You are most likely familiar with playing blackjack at your local or online casino where the average bets range in size from $5 to $50 per hand, but did you know that high stakes blackjack is played every day for as much as $500,000 per hand?
It is hard to imagine making a bet that would buy a mansion in an upper class suburban neighborhood, or shoving the equivalent of five Lamborghini’s onto the table for one hand of blackjack, and yet there are big players who do this on a regular basis.
It takes nerves of steel and a lot of money to be a high stakes blackjack player, but the rewards can be amazing.
What is High Stakes Blackjack?
For the purposes of our discussion, high stakes blackjack can be considered any hand in which the player bets in excess of $100,000. These players are known as “whales” and most of them are billionaires who can lose a million dollars without batting an eye. Many of them are wealthy Asians and princes of Middle Eastern countries.
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These whales prefer baccarat, but blackjack is their strong second choice. They choose these games because they offer the best chance of winning a profit. Oddly enough, however, making a profit is not what drives the high stakes blackjack player. It is the rush of adrenaline which comes from betting $100,000 or more which drives a whale. Many of them will tell you that they have never felt more alive than when they lose a big bet. Why? Well, as Al Pacino put it in the film Two For The Money, the high stakes player regularly recreates a disaster that is worse than getting cancer but walks away from it alive. This thrill becomes a powerful drug for the whale.
Think about it. How much do these guys need to bet in order to actually feel a win? $100,000 is nothing to them. They have to bet big in order to realize a gain which is proportional to the money they already have.
Why Casinos Love and Hate Whales
Casinos have a love/hate relationship with the whales. They love them because nothing is more exciting than watching a person bet a million dollars on a hand of blackjack. It draws a crowd and the casino likes to use it in their marketing campaigns. Benny Binion built the Horseshoe, one of the most legendary Vegas casinos, on the promise that he would book any bet no matter how big or small.
Casinos hate whales because there is always the possibility that a whale will take them for a large amount of money. Such was the case with Don Johnson, a professional handicapper and blackjack player from New Jersey. Johnson once took the Tropicana casino for $5,800,000 dollars in a 12-hour session and was summarily banned by many casinos. Or what about the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi? He won £5,000,000 in one session of blackjack.
These are the men the casinos fear more than any other.
High Stakes Blackjack on Television
For a while, GSN aired a program which featured high stakes blackjack. Celebrities and professional players would gamble insane amounts of money on each blackjack hand. Unfortunately, the program never caught on like Poker After Dark. That show featured some pots in excess of $1,000,000.
Playing under the glare of lights and in front of the television camera can be difficult and that is why it is rare to see real high stakes blackjack on television today. The whales need to concentrate and focus, and many of them find that hard to do while being filmed.
The Dark Side of High Stakes Blackjack
There are many cautionary tales involving high stakes blackjack players. The fact is that very few individuals can endure the emotional highs and lows for an extended period of time. Sooner or later they suffer a breakdown or worse.
Some players have committed suicide after a bad losing session. Others give into the vices that accompany big-time gambling. Among these are drugs and sex. When a person has that much money to throw around they attract a lot of undesirables who are looking for a piece of the pie. It is possible for a high-stakes player to get anything they want, from a call girl to a line of coke, without even making a phone call.
In the movies high stakes blackjack looks very glamorous. It is a favorite pastime of action heroes like James Bond. That is a Hollywood image which is not always accurate. When Stu Unger, the prodigy of poker, died from a drug overdose he was living in a squalid, nasty hotel off the Vegas strip and was broke. He had lost everything. Blackjack legend Ken Uston died while living like a pauper in France.
In high stakes blackjack the rewards are great, but the price can be even greater.