SI Vault
Martin Kane
November 14, 1960
The man who is popularly supposed to have inspired this old music hall favorite never actually broke the casino at Monte Carlo, but he certainly bent it—not once but several times. And he wasn't the only one to "break the bank," though he was the most famous. A notorious swindler with many aliases, some French, some English, his real name probably was Charles Deville Wells.
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November 14, 1960

...the Man That (never) Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo

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The croupier works a six-hour day. At the end of his first three-hour shift he takes a 25-minute rest, but if the head croupier catches him in a mistake he may be ordered from the table for additional rest. At age 60 or 65 he retires on a pension.

During quiet periods the croupiers chat with each other in the Monegasque patois, a blend of French, Genovese and Spanish. They have their little private jokes. The devotees who open the casino each morning at 10 o'clock are known as "the resistance movement." Members of the resistance are mostly women, mostly English and mostly very conservative bettors. Almost all play a system, waiting interminably for the right moment to place a bet. The casino does not profit greatly from them, and there is even a legend, founded on the fact that some members of the resistance have been playing daily for years, that they actually make small sums of money at the wheel.

"It is impossible for them to win," M. Roux insisted. "The wheel always wins in the long run."

Lose a little

These people do lose, but not very much. They are mostly retired persons reliving days of prosperity when they could gamble heavily. For this pleasure, they are content to lose a trifle.

Most modern bettors are Italian and French, for reasons of geography. The big wagering seems to be done by Latin Americans. North Americans are beginning to turn up more frequently, a trend that began with Grace Kelly's marriage to Prince Rainier III.

The system players seem to be more numerous at Monte Carlo than at Las Vegas or in pre-Castro Havana. The slower rhythm of the Monte Carlo games gives time for record-keeping and computation. The systems are countless; some are even plausible.

The conviction that games of chance can be beaten by systems is old and ineradicable. Scores of books have been written to recommend countless systems, but none of them works, a fact on which we have the testimony of such disparate personalities as Sir Hiram Maxim and Dostoevski. Maxim fired a burst of mathematics at the system players, and Dostoevski summed it up with the observation that the roulette wheel has no memory and so will be unimpressed by the fact that a color, or anything else, has turned up a disproportionate number of times.

Favorites among the systems are the various martingales, which are basically guides to the amount to bet. In horsemanship a martingale is a device to hold down a horse's head and prevent him from rearing. In gambling it is supposed to keep you from being thrown flat on your equity. A favorite martingale is "doubling up," which means simply that when you lose you double your next bet. There are many variations.

For instance, the father of Jerry Cooke, who did the photographs for this article, was a student of roulette who played with dedication. He wrote a book, translated into several languages, to reveal the many ingenious ways by which roulette can be beaten. The book made money, but Mr. Cooke did not.

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