOSE AND HOW TO GET THE EDGE

Now that I’ve drawn my analogy, let’s bring this back to a real-world casino.

What you must do is get yourself a host who will give you their personal cell phone number. I’ve encountered my fair share of lazy hosts who will never return phone calls. If your host is a go-getter, they will have no problem giving you their personal phone number (sometimes, it’s a company provided phone number that’s used for both business and personal, which is okay).

Why do you need their personal cell phone? So you can argue for comps and reimbursements, and they won’t be able to ignore you!

Using the above example, you will inevitably have losing gambling trips and winning gambling trips, just like how you will have winning and losing individual ‘flips’ (anyone who tells you they always win is a liar or trying to sell you something…simple as that). Because you will have losing trips, every single time you have a losing trip, you will point out that you lost SOOOO MUCHHH money to their company and you want something in return.

You can ask for an airline voucher like I did…witness…

Reimbursement for airfare, after I shopped for a host. This is what a reimbursement voucher looks like. Redacted to protect privacy.

You can ask for rental car reimbursement…like I did…

Presented claim for car rental reimbursement. The casino offered to pick me up instead. I declined and stated that I wouldn’t play unless I got a car. They reimbursed this Alamo rental at the cage.

The above is the literal cash in your pocket, which you would normally have spent anyways if you wanted a gambling vacation.

You can ask for very fancy rooms like I did…

The wife enjoyed the view from our room, comped.
Full view of Bellagio fountains at night. Comped.
I was comped the above room despite the host receiving word that I didn’t qualify for Caesars Las Vegas based on my play. Why didn’t I qualify? I got the comp, regardless. I just selectively pointed to one of my losses on a specific trip and ignored my winning trips. It does require some arguing and haggling.

Keep track of your losing trips. When you call your host, state the following: Please reimburse my airfare and car rental (or whatever expense you think is related) because on (date) I lost (state dollars lost). I won’t go back unless I get a reimbursement.

When you have a winning trip, you just collect your money from the cage and keep your mouth shut. Or you can try and push the envelope and make the reimbursement request on your wins. I’m at the point that I always ask, win or lose, and my host has become familiar with my requests.

This was the only craps game in the US that had ZERO house advantage, if played correctly. I was able to extra reimbursements and comps from the game, until the operator shut it down. This is a receipt showing $1251 worth of credits at the casino, which I then withdrew though free play at slots. The game no longer exists and I was uninvited from the game.

If the host refuses to issue the reimbursements that I’ve described above, then keep shopping for another host or another casino. Hosts are disposable, and there are a ton of hungry hosts (in addition to the lazy ones) who will push the envelope to gain business. Some will make the reimbursement if you switch over to their casino, on the spot.

Shop, shop, and keep shopping for hosts. People shop for doctors until they get the diagnosis or medication they want, lawyers shop for judges in favorable venues, and you should shop for hosts until you get what you want. It’s your money, in the end.

BACK TO THE DON JOHNSON STORY

The above method that I described is how Don Johnson was able to win $15 million from the casinos. He founds hosts who wanted his large action, and then cut a deal where they would reimburse him a portion of his losses, along with other concessions that added to his overall total return percentage.

He also deployed other tactics, but the bulk of his advantage came from playing deals, loss rebates, and reimbursements.

Recalling my RoadGambler gas station analogy above, let’s illustrate how Don Johnson was able to win by imagining a hypothetical situation.

Let’s imagine that Don has planned a 4 day gambling trip.

First, let’s show the four day trip, played without any breaks or requests for a loss rebate or reimbursement (which is what most gamblers do)…

Now let’s compare the same trip, using the method I described above…

That’s how he was able to use losing to his advantage.

If you want to learn more about the Don Johnson story, here is a good video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUVibB3Hovo

As you watch the video, keep in mind the information in this article.

CONCLUSION

You don’t need to risk millions of dollars or own a jet to obtain reimbursements and comps beyond what you deserve. You just have to threaten to not come back (or come at all) unless you are given concessions from an aggressive host that is hungry for business.

If you can convince your host to give you reimbursements, rebates on losses, provide food comps that are not provided from the bank of ‘earned’ comps (easiest way to tell is that your earned comps balance is near zero), then you’ve come out ahead.

Just be smart about gambling and buying giant jars of stuff, that you don’t need, at Costco, and you will be ok.

Note that after a while, your host will probably figure out that you’re taking advantage and dump you. That’s ok. Just go find another host. Rinse and repeat. Once you become more comfortable, you’ll figure out how to extract even larger comps and reimbursements. You may even be the next Don Johnson.

That, my friends, is how you turn losing to your advantage.

Posted in: Casino, Gambling, Hotel

10 thoughts on “How Don Johnson Won $15 Million: Using a Loss To Your Advantage”

  • Lawrence Roth says:

    At what level and time of play can you ask? $100 action per roll for 3 hours? $500? Is a whale at the Metropolitan the same as a whale at Lady Luck?

    I met a roulette player that played $350 per roll for 4-5 hours. Got his room and food comped. Does that sound about right?

    Years ago. Vegas casinos used to tell you your comp goals before you left home.

    • It depends on the casino.

      If it’s something like a LV mega casino, you can start asking if you’re a multi black chip bettor.

      At a smaller casino, you can ask at pretty much any level. The key is that once you incur a loss, you should ask and see how they react. My general rule is that once I have a loss that is 10x the cost of the airline ticket, I start asking. Once they say yes to the reimbursement, I then push for upfront reimbursement of the airfare, car rental, etc.

      Once they say yes to those things, then I start pushing for loss rebates. The worse they can do is say no. Actually, once they say no, I then tell them that I’m not coming back until they agree to the loss rebate. I usually would get a call a few months later.

      A guy who is betting $350 per spin for 4-5 hours at roulette is a very valuable player to a casino. That’s a very high ADT player. If he shopped around for a host, I can promise that he would find a host who will agree to a loss rebate. Room and food should be a minimum comp; it’s so minimum that room and food shouldn’t even be considered as part of the comp.

      Sometimes, those high value players are ignorant and don’t know what they’re worth. They think room and food is a fair comp. They’re ignorant of their value.

      But sometimes, those types of high value players have deals. They just don’t talk about it in the open. Ideally, they’re not supposed to talk about it in the open. Don Johnson should have just taken his money and kept his mouth shut. Instead, he killed the golden goose and started bragging about it through TV interviews. He made it much more difficult for a lot of people.

  • Another great article!

    You are absolutely correct that often you need to ask for for what you want. It wasn’t until I asked for a Suite, that I got one. It wasn’t until I asked for the free airfare that I got it reimbursed. It wasn’t until I asked for the concert tickets that I got it! Win or lose, it pays to ask. I look forward to being able to ask for Las Vegas Raiders tickets in 2020!

    Have you and your wife seen Celine Dion in Concert yet? If not last chance to take your wife in June as Celine is ending her Caesars Palace residency. Exceptional voice in a beautiful venue allegedly built special for her. Ask your host for tickets and enjoy!

    Keep these articles and videos coming! You are absolutely killing it!

    • Thanks for the kind words, George.

      I was already dragged to Britney once. I think I’ll listen to Celine in my car. Lol.

      I’ll be asking for Raiders tickets, too, and I’ll expect to get them. Maybe we will meet up at a Raiders game. That would be awesome and fun, and hopefully, they fix their roster by then.

      You’re right in that so many people don’t know what they’re worth. I tell people to just ask, ask, ask. The worst they can do is say no.

  • I seem to get an online 4 night and $50 food credit from the property I like every time I return from Las Vegas that I take advantage of. I’m not a huge bettor but do play several hours a day. I have a host at the casino I visit in the state I live in and she also comps rooms and food. I guess I should look into a host in LV to take advantage of some of the other things you mention in your blog?
    Have really enjoyed your site. You have a lot of energy.

    • Thanks Chas.

      What I would do, if I was in your shoes is start asking for more. Start by telling your host that instead of a $50 food credit, that you want $50 cash. Or $100 cash. The fact that you get 4 nights and food credit means that they value you at some level. Get the host used to cash requests.

      I would also start shopping for hosts at other properties, maybe also an independent host. Sometimes, you’ll find a hungry host who will front you and give you some rather nice bonuses. It all depends on so many factors, but you won’t know until you ask.

      The key is to shop and push your existing hosts. The casino business is highly competitive, and properties do not want to lose players.

      Make your own luck, on and off the tables.

  • Max

    After I made 7 Star, I started to receive phone calls, emails and letters from other casino hosts inviting me to their casino. The interesting one was from an independent host who now works for Venetian. He provided an entire menu of complimentary events, concerts, food, tournaments to choose from. I’m sticking with my longtime host as I value our friendship

    I asked my host how they got my contact info, and he explained that while they strive to keep your info confidential, turnover in the casino industry is high and people “steal” or share lists all the time. I’m guessing The 7 Star list makes its rounds in the casino world and hopefully not our least favorite Uncle who would just love to tax our winnings and comp benefits!

    It’s a competitive industry which is good for us! I am grateful that I have a great host! But I agree with you, keep negotiating until you find a host who values your play! Ask ask ask….

    FYI. Celine actually sings at her show! Britney lipsinc was ok. JLo still got it. Fleetwood Mac Stevie Nicks was a little flat but wife loved it. On deck is Gwen Stefani, Criss Angel Mindfreak or EW&F, have yet to see hockey or ufc. Wife not interested in watching men fight….

    Hope to see u at a Raiders Game for sure. Caesars and NFL!!! Great things ahead!

    • George, you are a much kinder person that I am. Lol.

      Independent hosts are sometimes the best way to extract maximum concessions. Make them bid.

      Any yes, you’re right. Those lists get around. I used to get calls all the time….until they figured out that I would game the system. Now I don’t get so many calls.

  • What about slot only players who use players cards? Any advice for them on how to try to take advantage of better casino comps?

    • The HE is higher on slots, so it might not be possible to get into positive territory, but the exact same advice applies. If anything, slot players THE most valuable players to a casino, so if I were a slot player who routinely bet max on my machines, I would hammer my host even harder.

      I’ve received this question via email multiple times, so I’m working on a more detailed answer. It should be ready on Thursday’s article.

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