Charles Wells (gambler)
Charles Deville Wells (1841–1922), gambler and confidence trickster, is one of the men who broke the bank at Monte Carlo, made famous by the song. Joseph Jagger was the first famous gambler to get publicity in 1873 but the song was not written until 1892 and so it seems that Wells is a more likely inspiration for the song.
François Blanc, the owner of Monte Carlo's casino, wanted the publicity from stories of big winnings. In the French language, if a gambler wins more chips than are available at a table (the table bank), they are said to have "faire sauter la banque", which was translated as "breaking the bank" (lit. to blow up the bank or the safe). A black shroud was placed over the table until replacement chips were brought in. However, no gambler has come close to winning the whole reserves of the casino.
In July 1891 Wells went to Monte Carlo with £4,000 that he had defrauded from investors in a bogus invention, a "musical jump rope." In an eleven-hour session Wells 'broke the bank' twelve times, winning a million francs. At one stage he won 23 times out of 30 successive spins of the wheel. Wells returned to Monte Carlo in November of that year and won again. During this session he made another million francs in three days, including successful bets on the number five for five consecutive turns. Despite hiring private detectives the Casino never discovered Wells's system; Wells later admitted it was just a lucky streak. Some say that his system was the high-risk Martingale (roulette system), doubling the stake to make up losses. Some also say that his system was a variation of the D'Alembert system using the analogy of a swinging pendulum to determine whether to bet on black or red. However, Wells could not have used either of these systems as they are both easy to detect and despite hiring private detectives, the Casino never discovered Wells's system. The origin of the name "Martingale" is in dispute. Many gambling writers believe it is a bastardization of the name "Martingale" and that it was named after Henry Martingale, an English Casino owner in the 1700s who is reputed to urge losing punters to "double 'em up" with their wagers.
In April 1892, Fred Gilbert wrote a popular song, "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo". The song was popularised by the music hall star, Charles Coborn. The song helped Wells to become a celebrity. He explained that his success was because he was a brilliant engineer, who had also invented a fuel-saving device for steam-ships. He persuaded many wealthy people to invest in his invention. He made another trip to Monte Carlo in a large yacht in the winter of 1892 with his mistress. Wells explained that the yacht was to test his device. Wells broke the bank six more times but then lost his money and that of his investors, some of whom had sent additional money that he said was needed for repairs to his device.
Wells was arrested at Le Havre and extradited to England. He was found guilty of fraud at the Old Bailey and given eight years. Later Wells served another three-year sentence for fraud and emigrated to France, where a financial scam earned him another five-year sentence.
In 1922, Wells died poor in Paris.
Wells is the subject of a book currently being written: The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire, by British author Robin Quinn, published by The History Press (Stroud, Gloucestershire).
In 1935, there was a film called The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, and in 1983, Michael Butterworth wrote a book of the same name (though this was not about Charles Wells). In 1988 a musical farce entitled Lucky Stiff, based on Mr. Butterworth's book, opened off-Broadway
- Prison for Charles Wells at New York Times
- The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo at www.know-britain.com
- The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (1935) at the Internet Movie Database
- General references