Have you ever heard of the song “The man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo?” Well, one of the first famous roulette players who literally broke the bank in Monte Carlo was Joseph Jagger, an English engineer, and mechanic who used his knowledge to figure out the imperfection in roulette wheels and exploited it.
This article gives you an insight into his life and how he went down in history as one of the most prominent roulette players in the world.
Early Life and Family
Joseph Hobson Jagger was born in Shelf, Cockhill, Yorkshire, in 1830 and worked as a mechanic in a cotton manufacturing factory in Bradford in his early years. At the age of 20, he married his wife Matilda, with whom he had four children (Two daughters and two sons).
In 1871 Jagger set up his own textile business and did well for a while until some bad investment decisions sent him into bankruptcy. As a result, he returned to work at the mill, but he didn’t enjoy it, and the pay he received wasn’t enough to support his family. Desperate to save his family, Joseph started looking for alternative ways to provide.
From his experience in the textile industry, Joseph had observed that no wheel was perfectly balanced, for there was always some bias, so to prove it, he needed to travel to Monte Carlo, where he could study roulette wheels. Unlike these days when gambling is legal and can be accessed online, those days most gambling activities (roulette included) were banned in Britain. For this reason, he needed to travel to Monte Carlo, which was expensive and far from his hometown.
The journey to Monte Carlo
Jagger borrowed money from his friends and family and traveled to Monte Carlo with his eldest son and nephew. In 1873, Joseph, with the help of 6 other hired clerks, went to Beaux-Arts Casino in Monte Carlo, Monaco, and began studying all six roulette wheels in an effort to discern if they were truly balanced or biased.
They spent days and hours meticulously studying the wheels and concluded that one of them had a mechanical imbalance that made it biased. The data they collected showed that the wheel had this particular set of numbers 7,8, 9, 17, 18, 19, 22, 28 and 29 appearing more often.
With this knowledge, Jagger set to place bets on that biased wheel and was able to win a total of £14,000 pounds in a single evening which would be about £1,300,000 in today’s money. Over the next three days, he continued playing and accumulated a total of £60,000, equal to £5,500,000 in today’s money.
The expression Breaking the bank.
Now the rule in 19th-century Casinos was that a gambler could continue playing at the table as long as the dealers had enough chips to pay out the winnings. If a gambler won more than the table had in reserve, the game would be suspended until the staff retrieved more funds from the house’s vault. This would be considered “breaking the bank.”
At casino de monte Carlo, a ceremonial black cloth would be placed on top of the table once a successful player was able to break the bank. More chips would then be brought to the table, after which it would be reopened, and the game would proceed.
Jagger broke the bank a few times leading to the casino becoming highly suspicious of him, prompting them to move the table. Being unaware that the table had been moved, as the house had expected, threw Jagger off, and he began losing.
Jagger later noticed that the scratch on the biased wheel wasn’t at the wheel he was playing at. Following this, he began looking for the wheel around the casino and found it; he continued playing and regained the money he had lost.
You can only beat the house for a while.
The casino, frustrated by his constant winnings, resorted to rotating the metal struts dividing the numbers so that his predictions were thrown off, and he started losing again.
Realizing that the odds were not in his favor, Joseph decided to end his successful ride while still having his winnings (£80,000) which was a huge amount of money during those days ($7.5million today, according to The Times). He returned to Yorkshire, where he invested in property and lived a decent life until his death in 1892.
Casino de Monte-Carlo initially suffered huge losses as other players who came after Jaggers started imitating his cunning trick. Still, it was a blessing in disguise as it is now one of the most famous Casinos in the world, owing to many famous gamblers, including Jagger, who broke the bank at the establishment.
It is widely believed that the inspiration for the song “The man who broke the bank in Monte Carlo” was not Jagger himself but rather another roulette player named Charles Wells, who achieved the same incredible feat 10 years after Jagger left the gambling scene.
Joseph Jagger (His legacy)
Jagger remains one of the biggest roulette players in the world today. He is the subject of the biography titled: From the Mill to Monte Carlo: The Working-Class Englishman Who Beat the Monaco Casino and Changed Gambling Forever, written by his great-great niece Ann Fletcher, a historian. The book offers a comprehensive account of his life and how he defeated the roulette wheels as an ordinary man who had never stepped foot into the casino until his trip to Monte Carlo.