Blackjack Winner Takes in $15 MIllion. Is He “Just” Lucky or a Good Card Counter? Or Both.

There’s lucky, very lucky, and then there’s the story of Don Johnson, who, between December and April of this ear, playing single blackjack hands of up to $100,000, reportedly walked away from Atlantic City’s tables with  $15 million.

News reports say that from the Tropicana he took $6 million.

From the Borgata, $5 million.

Caesar’s, $4 million.

The question all of us gamblers want to know is: how did he do it? How’d he do it? Was it card-counting or an epic run of good luck?

Johnson isn’t saying.

He told the Atlanic City Press newspaper that he had to take some losses along the way.

The 49-year-old resident of Bensalem, Pa., said in the same interview that he began playing blackjack 15 years ago, starting with $25 bets.

Today he’s a professional gambler of sorts: chief executive officer of Heritage Development LLC, which develops computer-assisted wagering systems for horseracing.

His prowess in blackjack, he says, has gotten him banned from some casinos.

Johnson insists that he’s no cheater: that all his Atlantic City winnings came to him fair and square. Though he refuses to divulge the system he uses, it depends in part on his having a big enough bankroll to sustain losses and keep right on going.

“If you can take the swings,” he told the Atlantic City paper, “You’re going to win. You also have to understand the math.”

By that he likely means card-counting, which is not illegal: A blackjack player with a trained memory and enough acuity can keep track of which cards have been played and which are still in the deck, thereby maximizing his chances for beating the house.

One expert thinks Johnson may have figured out a way deliberately to randomize certain aspects of his play, thereby avoiding detection by casino systems designed to recognize and root out counters.

Casinos monitor every aspect of play, 24/7, using cameras in the ceiling. They look for certain clues that tell them here’s a player exhibiting counting-like behavior, somebody who needs closer scrutiny–players exhibiting a large variation in bet size, for instance. Johnson might have figured out a way to count without seeming to count–by deliberately making bad plays, for example, but in such a way as to minimize the cost to himself.

It could also have been luck.

Sheer good luck.

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