Casino Beat: Legendary Roulette Winners

Red 7 has been curiously lucky for a few Englishmen.
Red 7 has been curiously lucky for a few Englishmen.

Last week I reviewed some strategies for playing roulette. This week I’m going to review some legendary winners of the game.

Red 7 has some history. In 2004, an Englishman enjoyed his proverbial fifteen minutes of fame by telling the British Sky One television channel that he planned to sell all of his possessions, travel to Las Vegas and put it all on one spin of roulette. He amassed $135,300, and with a camera crew recording the event, he put it on Red at the Plaza Hotel downtown, won and walked away with $270,600. Ashley Revel supposedly used the money to start his own online poker web-site Poker UTD.

That win was not unprecedented. Ten years earlier, in January of 1994 another Englishman ventured to Vegas hoping to double his life savings. Chris Boyd was a computer programmer and had managed to save up $220,000. Although roulette has an over 5% house advantage because of the green 0 and 00, Chris had a hard time finding a casino willing to take a bet that big. When he heard that Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club downtown was famous for taking all bets he ventured down to Fremont Street only to discover a sign that said $100,000 even money maximum bets. He explained to the croupier and pit boss what he wanted to do, but said that he was used to European Roulette which only has one green 0 on the wheel. Binion’s agreed to take his bet and block out the 00 (the house still had over a 2.6% advantage). Chris decided to put his bet on Red and everyone agreed to a few “practice” spins to ensure fairness. When it was time for the spin to count, the little white ball landed in Red 7 and Chris Boyd doubled his money.

Red 7. Could it happen again?

The game of roulette spans time and maybe even space.
The game of roulette spans time and maybe even space.

Back in the early days of roulette, some people spent a considerable amount of time looking for number bias in certain roulette wheels. In 1873, Joseph Jagger, yet another Englishman (and allegedly a distant relative of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger) hired six accomplices to keep track of the roulette wheels at the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco and discovered that some numbers hit more often on a certain wheel.

Two years later he finally placed his first bet and quickly found out his research team was worth whatever he paid them. In three days he amassed over £60,000 (or about $4.5M in today’s money). The casino shifted around the roulette wheels after he left on the third day and Jagger went on a losing streak until he noticed that a scratch he’d seen earlier on the table wasn’t there anymore. He looked around the other tables, quickly located the biased wheel again and resumed winning. But over the next two days the casino kept dismantling all the wheels and putting them back together each night. Jagger finally gave up and went home, up around £65,000 (nearly $5M in today’s money), never to return to Monte Carlo again. Supposedly he retired from the mill where he worked and became somewhat of a land baron in England.

These are just a few roulette legends. The story of Charles Wells will probably be made into a movie someday. Johnny Hooker (aka Robert Redford) had a bad addiction to roulette in the classic 1973 flick “The Sting” and the game was also immortalized near the end of “Casablanca” when Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) tells a Bulgarian refugee to bet his last chips on 22. Rick knows the wheel is rigged (because it’s in his casino) and he motions for his croupier to let the Bulgarian win. Rick tells the man to let it ride and lets him win again, then tells him to get out of the Cafe Americain and never return.

A tough guy with a heart of gold? Hey, it was film noir at its best and it demonstrated that roulette is an easy game to rig with a magnet in the ball and a magnet under the table. Remember that film if you’re ever in a sawdust joint outside of town and can’t seem to catch a break on a roulette table!

In the meantime, I’m going to try and find out if it’s true that the guy that started the Bonanza Gift Shop on the Strip got his investment money from betting his last dollar on 4, winning, and letting it all ride twice more. Sometimes the things you hear at a roulette table belong over on the craps table!


One response on “Casino Beat: Legendary Roulette Winners

  1. I liked the story of the Joseph Jagger character — I bet there was some focused swearing going on each night in the casino management office until they figured out how he was winning!

    Good stuff


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