I haven’t managed to cut my cable completely, but with Netflix, I’m getting pretty close. Every day, I manage to discover new gems to occupy my time, including a lot of stuff I’ve never heard of. Overall, I love Netflix. But I do have one gripe. The suggestions they come up with are usually pretty bad. I’ve never found a suggested movie that I like, or that was remotely related to what I just watched.
Last Friday, I watched the movie 21. If you’re a huge Blackjack fan, you’ve probably seen it. If you haven’t, give it a try. It’s about those MIT students and their professor who developed a system to win millions playing Blackjack in Vegas and around the world. After watching that flick, The Player came up under suggested films as a documentary I need to watch. At first, I thought Netflix was talking about The Player, the 1992 film starring Tim Robbins about a Hollywood executive who received death threats from a writer whose script he said no to.
I obviously thought that Netflix’s suggested titles algorithm failed miserably again. But upon closer inspection, I discovered that Netflix was finally spot on.
This wasn’t the 1992 Robert Altman movie. This was “The Player: Secrets of a Vegas Whale”, a documentary about Blackjack high roller Don Johnson. If you’re not familiar with Don Johnson, he essentially won $15 million playing Blackjack.
Here’s the backstory. In 2008, right when the financial crisis hit, casinos all over America developed a plan to survive the meltdown. Rather than rely on casual tourists, they went after high rollers and enticed them with anything and everything they could possibly think of. In 2010, Don Johnson, who had made a fortune developing computer-assisted wagering programs used for horse racing, received loads of offers from various casinos to play high stakes games.
Don asked for some compensation for showing up to gamble. Not financial. No, he wanted to reduce the house edge. So he negotiated a refund on 20% of his losses over $500,000, 6-deck shoes, and the chance to re-split Aces. Another change included forcing dealers to stay on Soft 17. The casinos agreed. That was their biggest mistake. Johnson ended up wiping out Tropicana, Borgata, and Caesars out of $15.1 million, cutting into casino profits big time.
So, that’s the back-story. I kind of knew all of that going in. Naturally, I hoped to get a lot out of the documentary. Unfortunately, I received no such thing.
Going in, I assumed I’d hear about his secrets from his point of view. I assumed that I’d find out some inside info that you can’t already find out online. I found none of that.
Essentially, the movie is one big commercial for Las Vegas, with lots of fancy shots of the strip and a spotlight on all the Las Vegas glitz and glamour. I found that the majority of the film was really about the history of Las Vegas more than anything else. There are some good interviews, but as someone who knows the story, there wasn’t anything new here.
With that being said, if you’re unfamiliar with the story, turn it on. It’s definitely well produced and it could inspire your next trip to Sin City, Atlantic City, or elsewhere.