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Charles Deville Wells

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Charles Deville Wells: The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo

For this roulette legend, we need to take you back to the 19th century- 1891 to be precise. This was the year that a gambler called Charles Deville Wells managed to break the bank at Monte Carlo Casino when he won 1 million francs at the roulette table.

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The Song Inspired by Charles Wells- The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo

How much are 500,000 French Francs in 1891 worth in US dollars in today’s money? Well, in 1865 the French Franc was pegged to 0.29 grams of gold. According to this chart, the US$ was at 18.96 per troy ounce in 1891, which is 31.1 grams, which gives a figure of $.60 per gram, which means there were approximately 2 French Francs to a US dollar in those days.

So Charles Wells won US $500,000 in 1891, a massive sum. Taking into account inflation from this cool site, that means he won around $13 million in today’s money! Wow.

Wells was a known fraudster. He rounded up investors for £400 a time, and used the money to gamble in the casinos in the French Riviera. He managed to win the million francs during an 11-hour monster session at the tables, and became globally famous for it even inspiring a song “The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo” – sung by Charles Coborn. “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” is a British music hall song written by Fred Gilbert.

The song was popularised by singer and comedian Charles Coborn, and quickly became a staple of his act, performed on tour in different languages throughout the world. The song remained popular from the 1890s until the late 1940s, and is still referenced in popular culture today. Financier George Soros was called “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England”[3] in 1992, following the infamous Black Wednesday which saw Britain’s exit from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Wells’s luck eventually ran out. He lost all the money that he had won back in the Casino de Monte-Carlo. Then he was arrested in the UK for a confidence scheme and served eight 8 for fraud.

But when he peaked, oh boy did he peak. After several more arrests, he died penniless.

What Does it Mean to Break the Bank at Monte Carlo?

Well, Charles Wells did just that in 1891. But what does it mean exactly? At the end of the 19th Century, if a player won more chips than were on the table, they have “faire sauter la banque”, or broken the bank. The bank literally went bust and a black shroud was placed over the table until new chips could be brought in. Wells managed to win 23 out of 30 spins of the wheel. Wells returned to Monte Carlo in November of that year and won again. His most famous session was a succession of winning bets on the number five for five consecutive spins

How Did Charles Wells Do It?

The truth? No-one, even to this day, knows. Remember, he was a confidence trickster so it could have been fraud (past posting etc, but this seems unlikely given that so much attention was on him at the table.

The Casino never worked out how Wells did it. Wells said it was just an amazing purple streak. Some reckon he was using the Martingale betting system, others claim it was a twist on the popular D’Alembert system. You know what? We’ll never know. It’s one of those amazing stories that the game of roulette is awash with.


Charles Deville Wells (1841–1922)
In July 1891 Wells went to Monte Carlo with £4,000. He won 1 million French Francs.
In 1922, Wells died with no money in Paris.