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Joseph Jagger Famous Roulette Player

By: Mark Freedman, Thursday June 10th 2010
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Much of the glamour that is associated with roulette comes from Hollywood films. Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and The Sting starring Robert Redford have roulette scenes eternally etched on moviegoers minds. However, there have been real life roulette players whose exploits are more dramatic than in any fiction.

Joseph Jagger is widely regarded as the first famous roulette player. He was a British engineer in the middle of the 19th century who gained considerable experience in machines working in Yorkshire’s cotton industry. He speculated that the outcomes of roulette wheels would not be purely random because the mechanical imbalances in the machinery would result in biases towards particular outcomes. In 1873 he decided to test this theory. He hired six clerks to secretly record the numbers called on the roulette wheels at the Beaux Arts Casino at Monte Carlo. When he examined the results he found that one of the wheels showed an unmistakable bias in that nine of the numbers occurred much more frequently than the others.

Jagger decided to convert this information into winnings and on July 7, 1875 he went to Monte Carlo and started wagering on the favorable numbers in the biased wheel. In the first three days Jagger won £60,000. Converted to today’s value this would amount to about £3 million. Some of the other gamblers figured out what he was doing and began to follow his bets. However the casino also realized what was happening and rearranged the position of the wheels. Next day Jagger began to lose. Fortunately he had seen a scratch on the biased wheel and could not see the scratch on the wheel he was playing at presently. He looked around and saw the wheel with the scratch in another position. He went to that wheel and began winning again. This time the casino took sterner measures. They moved the frets and metal dividers between the numbers so that a different set of numbers would be repeated more frequently. They began to make this change on a daily basis so that Jagger would not be able to take advantage of the biased wheel. Jagger realized that his game was up. He left Monte Carlo having won well over £3 million in today’s value. Jagger resigned from his job at the mill and invested his money in property. He died in 1892 at the age of 72.

Technology has improved considerably since the late 19th century and in the land casinos today it is impossible to find a roulette wheel with a bias. However some roulette players continue to be hopeful and can be seen jotting down the numbers called on a card and trying to locate a bias. While theoretically a bias can exist in a roulette wheel in land casinos this is impossible in online casinos because the random number generator (RNG) which calls the numbers is based on software that has no moving parts. It is true that fraudulent software can introduce a bias, and this is the reason that all software developers get the software tested and certified by independent expert agencies. Actually it was only after this practice of third-party certification was introduced that the online casino industry was able to win the confidence of players.

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