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Deal Me In: Breaking the bank

4 March 2016

(PRESS RELEASE) -- Dear Mark: I have never seen you answer this question, so I wanted to send it to you. Through your column, I now know and accept the fact that the casino ALWAYS has the house edge over players be it on slot machines, table games, or any other forms of gaming. But, I also know sometimes I have winning sessions, and more often I have losing sessions. I understand RNG, house edge, and everything that comes with it. Concisely, over time, the casino always wins.

I also know the casinos do not cheat, but I realize there are good days and bad days for the house. This brings me to my question: Has there ever been a casino that had such a run of ‘bad luck’ that it was forced to close its doors? Jim Y.


In French, Jim, if a gambler were to win more than the remaining chips on the table, he was said to have "faire sauter la banque," which translates to our milder "break the bank."

The idiom, “break the bank” has its origins (c.1600) in the casino business and is used as a reference to an unlikely instance when the casino does not have the cash to cover winning bets.

Unfortunately, Jim, I cannot find any reference in gaming annuals to any gambler who has won the total reserves of a casino, and then asked for the keys to the front door. There are, though, plenty of examples of gamesters who have whooped the casino, badly.

The fact is, Jim, casinos do go broke. Donald Trump himself scuttled three. When you see that happen, it is generally on management’s shoulders, but also, competition, failure to comply with a changing marketplace, or because of an economic downturn.

One such tarring-and-feathering happened in Las Vegas when the late Australian billionaire, Kerry Packer, an Australian media tycoon, beat the MGM out of $33 million, most of it while playing blackjack. The casino finally backed him off the game, not because he was a card counter, but because he was more capitalized than the casino. When a player has more financial resources than the house, a casino opens itself up to a serious whooping.

A titanic win, sure; but in 1999, it was reported that Packer had a three-week losing streak at London casinos that cost him almost $28 million, and at the time, it was reported as the biggest gambling loss in British history. A Packer visit was always a risky affair for any casino, as his wins and losses could make quite the difference to its financial bottom line, even for the biggest casinos.

For others, who dream of a winning streak at blackjack where eventually a casino “cries uncle,” there too is some precedent. In 2011, Don Johnson “broke the bank” by winning approximately $6 million at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City after previously taking $5 million from the Borgata and $4 million more from Caesars. His $6 million win cut a devastating swathe through the monthly revenue of Atlantic City’s Tropicana Casino.

Incidentally, like The Donald, the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City also went through bankruptcy in 2009. For the Tropicana, it was because the Casino Control Commission denied its application for a license renewal in late 2007. The commission cited the management's "abysmal" regulatory compliance, as well as a "lack of business ability . . . financial responsibility . . . and a lack of good character, honesty and integrity."


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Breaking the bank at Monte Carlo is a euphemism for closing a single gaming table. It was last accomplished at the Casino Ste. Bains de Mer during the final days of 1957, with a harvest of 180 million francs.” – Richard Arnold Epstein, The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic
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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.