He is a man you may not initially think of as being a successful blackjack player, given that he is better associated with people being beaten to a pulp inside the Octagon, but Dana White has a long and successful history playing blackjack.
Born in 1969 in Manchester, Connecticut, White’s childhood included a lot of moving around, first to Massachusetts, and then to Las Vegas when he was 8 or 9 years old.
It was here, at school, where he met Lorenzo Fertitta who would go on to be his business partner with the UFC years later.
After spending his senior high school year year in Maine with his grandparents, Dana started college back in Massachusetts, but dropped out and tried again in Boston, where he again dropped out.
He had discovered boxing around age 17 though, and this was the one thing that remained constant through his late teens to his early twenties, and he decided to become a fighter before transitioning into a trainer.
White was happily setting up as a Boxercise coach in Boston, and only returned to Las Vegas after being threatened by notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger, to whom he owed $2,500.
In fear of his life, he skipped town and headed back to Sin City, a place he saw in a completely different light as an adult.
White’s interest in blackjack began on his return to Las Vegas. Like most people, he was initially drawn to the bright lights and the glitz of the casinos. However, it was the game of blackjack that caught his attention. He was immediately fascinated by the game and started learning its rules and strategies.
In an interview with ESPN, White revealed that he spent countless hours reading books on blackjack and practicing his skills. He would often sit at a blackjack table for hours on end, playing the game and analysing his moves.
This dedication to learning the game paid off, and his skills as well as his gut developed to the point where he was a very dangerous player indeed.
It wasn’t just his knowledge of the game though, Dana White was a very disciplined player, and would gamble with a specific goal in mind, and if/when that goal was hit, he would walk away, and never be tempted to continue.
This drove the casinos mad, because they rely on winning customers giving some or all of it back by continuing to play, so in the end, the casinos started reducing his credit, limiting his stakes, or simply asking him to leave.
It wasn’t just the casinos he was driving crazy either.
In 2010 he entered a blackjack tournament at the Rio and played against 52 professional players, all of whom were veterans in the tournament. He made it to the final table of 5, and before the game started one of the other players started making small talk, before explaining that the final 5 players always just split the money whoever ends up winning.
Dana wasn’t having any of that, he was there to win, and win he did, taking the full $250k for himself and making zero friends in the process.
A Winning Streak Turns into a Banning Streak
The first casino to ‘give him his walking papers’ was The Palms, which at the time was owned by the Maloof family. This was in 2011, after White won a reported $1.6 million in a single night.
In response, Dana stopped going there all together, and also pulled all of the UFC events that had for a long time taken place at the resort’s arena. This was very costly to The Palms, and to add insult to injury, he relocated the fights to a rival casino across town.
The Maloof’s sold the casino not long afterwards, and so Dana was allowed back in, but it wouldn’t last.
In 2014, after a killer winning streak, Dana received the phone call he had been expecting. The new owners of the Palms wanted him to hang out at the casino, but they didn’t want him to play there anymore.
They handled it with a bit more class than the previous owners though, arranging for a custom made Blackjack Champion belt to be given to White; a way of saying both “You’re the best at blackjack” and “Please don’t play here anymore” at the same time.
The casinos that have so far banned, or limited Dana White that we know of, are:
- The Palms (twice, under different owners)
- The Wynn
- The Mirage
There are more, White has said only a handful will take his money these days, but the above are the only casinos he has named and shamed.
Of course, being a high stakes player White was able to negotiate more favourable rules with the casinos which would have chipped away at the already tiny house edge, so he had an advantage there. One of his regular approaches was to bet $75,000 hands, and if he managed to get $150,000 ahead he would leave. Whether it took 3 hours or 3 seconds, that was his mentality.
This is an example of the discipline he had when he played; he was there to win, and that was a problem for the casinos.
If he wasn’t such a high stakes player it wouldn’t have been so much of a problem, but when a high stakes player wins, they win a lot, which is damaging for casino owners.
UFC Success and Blackjack Highs
One of the reasons White has the sort of money he gambles with, is because of his success with the UFC.
Having moved back to Vegas in his early 20s, his interest in boxing and martial arts meant he ended up mixing with some interesting people. Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, two men who would both go on to be UFC light heavyweight champions among them.
He ended up managing these two men, and this gave him access to UFC bigwigs like Bob Meyrowitz, the sport’s co-creator.
At the time, the UFC was going through a rough patch with many politicians calling for it to be banned. It had been going since 1993 and the owners were getting tired of it, so Dana White went to his old friend Lorenzo Fertitta and his brother, both of whom were doing very well indeed, and asked if they wanted to buy it.
They agreed, even though their lawyers told them they were crazy. They paid $2 million but all they really bought was the brand, a wooden octagon, and a few fighter contracts, but with Dana White given the job of president, all that would change as the years went on.
In the end, the UFC was sold for just over $4 billion in 2015, and with a 9% ownership share, Dana White became an even richer man than he was before. Not only that, he retained his position as president and even got a stake in the new company.
This is why he can gamble at the eye watering stakes that he does, and why casinos like Caesars (his favourite), the Bellagio, and the Venetian are the only ones that will take his action – these are the places to go for real high stakes gamblers.
On his best night, it is reported that White won $7 million, and on his worst he lost about $1 million. If you can do even primary level maths you can work out that he has probably taken more from the casinos than he has lost.
What’s more, by his own admission he doesn’t count cards but usually plays by the book. We say usually, because he has also said that sometimes he gets this ‘weird feeling’ and goes with it. Seems to work for him, but it’s not a strategy we would recommend.
Unlike many of the other people on this list of famous blackjack players, it isn’t being a math genius that has brought Dana White success at the blackjack table, but an electric combination of skill, wealth, and discipline.
Due to this, many people rank him as the best player in the world.