MIT Sues Alum Blackjack Experts Over Web SiteBy Keith J. Winstein
Four former members of the MIT Blackjack Team -- the subject of Ben Mezrich’s 2002 best-selling book Bringing Down the House about MIT students who made millions in the 1990s by counting cards at Las Vegas casinos -- have started two Web sites to cash in on the team’s notoriety.
No longer permitted to play blackjack in Las Vegas themselves, the former students are selling training materials and private tutoring to other gamblers who hope to replicate the MIT team’s success.
One group -- Beat the House LLC, started by David Irvine ’95, Michael Aponte ’92, and John H. Chang ’85 -- received MIT’s wrath, or at least a federal lawsuit, when it set up a Web site using the address mitblackjack.com and applied for registered trademarks on “MIT Blackjack.”
“This is a routine trademark cease and desist action against an infringer who has filed applications for trademark registrations that incorporate our mark,” said Karin K. Rivard, the attorney at MIT’s Technology Licensing Office.
The company has now switched its Web site to blackjackinstitute.com and says it is close to settling the lawsuit. “We’re going to respect MIT’s opinion and make the changes that we need to, to comply with their position,” said Irvine, who says he played for the MIT club as “Mr. J” for five years.
Aponte, his business partner, won the Game Show Network’s World Series of Blackjack earlier this year at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.
Aponte has gambled as “Mr. Kim” and “MIT Mike,” and is represented by the character “Steve Fisher” in Mezrich’s book, Irvine said.
Blackjackinstitute.com sells a “home training course” for $200, a blackjack seminar for $700, and “private instruction” starting at $3,000 for two days of training. The other Web site, blackjackscience.com, was started by Semyon Dukach SM ’93 and offers weekend seminars at $650 for one day of instruction or $1,100 for two.
“We have kind of gone away from the playing mode more into the training mode,” Irvine said. “The whole idea of being a card counter is to go under the radar and not become notorious.”