In the winter of 1873, an English engineer and mechanic left the damp and dreary British Isles for the warmer clime of Monte Carlo. In his business of manufacturing spindles for cotton mills, he had become intrigued with roulette wheels, which are theoretically perfectly balanced and therefore produce purely random results. He had a theory that the wheels might not be as perfectly balanced as they were alleged to be and he had a plan to discover and exploit any imperfections in the wheels.
After viewing the renowned casino, the Englishman, Joseph Jaggers, hired six clerks to sit all day long at the six tables in the Beaux-Arts Monte Carlo Casino and record every number shown on every spin on every roulette wheel.
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The next week Jaggers spent holed up in his hotel room, analyzing the increasing pages of numbers his clerks were providing. Finally, he emerged, satisfied that he was now ready to battle the casinos.
Jaggers entered the casino and calmly began to play on the sixth roulette wheel. He started with small wagers and as he won, he gradually increased his wagers. By the time his winnings exceeded $10,000 he was under the scrutiny of casino personnel, and when his winnings broke $50,000, fully three casino inspectors were nervously watching this casino novice. By the end of the day, Jaggers had won $70,000!
On the following day, Jaggers returned and began wagering on the same wheel. He continued to win. The inspectors believed that he must be cheating, but they finally discovered a pattern to his betting. Even though he disguised his play by wagering other numbers, he consistently bet 7-8-9-17-18-19-22-28-29. Of these numbers, all except 8-17-18 are adjacent on the wheel.
By the fourth day, Jaggers had won an incredible $300,000! Finally, an inspector noticed that Jaggers always played at the same wheel. After the casino closed for the evening, casino employees moved all six of the roulette wheels.
When Jaggers sat down to play the next day, he began gambling heavily at the sixth table – which unknown to him was not his favorite – and proceeded to lose $200,000. Finally, he realized something was wrong and having an excellent memory, he recalled a scratch on the side of the original wheel. He found it, in spot number one.
Playing conservatively, he accumulated $350,000 in the next three weeks. The casino was in a state of panic. At this point, not only was Jaggers cleaning up, but a large crowd of other players had begun making the same wagers so that the casino was losing much more than just Jaggers' wins.
The casino dispatched a courier to the wheel manufacturer in Paris. The manufacturer discerned that the problem with the sixth wheel was due to the frets (the metal walls separating the pockets on the wheel). The courier returned to Monte Carlo Casino with a whole new set of frets and the casino changed the frets in all the wheels in the wee hours of the morning when the casino was closed.
This, of course, was kept secret from Jaggers and the casino fervently hoped that Jaggers would not notice the change and would be kind enough to lose all of their money back.
Jaggers resumed playing as usual. Within two days, he had lost $75,000. Realizing that the casino had finally prevailed against him, he calmly picked up his sizable winnings, which now totaled $325,000, bade farewell to Monte Carlo, and returned to England. He never returned to Monte Carlo.
The size of Jaggers' winnings is simply staggering when we consider that this sum would be worth over three million dollars today.
His method is perfectly legal, is still practiced, and by some estimates has won over $6,000,000 in the well-published ventures. How much has been won in unreported successes, by gamblers who keep their mouths closed, no one knows. But the amount is sizable.
What Jaggers and others have done is to clock roulette wheels to determine if the wheel is biased enough to allow the player to exploit this bias.