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.
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.
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.
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…
You can ask for rental car reimbursement…like I did…
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…
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.
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:
As you watch the video, keep in mind the information in this article.
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.