What's interesting here is his out-of-game tactics. The casinos are so desperate for big money players that they will hold special games for them with all sorts of tweaks to the rules. Johnson was given a 20% discount on his losses up to $500,000 and was allowed to change a few of the rules for the House, making Blackjack more fair.
He did this by getting the marketing departments at Atlantic City's three biggest casinos to outbid each other, then he held them all to the best deal. He took each of them for an average of $5 million, severely wrecking their months.
The Man Who Broke Atlantic City - Magazine - The Atlantic
Johnson’s assault on the Tropicana was merely the latest in a series of blitzes he’d made on Atlantic City’s gambling establishments. In the four previous months, he’d taken $5 million from the Borgata casino and another $4 million from Caesars. Caesars had cut him off, he says, and then effectively banned him from its casinos worldwide.
Fifteen million dollars in winnings from three different casinos? Nobody gets that lucky. How did he do it?
The first and most obvious suspicion was card counting. Card counters seek to gain a strong advantage by keeping a mental tally of every card dealt, and then adjusting the wager according to the value of the cards that remain in the deck. (The tactic requires both great memory and superior math skills.) Made famous in books and movies, card counting is considered cheating, at least by casinos. In most states (but not New Jersey), known practitioners are banned. The wagering of card counters assumes a clearly recognizable pattern over time, and Johnson was being watched very carefully. The verdict: card counting was not Don Johnson’s game. He had beaten the casinos fair and square.
It hurt. Largely as a result of Johnson’s streak, the Trop’s table-game revenues for April 2011 were the second-lowest among the 11 casinos in Atlantic City. Mark Giannantonio, the president and CEO of the Trop, who had authorized the $100,000-a-hand limit for Johnson, was given the boot weeks later. Johnson’s winnings had administered a similar jolt to the Borgata and to Caesars. All of these gambling houses were already hurting, what with the spread of legalized gambling in surrounding states. By April, combined monthly gaming revenue had been declining on a year-over-year basis for 32 months.
For most people, though, the newspaper headline told a happy story. An ordinary guy in a red cap and black hoodie had struck it rich, had beaten the casinos black-and-blue. It seemed a fantasy come true, the very dream that draws suckers to the gaming tables.
But that’s not the whole story either.