How Much Did the MIT Blackjack Team Win?

MIT BLackjack
The blackjack world has seen many successful players over the years. But no name reverberates in the gambling world as much as the MIT Blackjack Team.

This group, or corporation, of card counters terrorized casinos from the early 1980s until the late 1990s. It’s immortalized in the 2008 film 21.

Much is known about the MIT Blackjack Team and their methods. However, no information exists on their exact winnings.

I’m going to explore this topic by quickly rehashing the team and looking at variables that can provide a ballpark figure on their profits.

What Is the MIT Blackjack Team?

Blackjack card counting teams usually consist of a group of players who stick together for a few years. When they break up, their team dissolves and they’re left looking for other opportunities.

MIT Logo

The MIT Blackjack Team differed greatly from this model, though. It wasn’t so much a team as it was a corporation that included leaders, players, and even investors.

Everything started in 1979, when professional blackjack player Bill Kaplan was strolling through the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He found a flier that called for students to join the MIT Blackjack Club.

The club was looking to capitalize on the new casinos in Atlantic City. After helping the club in the beginning, Kaplan didn’t feel that the team had enough skills to win long term.

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However, he didn’t give up on the idea. He later met blackjack player J.P. Massar at a local Chinese restaurant.

Massar wanted Kaplan to critique his team as they played in Atlantic City. The latter felt that the players were good, but they were using an overly complex counting system.

In exchange for staying with the team, Kaplan required that they agree to the following standards:

  • Corporate-like structure
  • Kaplan and Massar at the top
  • Funds split between investors and players
  • One card counting system for the entire team
  • Training sessions
  • New members undergo a difficult trial

The MIT Blackjack Team was officially born in 1980. They started with $90,000 in investment capital and quickly doubled this amount.

This success continued for years with players making $160 per hour ($80/$80 split with investors). The team’s capitalization hit $350,000 by 1984.

The team members continued growing as well. By 1984, it featured 35 members from a combination of Harvard and MIT.

At its height, this squad had 80 members. Teams were spread throughout the world in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Caribbean countries, and Europe.

Why Was the MIT Team so Good?

Many believe that this team was so good because it was filled with genius students. In reality, though, the MIT squad had success due to their unique corporate structure. Kaplan said as much when speaking with Boston Magazine.

“Most teams fail on the money management,” he said. “They never make it to the long run.

“There are tens of thousands of people who tried to win at the game. But MIT was the only team who really won year over year, because we ran it like a business.”

The rigorous training process that Kaplan and Massar put the players through also had an impact on their long-term success.

“Training, extensive training, checkout procedures, two hours of perfect play, leaving the table right,” explained Kaplan. “It was really run more tightly than most businesses.”

The investments and dozens of players working across the globe also helped MIT become the legendary standard in blackjack.

“[Card counting is] hard to do, as an individual. One of the reasons you play as a team, you can pool all your capital, but you’re able to get to the long run sooner.”

Variables to Calculate the MIT Team’s Winnings

No published figures exist on profits for the MIT Blackjack Team. Furthermore, key members like Massar and Kaplan don’t discuss it either.

Therefore, variables are needed to come up with a rough estimate on their winnings. Here are some key pieces of information that I’ll draw from when deciding how much the team made.

Number of Players

As mentioned earlier, the MIT Blackjack Team featured up to 80 players at its height. However, it also has as few as seven members, too.

Players entered the team and left in a steady stream. I’ll just take the lower end of the average and say that there were around 25 players at all times.

Days Played Per Player

The team didn’t play five days a week, every week. Instead, travel time and other pursuits were factored into the mix.

Some team divisions played as far away as Europe or the Caribbean. Others traveled from the team’s Boston-area home base to Las Vegas.

Additionally, some members were students while others were full-time players. Taking everything into account, I’ll assume that members logged an average of three days per week.

Daily Winnings

The average hourly profit for the team was $160. Assuming each team member played five hours a day, they’d earn approximately $800 per day. Multiplying the 25 players by $800 each day, the team as a whole would earn $20,000 daily.

Monthly Winnings

Here’s the math on how much the squad would make each month:

  • $20,000 daily winnings
  • 3 days per week x 20,000 = $60,000 per week
  • 4 weeks per month x 60,000 = $240,000 per month

Annual Winnings

Here’s the math on how much the team would earn each year:

  • $240,000 per month
  • 12 months x 240,000 = $2,880,000 annually

Longevity of the Team

This blackjack group started with Kaplan, Massar, and a few others in 1980. It ran really strong until the early 1990s.

Kaplan, Massar, and John Chang revived the squad as Strategic Investments in 1992 so that they could take advantage of the nearby Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.

Strategic Investments was very successful until the end of 1993, when most of the team was identified and banned from casinos.

“Team Amphibians” and “Team Reptiles” continued the tradition from then until 2000, when the MIT group ceased their play completely. All told, I’ll count the longevity as 20 years.

Expenses

MIT Team members were responsible for covering their own travel costs and meals. The investors merely fronted the bankroll money needed to play.

Therefore, I won’t count expenses against winnings. After all, the corporation didn’t need to pay for the players.

How Much Money Did They Win?

I’ve consolidated the variables to just two: annual winnings and the team’s longevity. Now, the only matter left involves figuring out how much the team made in its lifetime.

Here’s the math:

  • 20 years
  • $2,880,000 in annual winnings
  • 20 x 2,880,000 = $57,600,000

Based on all the variables, both known ones and speculated, I believe that this blackjack team made $57.6 million.

This is no doubt a tremendous amount. Of course, it was split between investors and players with dozens on each side.

Why Did the MIT Team Stop Playing?

This blackjack squad might still be going today if casinos let them. However, gambling establishments hate losing serious money to card counters.

Casinos networked to end this card counting team’s reign. Griffin Investigations, a private investigator, matched yearbook photos of MIT and Harvard students to identify much of the team.

Blackjack

Griffin realized that many of the previously caught players lived around Cambridge. They were able to piece together the rest from here. Individuals also quit playing off and on. Many came to understand that professional gambling isn’t as glamorous as it seems.

Others were merely part-time spotters who didn’t get rich from their gambling endeavors. They were perfectly fine walking away from the casino world when a potentially lucrative career awaited them.

Heat from casinos also caused a great deal of stress for many players. Nobody likes having unpleasant conversations with the pit boss and, much worse, worrying about security.

As if all this weren’t enough, players had to continually earn their spots every time they were out in the field. Team management would verify new members’ results to ensure that they earned their keep.

The MIT Blackjack Team as a whole, though, was a fruitful pursuit for most involved. They no doubt made millions and quite possibly close to $57.6 million overall.

Conclusion

I’ll admit that my variables may not be spot on. Only a few team members would know the exact numbers on players, days played per week, winnings, etc.

However, I believe that my variables and ending figure could be somewhere in the ballpark of how much the MIT Team earned playing real money blackjack.

You may have your own thoughts on the matter, especially with the longevity and what counts as actual team play. Maybe you don’t consider the Amphibians and Reptiles teams to be the true MIT squad.

Whatever the case may be, though, this blackjack team accomplished something that no other squad has or will in the gambling world. They successfully crushed casinos for nearly two decades and earned millions in the process.