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Roulette Player Who Broke the Bank

By: Joe Valentino, Thursday September 30th 2010
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Charles Deville Wells has come down in gambling history as the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo. He did this at the roulette wheels in the famous Monte Carlo Casino. Breaking the bank did not mean cleaning out the casino. It had a very specific meaning at that time. Francois Blanc was the first operator of the Monte Carlo Casino. In order to draw traffic to the casino he wanted to create publicity around big wins. Hence he started a system at tables at which a gambler won more than the chips at the table at that time. He called the event "faire sauter la banque" in French, which roughly translated as "breaking the bank" in English. A black shroud was placed on that table till such time replacement chips were brought in and betting resumed. Wells broke the bank at Monte Carlo Casino several times in this sense. No player has ever come close to winning the entire cash reserves available at the casino.

Wells was born in 1841. From early childhood he dreamed of being rich and famous and believed that roulette would be the vehicle for the fulfilment of the dream. He was adept at posing as an inventor and asking for loans for his creations. Though he never invented anything he was always able to borrow money, such was his skill as a conman. He used all the money to wager on roulette. In the July of 1891 Wells landed up at the Monte Carlo Casino with £4,000 that he had had obtained from investors after promising to deliver to them a musical jump rope. Playing continuously for 11 hours he managed to "break the bank" 12 times. His total winnings ran over a million francs. At one stage he won 23 times out of 30 successive spins of the wheel. In November of the same year Wells again returned to Monte Carlo. The casino, aware of his antecedents had private detectives on his trail, but could not find any hanky-panky. This time he made a million francs over three days. The highlight was a series of five successive successful bets on the number 5. Wells used the Martingale doubling system.

The exploits of Wells spread and in April 1892 Fred Gilbert wrote a song The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. The popularity of this song further enhanced the celebrity status of Wells. He claimed that he was an engineer who had invented a fuel saving device for steam ships. In the winter of 1892 he made yet another trip to Monte Carlo with money from investors, but this time with two of the most sought after status symbols of the times. One was a yacht and the other a mistress. Wells broke the bank six more times but ended that trip broke.

Then the streak of misfortune started. He was arrested and extradited to England. He was tried for fraud, convicted and sentenced to eight years. After coming out of prison he was again arrested for fraud and served a three year sentence. Finally he migrated to France, got caught in a financial scam, served a five year sentence there and died in penury in Paris in 1926.

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