An interview with Colin Jones Co-Founder of “The Church of Blackjack Card-Counting Team”
By Henry Tamburin
After Colin Jones graduated from college in 2002, his friend Ben Crawford told him about a book on card counting and suggested he read it. Colin did and he gradually began to earn money at blackjack. After he married, Colin convinced his wife to take $2,000 from their savings so that he could play for higher stakes. What followed was a six-year adventure in which he, and Ben Crawford, formed a team and won more money at blackjack than most folks earn in their lifetime. Here is his story.
When did you first meet Ben Crawford and decide to form a team?
As best as I can recall, Ben and I met at a church youth group in high school. We became friends during our college years and even shared an apartment for a while. Once he realized I was taking card counting as seriously as he was, we agreed to share a bankroll and work as a team.
How did you recruit new players to your team?
We were initially opposed to the idea of “recruiting” players. If someone on the team came to us and mentioned that he knew someone who he thought would be a good fit for the team, we would be willing to meet the prospect and go from there. We actually tried to talk most people out of it, because high-stakes card counting is a more grueling job than most people think it is. If someone were persistent about it, we would continue to get to know him or her, and then start training. Since the culture of our team was so important, we really wanted players that we thought would fit in well with the team. Everyone had to enjoy each other and, most importantly, trust each other, for the team to be successful.
Was being a Christian a requirement to join the team?
No. The first member of our team was not a Christian and we had other non-Christian players join the team. We just happened to add people to our team from our networks, and one of the largest was our churches.
How did you train new players?
We would give players one hour of card-counting training for every 20 hours they spent practicing. We had monthly at-home tests and if they did well, we’d take them through a grueling test in the casino. If they passed, then we let them play for low stakes for about 80 hours. After that, we’d test them again, and if they passed, they would be allowed to play for higher stakes. We would also conduct in-casino retesting on a quarterly basis, and did “conceptual training,” to be sure our team players could think like an advantage player. We found that the best players understood where the edge came from, and how to maximize their advantage while playing in a casino. We had roughly 40 players on our team.
What were Ben’s and your roles on the team?
I was more of the numbers guy; Ben was more the vision-caster, who was in charge of the team culture. Each of us had a 50% ownership in the team.
Where did you get the financing for your team?
In the beginning, Ben and I bankrolled the team; however, we wanted additional investors to help lower risk and increase our earning potential. That’s when we decided to open investing to friends and family. Since they knew our team was generating profits, they were willing to trust us with their money.
Where did the team play, and what were the betting stakes?
We played in casinos anywhere and everywhere in the U.S., and Canada. We would wager $200 per round to as much as several thousand dollars per round. After some experience, we knew the betting limits a specific casino would tolerate without getting “nervous” at our level of action; therefore, we stayed under those limits.
What was the worst losing streak that the team experienced?
The largest losing streak is documented in the “Holy Rollers” DVD (a movie about our team). Our bankroll size was about $1.2 million, and we were down about $465,000 at one point. Probably $100,000 of that amount was from wages and expenses, but it was a stressful losing streak. Fortunately, we won it all back plus another million dollars in profit before disbanding. Ironically, gamblers remember their wins more than their losses, while advantage players tend to remember the losses more than the wins.
Did the team ever have a losing year?
We had one or two years where we were down slightly after expenses and player wages (therefore, investors and management didn’t earn anything). We structured the team to pay players a smaller “wage” upfront plus a percentage of profits on the backend.
Were you ever barred or back-roomed in a casino, and if so, what did they do?
I’ve been barred dozens of times. I refused to be back-roomed several times, and I was actually back-roomed only once. Early on, our team, consisting of four players, had $140,000 in chips that we had won from a casino. The casino management thought we must have cheated them to win this much money. We spent over an hour explaining card counting to them, until they finally cashed us out. But they also barred us for life from playing there again.
Can you summarize a few memorable team experiences?
We had a team player win $100,000 in one night from a casino, which was an extraordinarily large win for a player. Another time, we had $110,000 seized by the U.S. Border Patrol when our team was crossing the border to play in Canada. It became a full-time job for several months to get our money back. (We eventually did, minus a $10,000 “fine” from the government.) I remember a spotter-Big Player (BP) session where we had a spotter at every blackjack table with the BP bouncing around, betting every spot at the table max. All the while, the casino had no idea what was going on. The most memorable stuff, though, were the team meetings. It was really a fun time in our lives.
Was there any backlash from your family and friends about what you were doing?
Yeah. My mom wouldn’t speak to me for a while because she was convinced I had a gambling addiction. It took her a long time to realize that I wasn’t being sucked into a seedy underground of gambling, drugs, and strippers. Some friends and family never came to grips with it, thinking that it’s just too risky, unwise, or deceptive. Others changed their stance after having a better understanding of our “job.” However, there were some that had the concern that card counting doesn’t “benefit society” or produce anything. The latter was a good point, but for most players on the team, card counting was just one facet of their lives.
Why did the team disband?
When we started the team, the goal was to play for one or two years, while starting other businesses in the process. The team was so much fun and so profitable that it lasted until it became less fun and less profitable (about six years). Some members are still playing, but not under our management.
Can you explain what the “Holy Rollers” DVD is all about?
A friend, Bryan Storkel, asked us for ideas for his next documentary. We suggested our adventures as a card-counting team because we thought it would make an interesting story. Bryan ran with the story and produced the movie “Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians” (available on DVD). (Note: We had very little creative control in this project.)
Note: For more information on Colin Jones, visit www.blackjackapprenticeship.com.
Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), the lead instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial. To receive his free Casino Gambling Catalog, call 1-888-353-3234 or visit www.smartgaming.com.