GE 217: How Colin Jones Built Blackjack Apprenticeship After Winning $4M by Counting Cards at Casinos (podcast) With Colin Jones

Colin Jones

Hey everyone! In today’s episode, I share the mic with Colin Jones, creator of Blackjack Apprenticeship.

Tune in to hear Colin share tips and tricks to help you hone your card counting skills and win BIG in blackjack, how to strategize and optimize your entrepreneurial game via insights from this ace blackjack player, and the SEO strategy he used to rank #1 for “how to count cards.”

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Colin Jones Built Blackjack Apprenticeship After Winning $4M by Counting Cards at Casinos

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:38 – Review and subscribe to the Growth Everywhere Podcast
  • 00:56 – Eric welcomes Colin Jones who runs Blackjack Apprenticeship
    • 01:01 – Improve your blackjack skills by sharpening your card counting skills on Blackjack Apprenticeship
  • 01:15 – Colin’s entrepreneurial journey
    • 01:15 – Waited tables at Red Robin 15 years back
    • 01:36 – Put in $2,000 from his savings to try card counting
    • 01:52 – Started playing full-time and won over $600,000 playing individually and over $4 million while partnering with a friend
    • 02:12 – He started Blackjack Apprenticeship where people can pay and hone their card counting skills
  • 02:50 – A documentary was made about Colin’s team, “Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians”
  • 04:22 – Membership and Fee Structure
    • 04:22 – Membership to Blackjack apprenticeship gives you access to videos, forums, training drills and a “Yelp for card counters” to help scout out games
    • 04:56 – Blackjack bootcamp where hands-on training is provided to blackjack enthusiasts
    • 05:08 – Membership is around $300 per year
    • 05:20 – Bootcamp will set you back by $3,000 for two days
  • 05:34 – Blackjack apprenticeship currently has 500 members which brings in a revenue of $150,000 per year; Bootcamp contributes equally in revenue
  • 06:17 – Understanding the nuances of Colin’s SEO strategy
    • 07:33 – Created great content to rank first for the search “How to count cards”
    • 08:18 – Replicated this same strategy for the search term “Blackjack strategy”—ranked number one for a year with this generic these search term
    • 08:36 – Skyscraper technique involving looking at the competition and beating them; your content can then be linked with other resources to further drive competition to your page
  • 09:42 – What has card counting taught you about business? – Figuring out what will create value for customers in the long-term and not worry about the short-term
  • 10:55 – What advantage do you gain by card counting?
    • 10:57 – Casino has half a percentage over you if you adhere to the basic strategy
    • 11:23 – The average gambler is playing at a 2 percentage disadvantage
    • 11:58 – Card counters get a 1-2% advantage over others which is considerable when you consider thousands of hours of play
  • 12:31 – Colin brings along $70,000-$80,000 on a gambling trip to Vegas to weather out a losing streak and allow math to do its bit
  • 13:07 – Colin’s biggest loss was when he lost 40 grand in a few hours; his biggest win to date has been 50 grand in a day
  • 14:32 – Hone your blackjack skills via training drills and through the Blackjack Apprenticeship iOS App
  • 15:12 – “It is not going to be profitable over the long haul unless you are going to be perfect at it”
  • 16:02 – It is normal for casinos to ask card counters to “back off” and stop playing blackjack
  • 16:24 – Act normal and avoid making huge betting variations to avoid being earmarked as a card counter
  • 17:13 – What’s one big struggle you faced while growing this education or membership business? – Colin offered 80% of his content on his site for free, for a year—sales were dismal and the site was not given the status it deserved
  • 18:26 – What is next for the business?
    • 18:55 – Overhauling their training drills to make them more valuable
    • 19:00 – Adding more betting software
  • 19:18 – What’s one big change you’ve made in the last year that has impacted you or your business in a big way? – “I overhauled our lead magnet”—drawing from the strategies espoused by Storybrand, Colin managed to generate 4x opt-in rates
  • 20:44 – What’s one new tool that you’ve added in the last year that’s added a lot of value, besides Troops? – Switched over to ActiveCampaign from GetResponse
  • 21:39 – What’s one must-read book do you recommend?Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud
  • 22:50 – Connect with Colin on his website or Facebook

3 Key Points:

  1. Figure out what will create value for your customers over the long-term; don’t get bogged down by pleasing them for the short-term.
  2. Studying competitor content and creating better content is the “Skyscraper Strategy” that results in driving more traffic to your website.
  3. Card counters get a 1-2% advantage over others which is considerable when you consider the thousands of hours of play.

Resources From This Interview:

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Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.

Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
Colin Jones: I won about six hundred thousand dollars beating casinos, and then my buddy and I went on and started a team that beat casinos for close to four million dollars over the course of about seven or eight years.

Auto Announcer: Do you want to impact the world and still turn a profit? Then you're in the right place. Welcome to Growth Everywhere, this is the show where you'll find real conversations with real entrepreneurs. They'll share everything from their biggest struggle, to the exact strategies they use on a daily basis. So if you're ready for a value packed interview, listen on. Here's your host, Eric Siu.

Eric Siu: Before we jump into today's interview, if you guys could leave a review and a rating and also subscribe as well, that would be a huge help to the podcast. So if you actually enjoy the content and you'd like to hear more of it, please support us by leaving us a review and subscribe to the podcast as well. Thanks so much.

All right, everybody today we have Colin Jones, who runs Blackjack Apprenticeship, which allows you to practice your card counting skills and improve your game. Colin, how's it going?

Colin Jones: It's going great.

Eric Siu: So I guess, why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do over there at Blackjack Apprenticeship?

Colin Jones: Yeah, totally. So how I got into this whole thing is about fifteen years ago I graduated from college with a Math Degree, and I was working at Red Robin, waiting tables, and I had absolutely no ambition. And then I met my wife, and we decided to get married, quit our jobs and had no income. And I convinced my wife for me to take $2000 of our savings to try card counting. A friend had loaned me a book, I read it and I thought hey I'm a math guy, I think I could do this. And I didn't want to have to work evenings at a restaurant or anything or become a teacher or something I thought I'd probably hate, so I tried my hand at card counting, it worked, and turned it into a successful living for about ten years playing myself. I won about $600,000 beating casinos, and then my buddy and I went on and started a team that beat casinos for close to $4 million over the course of about seven or eight years. And somewhere in the middle there, we thought, let's put this on the internet and behind a paywall, and when I got sick of running a team, I started focusing on Blackjack Apprenticeship where we train others how to legally beat blackjack with card counting.

Eric Siu: Wow, okay. And what was the team called?

Colin Jones: So we were called, it was kind of a tongue in cheek name, but we were called, "The Church Team" because we had friends from our churches that would ask us if we would train them how to play blackjack, and if they could play on our bankroll, and so it was a friend of ours who said, "What is this? The church team?"

Eric Siu: That's funny. I actually just read something earlier about ... it's not called like, "The

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Holy ... " something?

Colin Jones: Yes, there's a documentary about the team that we ran called, "Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians" so, my oldest friend was living in LA trying to make documentaries, and he said, "Hey, can I film you guys?" And we said, "Yeah, as long as you don't put it out till we give you permission." And he followed our team around for a couple years, and it's kind of fun.

Eric Siu: Cool, is it on Netflix or anything?

Colin Jones: It was on Netflix for a couple years. I think now it's on Amazon, iTunes, stuff like that.

Eric Siu: Got it, cool. So if the rest of you want to know the exact story, you can dive into that. So you guys, you beat the Casinos for $4 million. Why did you guys decide to stop?

Colin Jones: That's a good question. When I got into it, I was 22, 23, and I wasn't thinking I was going to do it forever, and it actually a lot longer than I anticipated.

Eric Siu: How long?

Colin Jones: Over time it just seemed to run its course. I got sick of running it, and the core group of players, myself included, we had all run our courses far as the best blackjack games that we could play around the country, and it wasn't as profitable in the last year or two as it had been in the first five or six, and I decided to take the plunge and move onto something else and I don't regret it.

Eric Siu: Got it. All right, well let's talk about today's business. What do you guys do exactly, how do you guys make money?

Colin Jones: Yeah, so there's two halves to it. One is primarily a membership, and the membership has a video course that's like an incredibly ... it goes everywhere from beginner to all the way to kind of the advanced stuff that a professional card counter would want to know. There's a forum where people can get questions answered, and share stories and tell all that stuff. It also has a bunch of training drills, and we even have a thing that's like Yelp for card counters, so you can scout out games before you go to a new city. So that's half the business, the other half is what we call Blackjack bootcamps, and these are live events that we host in Vegas. And I get a hand full of professional card counter friends to come and help do hands on training with a group of people, we just had one this last weekend.

Eric Siu: Awesome, so how much is membership?

Colin Jones: It's $250 to $350 ... or, we're going to raise our prices soon, but it's an annual. So about $300 a year.

Eric Siu: Great, and then is there a different price for the bootcamp?

Growth Everywhere - Colin Jones Page 3 of 9 Colin Jones: Yeah, the bootcamp is $3000 for two days, so it's a lot more expensive, but it's the Holy Grail of card counter training.

Eric Siu: Great, and I mean how many customers or members do you have today, and what do revenues look like?

Colin Jones: Yeah, as far as the membership side of the business, we've got about 500 members and so that's about $150,000 a year, and as far as the bootcamps, it's looking like it's going to bring in also about $150,000 this year, maybe a little less.

Eric Siu: Cool, you're basically approaching $300K a year on teaching people about your passion right?

Colin Jones: Yeah, it's great. I get to see people have success with it, and I work about two or three hours a day, and have a small team of part time friends that help with it, and it's a good gig.

Eric Siu: Great, and so how are you acquiring customers right now? What's the most effective thing?

Colin Jones: Yeah, so Google doesn't allow any sort of adverts and so to date, it's been a 100% organic. So I had to basically go from knowing nothing about internet marketing to becoming an SEO expert and it's worked. It took time but now, we're number one for all the big keywords related to card counting.

Eric Siu: Wow, awesome, and so how long did that take you and what were you doing there?

Colin Jones: Yeah, gosh I was just kind of flailing for that first year, trying to figure out what I was doing. I was fortunate, I had a friend that actually owned a small SEO firm, and I had him take a look and he was like, "Colin you've got a conversion problem here, I don't even know what you want me to do when I show up on your website." So through that it just kind of got the wheels turning and I started reading, like [inaudible 00:07:09], and [inaudible 00:07:11] blogs and stuff like that. But what I was doing, it's taken some time but initially, I kind of created a bunch of pillar content around the big phrases I wanted to rank for and over time I adopted the skyscraper technique so a couple pages have been hugely successful. It always drove me nuts that I couldn't rank number one for the phrase "how to count cards," because that's exactly what we're about.

And gambling related stuff is actually fairly competitive because there's lots of people that just want to plaster online casino ads on their site and so a lot of SEO experts, especially Black Hat people, were ranking really well back in the day, but for how to count cards, I finally just said, okay, I'm going to create the world's best page on how to count cards. And I spent, I don't know, ten hours writing it, it's incredibly thorough, I took pictures with my DSLR Camera, and put it on the internet, and reached out to some people and nothing happened, and then six

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months later, I realize, I'm number one on Google for it, and I've stayed number one ever since. So then I did the exact same thing, for even bigger phrases like, "Blackjack Strategy" that I never thought I could be number one for, I thought, hey if I could get in the top ten, that'd be huge, but no, we've been number one for about a year, for even bigger phrases like, "Blackjack Strategy".

Eric Siu: Got it. Wow. And what, just for everyone to ... in the audience, what is the skyscraper technique mean?

Colin Jones: Yeah, so I would look at what other people were doing that were outranking me for something like how to count cards, and some of it was frustrating because it was like, Wikipedia, but other people, they had a decently written page that was pretty thorough, and I realized I didn't really have that. I was trying to get my home page to [inaudible 00:08:57] for it, or just mediocre content, so I looked at what other people had, and I decided, mine's going to be better, mine's going to be more thorough, it's going to have a better user experience, everything. Better than the competition, there should be no excuse for mine to not rank number one, other than perhaps Link Profile. Then I've done a good job of reaching out to people saying, "Hey, can we have this resource? And we think you'd be valuable." People that are linking to similar resources and getting enough links, and honestly for me it's been more about the user experience and the content, but enough positive signals to Google that they've rewarded us.

Eric Siu: Great, and what has card counting taught you about business?

Colin Jones: Oh man, that's a great question. Honestly, most everything I learned about business was from being a card counter, and then running a Blackjack team. So one example is the foundation of card counting is this idea that's called, "Expected Value", and so Expected Value means, you could play a hand of Blackjack and win or lose a $100 if you bet a $100, but there's a mathematical value to that hand. So if you're not a card counter, that hand is probably worth fifty cents to the casino. As card counters, if we do the right decisions, than we have these swings of hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of dollars that we're actually creating value, pennies or dollars at a time. So for business, it's all about figuring out what's going to add value, and implementing it, not worrying about the short term, just how can it create more value for my customers, how can it do the right things over and over, and trusting that it's going to pay off. And that's the way I think through all of my business decisions.

Eric Siu: Great, okay. Diving into the card counting a little bit, what's like the typical house advantage, and then what kind of advantage do you gain once you start card counting?

Colin Jones: So, there's a thing called, "Basic Strategy", and it's like the proper way to play every single hand of Blackjack, and it is you know, some MIT people figured this out with very, very, early computers I think in the very early sixties. If you play that way, the casino has half a percent advantage over you, so that means that if you bet a hundred dollars, the casinos expecting to make fifty cents off of you on that hand.

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The average gambler plays at about 2% disadvantage because they're not playing properly. So we as card counters, we actually, we play this proper way, but we also know how to bet ... we basically know when we have the advantage rather than the casino, because Blackjack is the only game in a casino that if cards have been played, those cards won't be seen again until they shuffle, so every other game, craps, and roulette, the past decisions have no impact on future decisions, but gamblers think that they do, but it doesn't. So for card counters, we know when we have the advantage basically, and we bet accordingly. We get a one to two percent advantage, which isn't that huge, but based on your betting, I average $300 an hour for my career as a card counter. I have friends that have averaged even more than that over ... I'm talking thousands of hours of play.

Eric Siu: So when you're ... just to put things into context, when you're averaging $300 an hour, I mean per session, how much can you expect to win on average, and how much can you expect to lose?

Colin Jones: Yeah, so if you're averaging $300 an hour, this goes back to that expected value thing, you're not going to win $300, you're going to win and lose, thousands and tens of thousands, but I would generally bring a minimum of $25,000 to the casino with me. If I'm going on a trip to Vegas for four days, I'm going to bring seventy or eighty thousand dollars with me, just to make sure I have enough money to weather any sort of losing streak, I'm going to have, because it's all about the long run, playing hundreds or thousands of hours and letting the math work it's way out.

Eric Siu: Great, so what would be like an average winning number per session and average loss?

Colin Jones: Gosh, I mean ten or twenty thousand.

Eric Siu: Ten or twenty thousand?

Colin Jones: That's not odd to win or lose $20,000. My first time to Vegas, I dropped forty grand in a few hours, and my biggest win was in Topeka, Kansas and in the course of a day I won about $50,000.

Eric Siu: Wow, great. You know what's interesting, the only time ... I haven't done card counting much, because the only time it's going to work for me is if maybe I'm like on Adderall or something and literally the one time I was on Adderall at a bachelor party, they basically all wanted to go to a strip club, I just wasn't interested. So I was playing blackjack and I was down, but all of a sudden it kicked in, and I was like, holy crap, now I can focus on everything. Whereas before, usually in my normal mode, if they deal too quickly, I can't count right, I just can't because I haven't been trained by you. Anyway, once the count became positive, I think I was just being reckless and I got lucky just because I thought there was this magical number in my head. So I was claiming in bets of like two or three grand even though the bankroll was only like a thousand or two thousand dollars, and I ended up winning, like ten, fifteen grand.

Growth Everywhere - Colin Jones Page 6 of 9 Now, how ... I guess my question is, how do people know when they're actually, what they're doing is correct versus it's complete luck ... because what I think I did was complete luck you know?

Colin Jones: Yeah, and that's a really big issue because it's something you have to be perfect at. I always say, you don't know what you don't know, so you think that you're getting a strong, but ... so we even developed a bunch of training drills that are really to help people know if they're making mistakes. If you can't play perfectly at home on your computer, or with an iPhone app, if you can't play perfectly on the iOS app, then you're not playing perfectly in a casino. But honestly, why a lot of people are willing to drop three thousand dollars to come to Vegas and get trained by us, is to find out exactly where there game is, because there's real money to be made, or if nothing else, it's a fun profitable hobby, but it's not going to be profitable over the long haul unless you really are perfect at it.

Eric Siu: Right. And so the ... so how many hours do you think you are spending on Blackjack a year when you're actually playing?

Colin Jones: Yeah, I played ... I mean my first year, I probably played a thousand hours my first year, I played twenty to thirty hours a week, but I think the average pro, 500 hours a year is professional level.

Eric Siu: Great, I'm just doing the math right here because obviously full time job is 2000 hours or so a year, so that would be 626K right, at your $300 an hour, basically everything evens out, if it's a thousand hours ... I should say, yeah I mean, how do you prevent yourself from getting caught?

Colin Jones: Well, there's no professional card counter that doesn't get asked to no longer play at casinos, it's called back off, where they'll say, "Mr. Jones, your game's too good for us, you're welcome to play any other game in the casino, but no more blackjack." That is normally what they say, or something like that. There are things you can do to throw them off your scent so to speak. I think the best way is just how you handle yourself, how you act, not looking suspicious and shifty eyed, and having a good time, stuff the normal gamblers are doing, but it's also how you bet. The number one giveaway is if you're betting small and then all of a sudden, you're betting huge. That's also how we make the money, I basically tell people, the way we approached it is be fearless. I was in casinos for fun, I was there to make money. And so I just went in there, I didn't worry about if the casino was going to ask for me to leave, and if they did, I went on to the next place.

Eric Siu: Got it, all right. Well I'll get back into the business, because I can talk about gambling all day. So tell us about one big struggle you face while growing this, let's call it an education or a membership business?

Colin Jones: Yeah, so early on, I didn't know what I was doing. We actually, we got lucky, we started the website just around the time 21 the movie came out, and we got lucky, we got the number one YouTube video for how to count cards, and we just rode the wave of 21 the movie, but then that died down, and me and the two guys I

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started with, we decided to try more freemium, because that's what everyone was doing. Basically, we gave all the value away for free, and it took me about a year to figure this out, but when I ... I kind of overhauled ... when I figured out I think this is the problem, I overhauled the home page to just make one clear call to action, and I went from getting 80% away for free, to giving 20% away for free, and overnight, sales quadrupled. And it was actually good for the customers too because when it's free, no one values it. When people are paying for it, they are taking it seriously and that was really the difference between we had this little site that made a little bit of money, and I don't think anyone took too seriously to it being a legitimate business where I could really serve customers well.

Eric Siu: Got it, okay, well great, what's next for the business?

Colin Jones: Yeah, I honestly spend more time with my wife and kids these days. I've got six kids, and my wife of fifteen years and so, I feel very fortunate that I fit the business around my families goals. But that being said, I'm always looking to see more people come successful card counters and to grow the business in terms of revenue. We're overhauling our training drills to make them more valuable, and we're looking to add more software, like betting software for professionals, things that we'll have everything card counters need, but that's kind of it.

Eric Siu: What's one big change you made in the last year that has impacted either you or your business in a big way?

Colin Jones: Yeah, so I overhauled our lead magnet. So I had a business partner for a number of years, and I bought him out about a year ago, he'd moved on, and he wanted to keep the e-book, that he'd written that was our lead magnet, and I used it as an opportunity to really think about who our customer was. I actually, I used Ryan Lavesque's "Ask" methodology, and I surveyed our audience and from that found the language they use, what they want, and are you familiar with story brand?

Eric Siu: Yeah, I've heard of it before, yes.

Colin Jones: So that'd Donald Miller's thing. Anyway he has this framework of mapping out your customer's story. So by really getting to understand my audience, I overhauled our lead magnet. So first I did an e-book just to test the idea, and basically doubled our opt in rate, and then when I knew I was on to something, I thought, hey, if this is a video course that we're selling, let's turn it into a video mini course as the lead magnet, and just launched that maybe three months ago, and again doubled our opt in rate, so that's a 4x opt in rate, that's had a big impact on the business, and it was just from really trying to understand our customers and what they wanted, and give them a lot of the why and the what for free, and then they can pay for the how.

Eric Siu: Great, and what's one new tool that you've added in the last year that's added a lot of value for you? Like [crosstalk 00:20:44]-

Colin Jones: Yeah, I moved over to the Active Campaign, and I've been really digging that, like

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the automation stuff, and like I said, I kind of was getting to know the audience better and I realized I have two very distinct personas, one is who I was, a young ambitious card counter that wants to do this professionally. The other is actually a little bit older, has good money, and really just wants a fun, sexy, hobby, and I want to communicate to those people very differently, and so using marketing automation has been a really fun way to map that out and try to communicate specifically with the different audiences.

Eric Siu: Awesome, and what were you using before Active Campaign?

Colin Jones: Get Response, which has marketing automation stuff, it just was a little clunkier.

Eric Siu: Got it, okay, and what's one must read book you'd recommend to everyone?

Colin Jones: Yeah, that's a good question. So this is less of a business book, but I strongly recommend every entrepreneur to read the book, "Integrity" By Doctor Henry Cloud. The premise is that there is no shortage of bright gifted business people, but he's worked with a lot of CEO's and executive where businesses are having a lot of problems not because of business training, or business coaching, or even business giftedness, but much more from character issues, or personal deficiencies, and that book was very eye opening. I was able to kind of see flaws in myself, or a lot of business things that have gone awry, and our mutual friend Drew, even once said to me that, every major issue he's seen in the business networks he's in, are relational. So that book, "Integrity" is awesome, I want to re-read it every year or two.

Eric Siu: Great, is Drew the one that recommended that book?

Colin Jones: No, but it's along that ... he and I talk a lot about that kind of stuff, the personal, the relational stuff.

Eric Siu: Great, love it. Well Colin this has been awesome. What's the best way for people to find you online?

Colin Jones: They can check out if they want to learn about card counting. Otherwise, I don't know, look me up on Facebook or something, I'm not super great on social media but if they want to learn about card counting, they can check out Blackjack Apprenticeship.

Eric Siu: All right, Colin, thanks so much for doing this.

Colin Jones: My pleasure.

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