The Business of Breaking Vegas

By Varney and Co

Jeff Ma is a casino owner's worst nightmare.

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The former professional card counter helped the M.I.T. blackjack team take casinos all over the world for more than $5 million dollars. His exploits were fictionalized in both the book "Bringing Down the House" and in the movie "21".

Jeff has now taken the lessons he learned from the blackjack tables applied them to the business world in his new book, "The House Advantage: Playing the Odds to Win Big in Business".

"Card counting is basically using the past to predict the future," Ma explained. "That's why there are so many lessons for what we do with card counting into the business world."

In his book, Jeff says that he not only applied the analytical skills that he used for card counting to business, but also other lessons he learned from his time on the M.I.T. blackjack team. "There's so many lessons that we learned about not making emotional decisions, how to use data and overcoming biases that might cause us to make bad decisions," said Ma. "Those lessons that we learned in the casinos are very transferable to the business world."

Jeff is clear that what he was doing in the casinos was not gambling, and hopes that people can apply those same principals and attitudes to the business world. "We equate the idea of what we did to investing," he explained. "I was actually working as a trader on the Chicago Board of Options exchange while I was starting my world as a gambler. What I did in the casinos wasn't gambling, but what I did on the Chicago Board of Options exchange was."

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While his best days as an author and a businessman are ahead of him, Jeff's future as a blackjack player isn't looking too bright. "I can go in [to a casino], but they don't let me play blackjack," he said. "They'll say, ‘hey, you're here. You can play slots, you can play craps', but they won't let me near a blackjack table."