The Man Who'll Break the Bank at Monte Carlo

Friday, 31 July 1891 - Monte Carlo, Monaco

There is an ancient saying, “When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So, what happens when they take away your lemons and leave you nothing? Then what do you do?

That is pretty much what happened to Monaco. Monaco was a principality along the Riviera that began in 1215 and has been ruled by the House of Grimaldi since 1297. In 1793 the French Revolutionary army, fighting for independence from the nobility, conquered and took Monaco. (I have absolutely no idea why. I suppose they were just on a roll.)

In 1814, with Emperor Napoleon defeated, Monaco went back to the Grimaldi family and became a protectorate of Sardinia. Remember in my last blog, when the King of Sardinia gave Nice and Savoy to France in 1860 in exchange for helping him become King of Italy? Somehow Monaco wound up as part of the deal, too. Some protector, eh?

France browbeat the House of Grimaldi into selling them 95% of their land, in exchange for which France allowed them to keep their independence. Now Monaco is nothing but a single town clinging to a cliff.

Bright blue shows what Monaco lost
Orange is what they have left
This is where Monaco lost it’s lemons. Most of it’s wealth came from the citrus orchards in it’s farmlands it no longer had. Not to mention Sardinia had been trying to destabilize the country for years, so they could annex it. Monaco found itself the poorest country in Europe.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Monte Carlo Casino was opened. They called it a spa, which did not fool the Pope, who had banned casinos. This made it Europe’s only casino at the time. Everyone from bored aristocrats to fortune hunters flocked into Monte Carlo. In a short time Monaco became so rich it did away with income tax in 1870!

Monte Carlo Casino
Of these fortune hunters, possibly the most famous, and least savory, is an Englishman named Charles Wells. That is why I am here today. Wells was here at the casino when they opened at noon, bragging to the rest of us waiting that he was “going to pull a Jagger.”

Wells was referring to Joseph Jagger. (I would say no relation to the later rock star, Mick Jagger, but apparently they are distant cousins.) Jagger, also English, was the first man to break the bank at Monte Carlo. “Breaking the bank” does not mean winning all the money at the casino, but rather winning all the chips on the table. A black cloth is draped over the table to show it is closed, until more chips can be brought in. Even so, it is no mean feat and almost never happens.

Jagger had a system. It did not involve a rabbit’s foot or not changing his lucky socks. Jagger was an engineer. He made a living knowing how things worked, and decided to figure out how the roulette wheels worked.

In 1873 Jagger went to Monte Carlo. He hired six clerks to watch the six roulette wheels at the Casino, and write down all the numbers. One of the wheels showed a bias for nine numbers, having a slight mechanical imbalance. Jagger put that knowledge to his advantage and bet those numbers on that wheel.

Customers playing roulette in Monte Carlo
After winning considerably over the next three days, the casino started to smell something fishy and began switching the wheels, and then moving the frets. Jagger knew he was beaten, took his £65,000 and went home, never to return. He quit his job at the cotton mill, invested his money in real estate and lived happily (or at least comfortably) ever after.

Now some might say Joseph Jagger cheated, but he was only using logic and did nothing illegal. The same can’t be said of Charles Wells. Rather than coming with his life savings, like Jagger, Wells has brought other folks life savings. He has gotten several chaps to invest in a bogus invention, and plans to invest that ill-gotten £4,000 in the roulette tables.

One of the waiting gamblers, listening to Wells brag, asked him how he planned to pull a Jagger. Wells winked and said he had a plan. He was going to use the Martingale System. I managed not to roll my eyes. This systems is just doubling your bets every time you lose. A rabbit’s foot works better!

No one took Wells seriously. The man is such an obvious loser. But I know for fact he is going to beat Jagger. He will be in the casino until it closes at 11:00 p.m. tonight and will somehow break the bank twelve times in those eleven hours, winning a million francs.

I’m here to record that event as best I can. I can’t hover over him that whole time least I be noticed, so I came yesterday and set up cameras around all the roulette tables. Hopefully no one will notice the “tacks” in the walls. I’m currently took a break for a cup of tea and to post this blog.

Charles Wells
Also unlike Jagger, Wells will return. He’ll come back this following November and repeat this feat, though it will take him three days next time. An army of detectives will be following him, trying to figure out how he is doing it. Turns out it was just one of the most incredible lucky streaks known to man.

The casino will lose a lot of money, but they’ll get it back when Wells comes back a third time next year and loses it all. Wells luck will really run out, for the police will also catch up with him. He will spend the rest of his life as a swindler, living in and out of prisons until he dies in poverty.

Monte Carlo will get something priceless from Wells--publicity! The number of patrons will rise as people pour in from England and elsewhere to repeat Charles Wells feat. He will start a “Gold Rush” for which Monaco will always be grateful.

Next year Fred Gilbert will write a song about Wells. “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” will be sung in Music Halls throughout England, and beyond. Everyone will want to be another Charles Wells.

No, I don’t think any of us really want to be another Charles Wells.

The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo sung by Maurice Peckman

Here’s a free online roulette game. This will show you how quickly you can go broke trying to win. (Don’t worry, it’s pretend money.)


  1. Love this! I spent a wonderful time there. My husband was there on business and I would take our daughter to the water and play. Later we would walk to the chocolate shops. This story adds another layer!!

  2. My Dear Ms. Schmidt:

    Thank you for your kind comments on my blog. I will admit I am having a delightful time here in Monaco and the French Riviera. More like a holiday than work. I sometimes feel a little guilty.

    Faithfully yours,
    Dr. Wendell Howe

    P.S. Will have to try out the chocolate shops. (Should be one that dates back to 1891.)


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