When MMA burst onto the scene in the 1990s, it needed a charismatic champion to make it a success. Not a champion in the octagon, those would naturally come in due course, but someone who could champion the sport and get people talking about it. Dana White is that man.
A larger than life entrepreneur and promoter, White has never been afraid to put his money where his mouth is. But in a life that has been full of risk-taking, his appetite for placing a bet has also placed him in hot water from time to time. It has led to him being the news rather than making it with increasing regularity. But what is the truth behind the lurid tabloid headlines? Let’s find out.
From rags to riches in and around the ring
Born in Connecticut in the fabled summer of ’69, White moved with his family to Las Vegas as a teenager. He soon found more interesting pursuits than school, and at 17, embarked on a brief career as a boxer. He quickly decided that while he loved combat sport, the life of a fighter was not for him, and he transitioned into training, running boxercise and Ju-Jitsu classes.
In 2001, he persuaded his old school friend Lorenzo Fertitta, and brother Frank to buy the UFC for $2 million and to appoint him as UFC President. That bought them a brand and a single decrepit octagon. 15 years later, White’s leadership had transformed UFC into a multi million dollar global phenomenon and the Fertitta brothers’ company sold it on for just over $4 billion, with White still in the President’s chair.
High stakes casino games the length of The Strip
From the moment of his arrival, White was transfixed by the trappings of Vegas, and especially, its casinos. As the UFC grew, so did White’s bank balance, and he became a regular sight up and down the Strip at the high roller tables.
Between 2007 and 2010, White’s gambling hit its pinnacle. Back then, he had a close affiliation with The Palms. Sometimes he would win as much as $7 million in a single night. His game of choice was and still is blackjack. It is one of the few casino games in which skill can improve your win rate, which possibly explains why so many people choose to play blackjack online, too.
White was too good. In a move that seemed perfectly normal back then, but would have all sorts of cats and dogs sniffing around today, first the hotel halved his credit line to discourage his high-stakes habits. In retaliation, White arranged for UFC fights to move to alternative venues. The Palms lured him back with a case of his favorite $5,000 per bottle wine and reinstated his $25,000 credit line. But it didn’t remain for long. Just months later, they were forced to put it back down $5,000.
This is not the only time the gambling habits of the man have influenced the business arrangements of the UFC. For White, it is all in a day’s work. He describes playing blackjack as his “second job” so it is no wonder that lines sometimes get blurred between agreeing UFC dates with a casino’s management and then spending a few hours at their VIP tables.
The problem is, he is just too good. Anyone can reduce their lose rate by using basic blackjack strategy. The casino’s edge might reduce from two percent to one percent, but they are still winning more than they lose. Really good players like Dana White can go beyond basic strategy to advanced methods. Suddenly the house edge is half a percent or lower – it can even dip into negative territory.
When that happens, ie when an exceptionally good player comes along, the casino has the right to refuse to let him play and can turn him away without explanation. Of course doing so to Dana White can be dangerous.
As the man himself recently clarified, no casino in Las Vegas has actually banned him, although several, including Wynn’s and Caesar’s Palace had the foresight to restrict him from placing more than limited bets and “politely but firmly” suggested he might want to step away from the blackjack table and explore the nuances of some other game.