The MIT Team that Took Down Vegas


In the 1990s, a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) formed a blackjack team which became famous around the world due to their success. They achieved something seemingly impossible – they took down Las Vegas. Everybody knows that the casino always has an advantage but this group of students formed such an effective method of playing blackjack that they were taking home huge winnings almost every time they played. You only have to read a casino guide, like the Ladbroke’s casino guide for beginners, to learn the basics of this popular game, but with study, practice and logic, the MIT team took the game one step further. Here’s how the MIT team beat the casinos and took down Vegas.

Who Were The MIT Blackjack Team?

Despite common misconception, the team was never a single group of maths students. In fact, the team grew and changed throughout the years as new members joined and old ones left – or were rejected from the team for their poor playing techniques! The students had experimented with card counting on their university campus but had never put the model into practice, until one day they encountered Harvard graduate Bill Kaplan. Since the age of 18, Kaplan had been using a mathematical model to win at blackjack around the world, turning $1,000 into $30,000 in just nine months. Having overheard Kaplan discussing his success in Vegas, the MIT students asked him to teach them. This was the beginning of the MIT Blackjack Team’s success.

Of the students on the team, Jeff Ma and Mike Aponte were two of the most famous and successful players. Many other members of the team remain anonymous to this day; some were even imprisoned when they tried to use the card counting technique abroad. At its peak, the team had 80 different players. The MIT Blackjack Team had one aim – to beat the dealer and win big, which is exactly what they did. The player’s story became so famous that a Hollywood movie titled 21 was made.

How Did They Take Down the Casinos?

Under the influence of Kaplan, the students used their mathematical knowledge and card counting techniques to predict when favourable cards were being dealt. The group of students would practice and train for months beforehand, new members of the team were not allowed to gamble at the casinos until they had passed a series of tests, such as being able to beat dealers in local casinos. Once they were ready, they were unleashed on unsuspecting casinos in Las Vegas.

In just one weekend, the MIT Blackjack team managed to take home over $400,000 in Vegas. They had perfected their card-counting technique to win almost every time, often taking home profits of $30,000 each time they played. They would use their experience to create computer programs which taught them which moves to make in which situation, ensuring that they continued to win.

How Casinos Responded To The MIT Blackjack Team

Many successful members of the MIT Blackjack Team grew accustomed to the luxurious life that extreme wealth brought. It’s no secret that high rollers are given five-star treatment, with access to penthouse suits and free tickets to events. However, the team’s success also became their downfall. Due to the large amount of attention that was being drawn to them, a private investigation was ordered by Las Vegas casinos to track down the members of the team. Many members of the team were caught and prevented from playing at casinos, with security members often becoming violent towards them. Some players betrayed their teammates by giving their name to the Griffin Agency out of greed. Eventually, the MIT Blackjack Team was no longer viable and became too risky, so the team dissolved. Card counting is still technically legal in many countries but most casinos will do anything they can to prevent it.