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The Royal Baccarat Scandal

By: rkingsley, Monday January 30th 2012
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In the real world of gambling there have been events that were stranger than fiction. The breaking of the bank on the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo and the MIT Blackjack Team come readily to mind. The excitement in baccarat games has usually come from James Bond movies. But at the end of the nineteenth century there took place a scandal involving baccarat, which has come down in history as the Royal Baccarat Scandal.

At that time playing baccarat was illegal in England, but this did not bother the aristocracy. Baccarat games were a regular feature of high society parties. The then Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, who had a weakness for gambling, often joined in. One such party was held on September 8, 1890, at Tranby Croft, the country house of ship builder Sir Arthur William. Sir William Gordon-Cumming and the Prince were present and playing baccarat. That evening and the next day, several players saw Sir William Gordon-Cumming cheating by adding to or removing from the chips he had wagered when he won or lost. On September 10, some of the guests confronted Sir William. Ultimately Sir William confessed and signed a pledge that he would never gamble again and the guests agreed to keep this incident to themselves.

However, the scandal quickly spread among the aristocracy. It was rumored that the Prince was aggrieved of being cheated and used his current mistress Lady Daisy Brooke to do the damage. Lady Brooke was known as "Babbling Brook" because of her rumor mongering habits. The result was that Sir William was shunned by the social circles in which he earlier moved.

Sir William went to court and filed a defamation suit against the original accusers. The Prince was not a defendant but he was named as a witness. After the suit was filed the cheating incident came to the public domain and was referred to as the Royal Baccarat Scandal. The trial began on June 1, 1891. The Prince of Wales had testified in court about 20 years back when he denied an adulterous affair with Lady Mordaunt. He did not want to be in the witness box again but was compelled to appear. The Prince was forced to admit that he had played baccarat, which was outlawed. The Prince also admitted that under the Queen's Army Regulations he was required to report the illegal action of another officer of the Army but had failed to do so.

This was the only solace Sir William could obtain. The testimony of the defendants and his signed confession were obstacles he was unable to overcome. The trial ended on June 9, and the jury quickly cleared the defendants of all charges. Sir William was dismissed from the army. He married his fiancée, the American heiress Florence Garner the day after the trial. The Prince of Wales continued to gamble, but was more discreet about it. It was rumored that he gave up baccarat and took up whist.

The Royal Baccarat Scandal is referred to in a couple of James Bond movies. In Moonraker, when Bond is assigned the mission to catch Sir Hugo Drax cheating at bridge, the potential publicity of the event is compared to that of the Royal Baccarat Scandal. When baccarat players wager on this simple game at online casinos they can pause to think about the more exciting aspects of this game in history and fiction.

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