While the adage is that the house always wins, some people have managed to walk away from the roulette tables with some outstanding winnings. Here are some tales about men who managed to defy the house edge in roulette and came away very, very rich from their efforts.
Joseph Jagger (1873)
When you’re looking for stories about people who broke the bank playing roulette, you’re bound to come across the name of Joseph Jagger. He was ostensibly the first man to win big in roulette by exploiting a weakness at a table at the Beaux-Arts Casino in Monte Carlo.
The stories say that he bribed half a dozen dealers to write down all of the house’s roulette results for a couple of weeks. Upon wading through all the numbers, he noticed a bias on one of the wheels with certain numbers getting consistent hits.
Over the course of several days, he won a lot of money. Reports vary in saying that he won more than $300,000 to more than $400,000 — but no matter what, in modern currency, he won the equivalent of millions of dollars by taking advantage of a biased wheel.
The Beaux-Arts Casino management was obviously not thrilled at this turn of events, so they took measures to fix the error. At first, they switched the wheel with one from another table, but Jagger was able to find his favored wheel again and kept winning. Then the casino actually switched out frets between different wheels at night, and so that bias he’d discovered had been removed. He started losing again and eventually decided enough was enough.
He left Monte Carlo with thousands still in profits, and he retired from the mill in England where he worked, invested in his own business, and never entered a casino again.
Charles Wells (1891)
Wells was reputedly a small-time crook who enjoyed his gambling. One night at the Monte Carlo Casino Resort, he had a crazy winning streak — he apparently won 23 out of 30 spins, earning close to a million francs in just one night through sheer luck alone.
Because he cleared out the table of its available funds, he officially “broke the bank” and allegedly inspired the song “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo.”
He later returned to Monte Carlo to try his luck once more, and he won over a million francs this time. While there are no more stories about him winning big at roulette, he continued running cons and was eventually thrown in jail for eight years. He died in 1922, absolutely broke. It’s possible that he lost all of his winnings during his many scams.
Arthur de Courcy Bower (1911)
Here we have another fraudster (he even called himself “Captain Arthur de Courcy Bower”) who also eyed the roulette tables in Monte Carlo for some extra money. He is reported to have won the maximum payout 18 times in a row and broke the bank five times during his visit. No one seems to have recorded the actual amount of money he won, but it was clearly an unsettling amount for the casino.
This is another tale of someone who won through luck alone instead of exploiting a casino’s weakness.
Albert Hibbs & Roy Walford (1947)
Hibbs and Walford were two students at the University of Chicago who came to Reno, Nevada, with $100 to gamble. They started at the Palace Club, where they recorded which numbers came up the most. Then, they repeatedly bet on 9, turning $100 into $5,000 in the span of 40 hours. Management did not approve, so they switched out wheels.
The pair then moved on to Harold’s Club, where they turned their $5,000 into $14,500. But somehow, their luck ran out, and they started losing their profits. After some time, they just couldn’t recover their winning streak, so they quit with $6,500 in total profits from the adventure. In today’s dollars, that equals over $75,000 that they still profited from betting on roulette.
Helmut Berlin (1950-1951)
German refugee Helmut Berlin was a former lathe operator who’d walked into a casino in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and was taken by the workings of the roulette wheel.
He apparently had heard of Joseph Jagger’s exploits and wanted to try it for himself, so he disguised a tiny camera inside a cigarette lighter and took pictures of the wheels. He looked at the photos for scratches and indentations that could affect a result.
Berlin teamed up with a couple of fellow sailors to sit at the tables and clock the wheels for hours on end. They launched their efforts in January 1950 and continued through February 1951, employing 20 members to create their syndicate that worked in rotations to bet on a select five numbers. By the time the Helmut Berlin team stopped, they had amassed $420,000 — which would equate to over $4 million today.
Dr. Richard Jarecki (1964-1969)
Dr. Jarecki originally made a name for himself as a notable medical researcher. But he became obsessed with roulette and was convinced that the game could be beaten. Like many other men on this list, he kept an eye out for tiny defects on the wheels that could lead to biased results.
He and his wife scoured the wheels at various casinos in Monte Carlo, France, and Germany, even recruiting eight people to work as “clockers” for them. Then, Jarecki secured a £25,000 loan from a Swiss financier, and he went to work. Over six months, he netted £625,000.
Four years later, he had purchased a home near the San Remo casino in Italy, and he found another table that regularly landed on 33. Over three days, he won another $48,000. Then he came back again eight months later, winning $192,000 this time. This earned him a 15-day ban from the casino for being “too good” (and to give the casino a chance to try to come back from near-bankruptcy).
Of course, the night after his ban ended, Jarecki came back to win $100,000. The casino didn’t have enough to pay out, so they had to write him a promissory note. Eventually, San Remo ended up having to replace every single one of their wheels to stop the best player they’d ever been faced with.
All in all, Jarecki won around $1,250,000 (nearly $9 million in today’s dollars).
These stories show that it’s completely possible to win big at roulette. Of course, most of these tales come from people who had the time and resources to find biased wheels that they could take advantage of.
Nowadays, modern brick-and-mortar casinos regularly have their wheels maintained to remove any faults, and online casinos use random number generators that eliminate the possibility of favored numbers.
Don’t let these stories of gaming the system discourage you from trying your luck at your local casino or by playing online roulette. If you get the right number with the right bet, you can make some crazy profits.