Did the Casino Heist in the 21 Movie Actually Happen? Image

There are many casino-themed movies, but not many become blockbusters like 21 did back in 2008. The movie is based on a novel by Ben Mezrich titled ‘Bringing Down the House’, about a group of card-counting university students that take millions of dollars from Vegas Casinos. Despite the world of modern online casinos, 21 is all about the glitz and glam of playing at a real Blackjack table. 

The movie made $160 million at the box office, and wasn’t short of stars, with Kevin Spacey casted for one of the lead roles. After watching, you may be left wondering about the ‘true story’ that the movie claims to be based on. We’ve done the research, and in this article we separate the fact from the fiction. 

The Real MIT Blackjack Team

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the leading universities in the USA, and so it’s no surprise that this is where the card-counters studied. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, and requires a significant amount of mathematical knowledge, as demonstrated in the 21 Movie. The group operated between the late 1970s and early 2000s. 

Jeff Ma is the real name of the main character in the movie, Ben Campbell. He actually made a cameo in 21 as a Blackjack dealer, and had a real involvement in the film adaptation of his story. Following his controversial success in the Blackjack team, he’s gone on to have a very successful career in tech and analytics. Bill Kaplan is also one of the founding members of the MIT Blackjack Team, and his character is depicted by Spacey as a University Lecturer. 

The movie makers were heavily criticized for their casting decisions. Although most of the MIT Blackjack Team were Asian-American, they were played by white actors. Despite this, the movie was a success, and given the approval from the team itself.

The Movie Plot of 21

Every movie needs a good plot, and so of course, there are some added extras in the storyline that didn’t happen in real life. The most notable being Ben Campbell’s (Jeff Ma’s) reason for joining the club in the first place. There was no desperate need for tuition money or the chance of not graduating – this was added for entertainment.

The real MIT Blackjack team was formed of six students, and there was no university lecturer involved, despite playing a huge part in the movie. The whole thing was run like a business, including smart planning and calculations of probabilities and profits. 

The 21 movie maintains the same cast throughout, but this isn’t what happened in real life. The MIT Blackjack team changed many times, as people left, moved on, or formed their own groups. The most recent group of players in the late 90s looked very different to the original founding members.

At the end of the movie, the fictional university lecturer and ringleader tries to steal $600,000 from the team after he is caught. This is also just part of the 21 plot, and didn’t happen in real life.

How Much Money Did The MIT Blackjack Team Make?

The MIT Blackjack team that the movie is based on had a long and successful history of making money from casinos. So yes, the heist really did happen, and these people really did outsmart casino operators for many years.

Very little is known about the real numbers, such as how much was originally invested and how much they actually walked away with. The financial history is kept very private, and casinos in Vegas don’t exactly want to talk about their losses to the group either.

Some sources claim that the MIT Blackjack Team made 10s of millions of dollars during their playing years, but it’s impossible to know for sure. But these guys were good, and operated for over 30 years, so it’s very likely that they made an awful lot of money before disbanding. 

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