Many people have asked me questions about Bringing Down The House, by Ben Mezrich, and the movie, 21. They want to know how the book and the movie compare to what really happened. Despite the fact that Mezrich used a fair amount of artistic liberty when he wrote Bringing Down The House, the book does capture the essence of what we accomplished. The movie, 21, was “inspired by a true story. ” As movies often are, 21 is very different from reality. Here are some of the questions I’m asked most often, along with their answers. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at mike@mikeaponte.com

Q: Did you ever get roughed up by the casinos?

A: I’m happy to say that no one was ever dragged down to a dark basement, tied to a chair, and beat up by a casino secrurity boss. Nor was I ever roughed up by security guards in the bathroom of a Caribbean casino. There were times however when casinos pushed the envelope and even crossed the line in attempts to intimidate us. When we played in the 1990’s, there was still some of the “old school” mentality lingering in Vegas. Luckily things never got too ugly. Times have changed however. Vegas is now run by corporations which recognize there’s no upside, only downside to mistreating advantage players. By and large, casinos are now very professional and civil when asking card counters not to play.

Q: Was there really an undergound casino in Boston’s
Chinatown?

A: There is no underground casino in Chinatown I’m aware of. The inpiration for the underground casino in both the book and movie was a private party held in Chinatown during Chinese New Year. When I arrived at the party with several of my teammates, there were two tables set up with live blackjack. The table maximum was only $25, but we quickly talked the “house” into allowing us to back bet each other’s bets, which effectively raised the maximum to $75. It was a great game – 4 decks, late surrender, and they dealt down  to the last card. We were like sharks who had caught the scent of fresh blood. Within a few hours we cleaned out the house. Surprisingly, we weren’t invited back to the party the next year.21 - Major Motion Picture

Q: Did you guys really carry around all that cash through airport security?

A: Yes, one of the aspects of our experience the movie accurately depicted was how we transported money. Since the team was strictly a cash business we had to bring large amounts of cash and chips on every trip. You can easily fit two $10,000 packs in each of your front jean pockets. Shorts, especially cargo type shorts, can hold 3 or 4 times that. We were always careful not to set off the metal detector when we passed through airport security.

Q: In 21, the spotters crossed their arms behind their back to signal a “hot” table. Was this the signal your spotters used to call in the big player?

A:  No. When I watched 21, that was one of the parts I couldn’t help but laugh because we would have never used such an awkward and conspicuous signal. When a table was hot, a spotter would signal the big player by crossing his or her arms naturally – in front. Also, in the movie the spotter would stick around and watch the big player play. This is something our spotters never did for two reasons. 1) If the spotter remained at the table there was a risk that he or she could be linked with the big player. 2) After passing off the count to the big player, our spotters always took off to find another hot table.

Q: Did you really resort to disguises?

A: Yes, I actually flew to Los Angeles with a teammate to meet with several professional makeup artists. We gave it a whirl but the disguises did not work as well as we had hoped. Low-end disguises (baseball caps & sunglasses) fared almost as well as the more elaborate ones (wigs, fake moustaches, colored contacts and even a fat man suit). It’s one thing for a disguise to look believable on television and in movies. It’s a much more difficult task to fool someone who may have kicked you out before.

Q: Was there really a detective agency that hounded the team for the casinos?

A: Yes,  Griffin Investigations was a subcription based company that maintained a database of casino “undesirables.”  Griffin was a major thorn for the team, but not as dark and ominous as the book made the agency out to be.

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