The story of Tommy Hyland began decades ago on the streets of New Jersey. Even before he was a teenager, Tommy was an avid bettor. He and his friends would frequently toss coins at a brick wall, and who ever got the closest to the wall would collect the winnings. These habits, along with a knack for cards and sports betting, would eventually graduate Tommy Hyland into a world of high-stakes gambling that many casinos around the world were never ready for.
Once a political science major, he would eventually abandon hopes of having a “real” job in favor of learning to count cards in blackjack. He would study and research the game religiously at his local bookstore. And after reading Lawrence Revere’s Playing Blackjack as a Business, Hyland was inspired in 1979 to play blackjack for a living.
It was at this time that he and 3 other players would form one of the first known blackjack teams. The team had a total bankroll of $16,000 and enough knowledge among them to really perform well at the local Atlantic City casinos. In just a few months’ time, the team had nearly tripled their starting bankroll to $50,000.
During their hot streak in Atlantic City, Tommy Hyland and his crew would read up on other famous blackjack literature, especially from authors like Stanford Wong and Ken Uston, who penned one of the game’s most authoritative guides with Million Dollar Blackjack. Uston’s book, which emphasized team play, was a big motivator for Hyland and his team to move out of Atlantic City and find bigger money in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Before focusing on Las Vegas, the team would have to be reorganized after its charter members decided to quit and pursue their own blackjack ventures in Asia. So like any good team manager would do in a crisis like this, he went out and recruited new players. Tommy Hyland would begin teaching his successful card-counting techniques to his friends from his local golf course, and within a few months’ time, he had a team of 20 players.
Armed with strategies like ace sequencing and shuffle tracking, the team would also use tiny computers to gain multiple edges over the house. Tommy Hyland and his team’s tactics exploited Vegas casinos for years, using their blackjack knowledge to the fullest extent possible and raking in millions of dollars. However, as their bankroll grew and their methods were becoming ever more prevalent, casino technology and security would start to evolve right along with Hyland’s team. It’s a much known fact that he and his team members have been repeatedly banned, arrested, and back-roomed by many of the finest casino establishments around the U.S., especially in their stomping grounds in Las Vegas.
Casinos were rapidly developing defenses against the team’s strategies, and many of their once-successful tactics were becoming obsolete as the years progressed. In fact, members of the Hyland team were arrested at a casino in Windsor, Ontario in 1994 after they were discovered using ace-sequencing team play. Representatives from 3 casinos in Las Vegas even convinced Canadian authorities to try the team members in court. However, the judge deemed that the tactics were not a form of cheating, but rather an intelligent use of strategy and mathematics. Had the ruling gone the other way, it may have set a legal precedent for how blackjack players were to be treated and charged if they were caught “cheating” by the casinos.
The legend of Tommy Hyland and his famed blackjack team is still one that continues to present-day. He and his team can still be found playing in casinos all around the country - primarily the ones that haven’t banned them. Tommy Hyland is also a strong supporter of blackjack players’ rights, serving as both an activist and a lobbyist on behalf of his fellow brethren.
His overall work and contribution to the game were rewarded in 2003, where he was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.