When it comes to Dana White, most people will know him as the man who went on to become the President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In 2016, White and his partners sold a majority stake in their company to WME, receiving around $4 billion for doing so. That presented the man himself with in the region of $360 million, taking 9% of all future yields of the company. What a lot of people might not realise is that that isn’t the first time that White has taken a gamble and seen it pay off, having made a huge amount of money courtesy of his blackjack play.
In fact, such was White’s success with the cards that he was banned from the casinos of Las Vegas after winning so much money playing the game. He was given a belt from the Palms when he won more than $1 million in one night, which was largely designed to try to keep him away from the casino. Vegas, after all, is about the House winning rather than the player. The question is, what was White’s secret and what did he do to cause the Palms to make him a belt declaring him to be the ‘Undisputed Blackjack Champion’? How much has he won over the years?
Who Is Dana White?
Born in Manchester, Connecticut in the United States of America on the 28th of July, 1969, Dana White developed a passion for combat sports and boxing in particular. He was a boxing enthusiast from an early age and became engrossed in the sport’s intricacies and the dedication displayed by its athletes.
This fascination laid the foundation for his future involvement in combat sports. While White’s interest in such sports was apparent, he pursued a different career path initially and attended the University of Massachusetts in Boston, where he majored in business management.
Keen Interest in Mixed Martial Arts
After completing his education, White ventured into various endeavours, which included managing a series of gyms in the Las Vegas area. It was his fortuitous encounter with the discipline known as Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, that would ultimately change the course of his life. In 2001, White attended a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu match with his childhood friends, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. The three of them were captivated by the thrilling display of skill and intensity on the mat, and they recognised the untapped potential of the sport from a spectator point of view.
Purchased Ultimate Fighting Championship
Inspired by their shared vision, the three men embarked on a mission to revolutionise MMA and elevate it into a mainstream platform. In 2001, they purchased the struggling Ultimate Fighting Championship organisation, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, for just $2 million. With White at the helm as the President, the trio set out to breathe new life into the venture and
under White’s leadership, the UFC experienced a remarkable resurgence. He spearheaded a series of strategic decisions and implemented changes that would shape the organisation’s future.
White played a pivotal role in securing broadcast deals, expanding the UFC’s reach into international markets, as well as introducing stringent regulations to ensure fighter safety and fair competition. His tireless efforts paid off and the UFC’s popularity skyrocketed, transforming it from a fringe sport to a global phenomenon. Fights broke attendance records, generated substantial pay-per-view buys and attracted some of the world’s most talented athletes. Dana White became the face of the UFC, thought of as being the main reason for its success and an emblem of its fierce determination.
Appeared on The Ultimate Fighter
Beyond his role as the president of the UFC, Dana White ventured into various other things. He has made appearances on reality television shows, for example, including The Ultimate Fighter, which played a crucial role in boosting the sport’s visibility and capturing a broader audience. White’s larger-than-life personality and charismatic presence made him a recognisable figure in the world of sports and entertainment, whilst his work as an astute businessman and a passionate advocate for combat sports, White achieved remarkable success throughout his career.
He has spent his career navigating the intricate landscape of the UFC, overcoming challenges and spearheading its evolution into a global powerhouse. Thanks to his unwavering dedication and relentless pursuit of excellence, White managed to shape the combat sports landscape, leaving an indelible mark on the industry that he had helped revolutionise. Whilst his accomplishments within the realm of Mixed Martial Arts are widely known, there exists another facet of White’s life that has garnered attention, which is that of his blackjack experience.
Dana White’s Other Great Interest: Blackjack
In addition to his prominent role in the world of combat sports, Dana White has shown an affinity for gambling. His interest in the high-stakes side of it was most prominent when it came to playing blackjack. In fact, such is White’s skill in the area that it became a topic of intrigue among fans and observers of his career. While he is widely recognised for his achievements as the President of the UFC, what he achieved when gambling provided a glimpse into another side of his personality. He has spoken openly about his interest in gambling and has shared anecdotes about his experiences.
High Stakes Gambling
One such instance occurred during an interview with ESPN in 2014, which was when he revealed details about a significant blackjack session he had played. White described how he engaged in high-stakes gambling at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, wagering an astonishing $25,000 per hand. The intensity of White’s gambling session mirrored the thrill and adrenaline associated with the combat sports that he is so passionate about. Hours spent at the blackjack table exposed him to the unpredictable nature of the game, with his fortunes fluctuating wildly.
At one point, White reportedly found himself up by a substantial sum, amassing a two-million-dollar profit. However, as is often the case with gambling, luck eventually turned against him and he ended up losing his entire winnings. White’s willingness to participate in such high-stakes gambling demonstrates a characteristic fearlessness and appetite for risk. It echoes the mindset required to navigate the volatile world of MMA, where success often hinges on split-second decisions and the ability to embrace calculated risks. It is probably why he has been so good at both.
That being said, it is crucial to view White’s gambling activities within the context of his broader life and career. While his blackjack experience has gained attention, it represents just one facet of his multi-faceted personality. His success as the President of the UFC is a testament to his business acumen, strategic vision and dedication, whilst White’s blackjack ventures have provided him with exhilaration and entertainment. Alongside that, they also serve as a reminder of the unpredictability and potential pitfalls of gambling as an activity, no matter who does it.
Turning the Casinos of Vegas Against Him
If proof of Dana White’s success at the blackjack table were needed, there is nothing clearer than the fact that the casinos of Las Vegas effectively banned him from gambling there. In an episode of Embedded, a UFC TV series filmed in 2014, White turned to the camera and said,
This is crazy, but I’ve been on this winning streak. I started playing cards, I took a year off, and then I started playing cards again December 21st. I have not lost a night of cards since December 21st and I just hit them again. This is like my part-time job. I work in the UFC all day and play cards at night.
Despite having an office in Sin City and the fact that his UFC fights would regularly occur there, the fact that he did so well meant that many of the venues began to turn him away. He entered his first blackjack tournament in 2020 at the Rio, where the prize on offer was $250,000. When he made it to the final table, one of the other players approached him to ask if he understand ‘how it worked’. When he asked him to clarify, the other player said, “We split it. Everybody who makes it to the last table, we split the $250,000.” White, though, wasn’t keen.
Palms Casino Asked Him to Never Return
He said he wasn’t keen, instead wanting to play to win. He went on, “At the last table, they all played to beat me and I won the thing, I won the whole thing.” He received a trophy for his win that sits in pride of place in his office. Next to it is the belt that the Palms owners made to persuade him not to come back. Telling the story of it, he said, “When the Palms was owned by the Maloofs, I had beat them for $1.6m. Then as soon as the Palms sold, the people who came in asked me to stop playing there. Listen, Vegas is all about losing, not winning, man.”
He went on, “It sold again, the new ownership said we want you to come back and I beat them for $1.6 million again. Instead of just asking me to leave the way that they did, they gave me the belt. Undisputed Blackjack champion. 24-0. This is a cool way to say get the fuck out of our casino and don’t come back.” It isn’t the only casino that he isn’t allowed to play in, but it is probably the one with the best story regarding why he should consider doing his gambling elsewhere rather than consistently looking to win at blackjack for large sums of money.
Won $5 Million & Carried It Home in Rubbish Bags
There was another occasion at the Palms when he won $5 million. When he went to leave, they stacked up his cash and wished him all the best. When he asked for a bag, they refused and told him to carry it himself. In the end, a friend of his found some rubbish bags that he could put the cash in, which he used to get it out of the casino. It is representative of the tumultuous relationship that the UFC President has had with the venues of Las Vegas. They allow him to gamble in the hope that they can beat him, but when he beats them they don’t respond well.
White Gambled for the Thrill of Winning
There is undoubtably a link between the thrill that you can get from winning a fight and the thrill that arrives when you win at gambling, especially with a game like blackjack. Even so, there are some that believe that the ties between UFC and blackjack are a little more explicit when it comes to Dana White. Joe Rogan, one of his friends, once said that he might have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. He said,
He does it for thrills. Also, people who have been hit in the head a lot; Dana’s been hit in the head a lot. Notoriously impulsive, notoriously susceptible to addiction, whether it’s gambling addiction, it’s a big part of CTE. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Obviously it is always dangerous to take medical opinions from a right-wing commentator with his own podcast, but White himself has said that it isn’t just about potential success. He said, “Do I need to play cards? I’m not gambling to win money. It’s just such a weird mental psyche thing. I like to fucking win.” There is certainly a suggestion there that it isn’t about the money, which makes sense when you consider exactly how rich Dana White actually is. With that in mind, it is difficult not to agree that his impulsive nature tends to work well with a game like blackjack.