The True Story of Card Counting Christians
High Roller Radio spoke to filmmaker Bryan Storkel about his documentary Holy Rollers. (Below) Does God know the next card off the deck?
Q: Revealed in the book Beat the Dealer by Ed Thorpe. That book revolutionized the game didn’t it?
CJ: Yes, exactly, and it actually made blackjack a popular game. Before that blackjack wasn’t all that popular but, just knowing the game was beatable, made it the game to play. For every one person who was able to beat the gamet there were a thousand or ten thousand of people trying and failing to beat it.
Q: Besides the books Beat the Dealer & Bringing Down the House, are there any watershed moments for blackjack, like perhaps the Moneymaker boom in poker?
CJ: Those are the primary ones. There’s also a thing called ‘The Experiment.’ In Atlantic City, because it’s state run, they did force the casinos to deal the game to card counters like they would deal it to anybody else. Card counters took tons of money from the casinos but ironically the casinos, during that week, made more money than at anytime in the history of running their casinos. So, it was good for card counters but it was great for business for them too. They couldn’t handle the idea that people were beating them, so they shut it down after about a week.
Q: So they opened their doors and basically said, ‘Come on in, we’ll let you do your thing for one week?'
CJ: They were forced too. The state said for that week the casinos had to deal the game regularly to everybody. Card counters from all around the world sat there all day playing but, like I said, the casinos did well overall.
So, the casinos didn’t know what a card counter looked like, even though we’re sitting there being as obvious as possible. So, we were able to play thousands and thousands of hours and get really good at it. Most people, when they get into card counting, travel to Vegas a few times a year and they just don’t have the opportunity to practise like we did. It would be like someone playing a low limit game, playing thousands of hands, and getting really good at poker. So, we got really good at blackjack but we just got tired of playing all the time. Some friends from our churches started asking us if we could teach them to play and the light bulb went on, that we didn’t have to be the ones going into the casinos everyday. You know, we could actually be the people running the business and that sounded like a great new venture. We almost fell into it by accident. I was a substitute teacher making $90 or $100 a day but I was only getting called in a couple times a week. I didn’t want to go to work in restaurants so I thought that I could supplement my substitute teaching, you know maybe make $100 a day. Within a few months, I wasn’t answering the phone when the school called because we were generating several hundred dollars a day. Within six months we were generating a couple hundred dollars an hour. It ended up being something much larger than we ever imagined it to be.
Q: I read somewhere that this operation got huge. You guys took millions off casinos worldwide in the span of four years?
CJ: Yes, when you add in the other different teams. Ours was the ‘Church’ team, that was the name given to us by a friend. He said, ‘What is this the friggin’ church team?’ Everybody was joining from our churches, but yes, all together with the other teams, about $4 million dollars.
Q: Did you get to the point where you were wearing disguises?
CJ: No, not really. You can see in the documentary (Holy Rollers) us dressing up but that was really just training. We would train all of our players, an in-casino ‘test out,’ every three to six months to make sure everybody’s play was good. Our goal was to look so different that the players on our own team wouldn’t recognize us. We were doing that more to make us laugh than anything else.
Q: Is it tough to deal with casino security, the eye in the sky?
CJ: That part is always tough. You know, you have to find new places to play. We had members on our team that were experts in finding these places that were in the middle of nowhere. We would take the risk of flying into a state, then driving three hours to one casino, which might be an absolute bust or we might end staying there five days in a row, playing 12 hours a day, and it’s totally worth it. Other players go to the hot spots like Vegas and every trip it gets tougher and tougher, year after year. You just have to deal with it.
Q: Christian card counters? How do faith and gambling relate?
CJ: I don’t think too many of us thought the ends justify the means. You know, we’re taking money out of casinos so it’s 'okay.' We didn’t think about it that way. The first thing is you have to define gambling. I think most people have a problem with gambling because they think it’s a game of chance, the odds are stacked against you, it’s just foolish, it’s addictive, things like that, but when you’e counting cards you know exactly what your edge is. I don’t know a professional card counter, I mean sure there are amateurs who gamble, but I mean someone who does it for a job doesn't gamble, it’s just so calculated. It takes all the thrill out of it. Gambler’s get a high off both winning and losing. Card counters are only a little frustrated when they lose and not that excited when they win because they expect to win. So, it didn’t feel like gambling to us. It just felt like any other job, that’s how we treated it.
Q: In variably, when you’re at a party and the topic of blackjack comes up and someone claims to be a card counter. How tough is it to be successful at keeping a count?
CJ: The easy question to ask someone if they say they’re a card counter is, ‘What do you do with a soft 18?’ The foundation of card counting is basic strategy. Everyone says they know basic strategy but few of them really do. So, the easy to way to find out if someone knows what they’re talking about. How hard is it? At least a few hundred hours of training. It sounds like a lot but it’s not. It’s the same for poker. If someone says, ‘I play poker every Saturday night at the casino. I’m a professional.’ No you’re not. It’s going to take you hundreds of hours of training, both understanding the odds, pot odds, what hands you’re going to play and not play, and also actually playing in a live casino to get that experience.
Q: What do you do on a soft 18?
CJ: You double two, three, six, you stay against 7 and 8 and you hit against nine, ten or Ace.
Q: You don’t see too many one deck shoes at the blackjack table anymore. How do eight and 10 deck shoes affect card counting?
CJ: Well, if every thing else is the same, the fewer the decks the better but what the casinos generally do is make the rules worse in single or double deck games. We do what’s called a ‘true’ count. What you do is divide your running count by how many decks remain to be dealt and that gives you the count per deck. That’s the way our team, the MIT team, and all the major teams, have been able to exploit the six and eight deck games as well.
Q: What about cost. If you want to be a professional card counter what’s it going to cost you?
CJ: I tell people there are two things you need, your brain and your bankroll. A lot of people just want to know about the what bankroll they’ll need but, honestly, you could have a million dollar bankroll and if you don’t play perfect you’re just going to slowly lose it all. If you are perfect, to really start to generate some money, $10,000 is a good bankroll to begin with. If you want to be pro, I think building it up to fifty-grand would be better. The awesome thing about card counting is it’s so scaleable. I started with $2,000 and within a year built it up to $50,000. My wife quit her job and we have lived off it ever since. I haven’t had a job since. So, it’s nice that it’s scaleable if you can continue to reinvest your money into your bankroll.
Q: Another good thing is you can pick and choose where and when you play?
CJ: That’s the nice thing about it. I don’t want to paint it as easy, there are challenges, you see that in the documentary. There’s travel and the losing streaks are brutal. I’m sure poker players can relate. But, once we got a taste of being free from the nine-to-five we were addicted. We couldn’t go back.
Q: Did you like the movie ’21?’ And, have you ever said, ‘Winner, winner, chicken dinner,’ at the table?
CJ: I’ve probably said it tongue in cheek a few times since the movie came out but that movie was terrible. We took our entire team to see it on opening night and it was painful and hard to make it throuhgt the whole movie. We took notes and actually have a youtube video, we’ve got several million hits on it now, called, ‘The Top Ten Mistakes in 21, the Movie!’ You know, getting pistol whipped in a back room, that’s never happened to me. The guy loses his cool and that’s the only time they lose? I’m sure a poker player can relate. They don’t win every night. It’s not like you lose you’re cool this one time and that’s why you lose. Some nights the cards aren’t falling and you suck it up. You win 60% of the time and you lose 40% of the time. That you have to have this photographic memory, or be brilliant to do it, is another misnomer. We've had electricians and housewives and we were able to train them to count cards. So yes, many of those things were painful to watch.
Colin Jones Thank-you!
Good Will Punting?
Ben Affleck: Poker, Blackjack & Gambling!
As an actor he’s played in some big Hollywood blockbusters. At the gaming tables he’s played in some BiG pots and he’s won a lot of them. Banned for life at blackjack at the Hard Rock, Ben Affleck today on High Roller Radio.
In 2013, security at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, walked up to the blackjack table, where Ben Affleck was playing, and politely asked him to leave. ”You’re too good at the game,” they said, and like that, the 2-time academy award winner was banned for life for card counting at the high rollers table. An alert sent out by the casino is said to have stated that Affleck "uses perfect basic" - an industry term for card counting, and, that he also quote "takes insurance according to the count."
Card counting, while not technically illegal, is certainly frowned upon by operators and casinos do have the right to ask you to leave. 2013 was good to big Ben. Before starring in the movie Runner Runner, about an online gambling tycoon, Affleck made many trips to Vegas and managed to win huge sums. His history with the Hard Rock includes a good run where he scooped close to a million bucks on two separate trips. In 2001, he had an $800,000 score while playing three hands simultaneously at 20 grand a pop. A year earlier, 2000, he beat the house for 140-grand in one session while playing with fellow good will hunting star Matt Damon. Ready for this? He gave every bit of it, all 140k, back to casino staffers as a tip. Some dealers, waitresses and doormen getting as much as $5,000.
No stranger to gambling, Affleck also has penchant for poker, loves the game, has even hosted some Hollywood games with the likes Matt Damon, Leoardo DiCaprio, and Tobey Maguire. Did you know he even won the California State Poker Championships in 2004. That $350,000 dollar score added to a reported net worth of $75 million. Actor, gambler, & too good for the game - Ben Affleck today on High Roller Radio.
Q: This team you assembled in the Seattle area, you started it with a buddy, you taught a group of 30 or so rotating players to count cards, and it featured players with Christian roots?
CJ: It started out with my buddy Ben and I. We were playing, the two of us, and we threw our money together and then a friend joined. A fourth person joined us, he wasn’t a Christian, and the four of us played together for a few years. The beautiful thing about Seattle is that there are so many of these little mom and pop casinos, and they were such low limits that full-time card counters didn’t travel to Seattle to play.
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Colin Jones Interview
High Roller Radio has interviewed some of the greatest gamblers, casino insiders, sports bettors, authors and poker players. Here, our interview with Colin Jones, a professional card counter, founder of Blackjack Apprenticeship and star of the documentary, Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. His team(s) took millions from the casinos.
High Roller Radio
Colin Jones, Blackjack Apprenticeship, Card Counter (2013)
Full audio of this interview HERE
Q: Your thoughts on Ben Affleck being banned from the Hard Rock Casino for life? Should card counters be kicked out of casinos?
CJ: Well, he wasn’t banned from the casino itself, he was banned for life from the blackjack tables, they of course welcome him to any other table game. It’s a tricky subject because if they were to allow anyone to play the game, if they said, ‘We’re going to let you count cards,’ what they do in turn is make the rules so bad, and make the game so unbeatable, card counters wouldn’t play it anyway. They casinos aren't going to sit there and let card counters make millions of dollars off of it. They would just make it like every other game. So, it’s a 'Catch 22’ where we have to play the cat and mouse game of trying to stay under the radar and getting backed off from time to time. At lleast it’s still a beatable game fifty years after card counting was first revealed to the public.