Casinos generally aren’t too concerned about a customer’s winning session. Big wins act as rare, good PR and, in any case, are normally lost straight back to the casino. But what if someone were to dramatically up the stakes? Only in hindsight might a manager wonder, as the mysterious high roller sails into the night with a smile and the contents of the vault, did he know something I didn’t?
Breaking a casinos bank means to win so much the casino does not have enough cash on hand to settle the debt immediately. In the entire 300 year history of casinos in Europe this has only come to pass a handful of times, each time immortalised in casino legend. The men and women behind these coups are a motley bunch of gamblers, mathematicians, confidence men and entrepreneurs each of whom did the impossible and beat the house.
The casino at Monte Carlo is probably the world’s most famous. At a time when gambling was illegal in most of Europe the rich and famous flocked to Monte Carlo, attracted by its opulence and illicit thrill. In 1875 it attracted a quite unusual visitor, a Mr Joseph Jagger of Yorkshire, England. Jagger was an engineer by profession and explorer by inclination; his visit to Monte Carlo played to both strengths. Jagger hired dozens of clerks to record the outcome of every Roulette spin for days before analysis revealed that one wheel had a severe bias towards certain numbers. Armed with this knowledge he walked in to the casino on July 7th 1875 and began playing. Within a night this unassuming man had amassed £14,000 (£700,000 today), in all Jagger won over £65,000 (£3.5m), only stopping when the casino moved “his” wheel. Jagger then returned to his home town and invested in property, never returning to Monte Carlo.
The next Briton to break Monte Carlo’s bank came 16 years later, in 1891. Gambler and con man Charles Wells arrived at the casino with £4,000 which had been invested in a fictitious “musical jump rope” he claimed to have invented. In an 11 hour session Wells won over one million francs, before returning 4 months later to win another million. Wells was immortalised in music hall song as ‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’ and he used his newfound celebrity to paint himself as a brilliant engineer, seeking new investors for another fictional creation; this time a device to improve the efficiency of steam ships. Sadly for Wells, and his investors, his genius was nothing more than nerves of steel, a sharp tongue and a lot of luck. Returning to the tables Wells’ lucky streak ended; as he lost all his investors’ money before being extradited and imprisoned.
Few details have reached the public regarding the strange case of Alexus Benetton (who also went by the wonderful alias of Sulia Sulia). In 2005 Australian news sources started printing stories about a collusion ring at Melbourne’s Crown Casino which had led to the theft of $33m. Benetton had allegedly bribed several dealers and security personnel to cheat at high stakes poker and win big at the Baccarat tables. Although Benetton was jailed for 6 months it is unclear how much was recovered, as the case dropped from public view. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised – The Crown Casino is owned by the incredibly wealthy Packer family who also control much of Australia’s media.
In 2012 world famous Poker player Phil Ivey was denied £7.3m in winnings by London’s Crockfords casino after a huge winning session at Punto Banco. He had been using an advantage play known as edge sorting, which can allow a player to identify a card even if it is face down. Ivey eventually lost court battle for the money – but had he won there were rumours it could have dragged the casino under. Smaller casinos can put themselves in serious danger with high rolling clients – who might have more money on hand than they do. A Birmingham casino found this out the hard way in 2005 when businessman Paul Newey won £3 million in a night. His win forced the casino to issue a profit warning and led to a 12% share price drop.
‘The house always wins’ is an expression that any gambler would be wise to keep in mind. Only a handful of times has someone, through luck or advantage, turned that saying on its head and played a casino at its own game; these stories, though rare, have entered gambling legend.