‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’ was a popular British music hall song in the late nineteenth century but, by that stage, half a dozen players had, quite literally, set the bells ringing in the Casino de Monte-Carlo by winning more than the 100,000 franc cash reserve – otherwise known as the ‘bank’ – set aside to cover liabilities on each roulette.
The first man to famously do so was Joseph Jagger, a mechanically-minded, but down-on-his-luck, piece worker from Yorkshire in the North of England. In 1873, working in cahoots with unscrupulous casino staff, Jagger recorded the results of every spin of each roulette wheel at the Casino de Monte-Carlo for a period of weeks. Subsequently, having discovered that one of the wheels displayed a distinct bias towards some numbers rather than others, he began to bet on the frequently-occurring numbers. Over a period of several days, he won 2,000,000 francs, or the equivalent of £7.5 million in modern terms.
Less than two decades later, in 1891, Charles Wells, a known petty criminal born in Hertfordshire in the East of England, but educated at Clermont-Ferrand University in central France, broke the bank at Monte Carlo not once, but several times. Surprisingly, perhaps, given his dubious background, each time he did so by pure good fortune, without resorting to any form of skullduggery, subterfuge, or out-and-out cheating. One the first occasion, when he won 1,000,000 francs, he reportedly won twenty-three of thirty consecutive spins of the roulette wheel and, on his return to Monte Carlo later the same year, he managed to win another 1,000,000 francs from a series of random bets.