When it comes to gambling there have always been tall tales and scandals, after all the amount of money that is at play, it has always been attractive to honest and less honest folk!
One of the biggest scandals you may have never heard of took place in Spain in 1935 and became known as the Straperlo scandal. Its impact was catastrophic, bringing down the Prime Minister of the day and sealing the fate of the Republican Government, which many see as having a role in the start of the Spanish Civil War.
So what was Straperlo? This was a farrago of seismic proportions all caused by a rigged roulette machine where the outcomes could be manipulated by the dealer using electrical controls. Other than a few cosmetic changes it was similar to a normal roulette wheel which it was disguised as.
This devilish device was allegedly the brain child of two men, Daniel Strauss and Jules Perel. The Straperlo name is thought to originate in the combination of two of the ringer leaders names, although numerous conspiracies are abound!
Formenting in the Formentor
The Straperlo wheel had its first public outing in the popular Formentor Hotel, where it quickly became popular and then was moved to the Kursaal Casino in San Sebastian, but local players worked out the wheel’s secret and the local police banned the device.
Here comes the key to the fuss. Beyond the fraudulent design (which looks like a Bauernroulette game if we are to be honest!), Daniel Strauss didn’t want to lose the fortune that he’d sunk in the machine and turned to political corruption to make sure that his machine was rolled out nationally – rather than being put under lock and key as it should have been!Leading political figures in the Republican Government were supposed to have taken bribes to accept a law allowing the Straperlo wheel to be distributed nationwide in public casinos.
The bribes were alleged to include gold watches and money to the modern value of about £35,000 – and a share of the machines profits- which by modern standards look pretty puny!
Greed got the better of the corrupt officials who asked Strauss for more money. They tried to blackmail him but when he refused their demands he then is alleged to have tried to bribe the country’s Prime Minister, Alejandro Lerroux, whose own nephew was implicated as one of the bribe takers. Honourably Lerroux refused to be involved so Strauss double crossed all the bribe takes by leaking their corruption to Spain’s President, Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, who was left with little choice than to reveal the scandal which he did.
The outrage that followed Zamora’s revelations led to the ruination of Lerroux’s reputation as an honest politician and his downfall.
One of the legacies of Streperlo is that the term “estraperlo” is now in common parlance in modern Spain as a term of corruption!
It’s amazing the influence that the Queen of Table Games has had on modern history. Who would have thought that a flawed roulette wheel and the drive of two greedy men could have played a role in bringing down a government and adding to the causes of the bloody Spanish Civil War?