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In honor of our new Big Fish Casino Guide, we just can’t get enough on the history of gambling! There’s so much adventure and excitement. From the rise of millionaire moguls to the secrets of prohibition, from old traditions to new technologies emerging, from in-laws to outlaws, across the Atlantic and back -we have the stories of how it all got started.  Discover how it began with our Big Fish series on Casino Legends: The History of Gambling.

Casino Monte Carlo
Casino Monte Carlo (Frontansicht), 2006 via Wikimedia by Benutzer:Positiv

Monte Carlo is known for luxury, gambling, and fame and fortune. Through roulette, and the eventual expansion to other casino games, Monte Carlo has been one of history’s most preeminent gambling towns. A European town of the rich and famous, Monte Carlo and Monaco have a prominent place in casino legends.

Joseph Jagger: The Man Who Broke the Bank

Joseph Hobson Jagger gravestone
Joseph Hobson Jagger gravestone, Wikimedia via Mark Anderson.

While there are many legends about breaking the bank in Monte Carlo, Jagger is the most well-documented and easiest to prove. In 1873, the cotton engineer and mechanic from Yorkshire became fascinated with roulette wheels. He wanted to know how they worked and if they were perfectly balanced or had tendencies to favor specific numbers. He hired six assistance to record every single number spun in a 12 hour casino shifts, then analyzied the results like a true scientist.

One wheel out of all those recorded showed a favorable leaning towards nine different numbers. He won $300,000 over four days, before the casinos caught on and moved the wheel to a different table. Jagger lost money after the switch until he located the old wheel by a distinctive scratch pattern. He boasted a total of $450,000 in winnings before the casinos developed a moveable fret system to stop “wheel counters” like himself. He left Monte Carlo, never to return with his remaining $325,000 – the equivalent of about $5 million American dollars today.

History of Roulette

Roulette has been played in its present form since 1796, starting in Paris, France derived from the term “little wheel”. Wheels were a little different than modern American or European wheels today, in the fact that the single zero was on red and a double zero was on black. In the 1800’s roulette grew in popularity in German, and spread across Europe and the United States. When the German government outlawed gambling in the 1860s, the prominent German Blanc family moved the last legal casino to Monte Carlo.

Francois Blanc from 1856-1877 via Bad Homburg archives, courtesy Wikimedia Public Domain.
Francois Blanc from 1856-1877 via Bad Homburg archives, courtesy Wikimedia Public Domain.

While American roulette spread across gambling dens and makeshift casinos, it eventually also developed with a different wheel and simplified betting. Monte Carlo became a gambling Mecca, being one of the only western style casino towns of note besides Las Vegas prior to the 1970’s. The Blanc family, specifically Francois Blanc, are so associated with roulette success, that there is legend stating Francois struck a deal with the devil. The numbers on his single zero roulette wheels add up to ‘666’, often called the number of the beast, and are cited as proof of his dark dealings.

Rise of Monte Carlo

Roulette is thought to be a major part of the rise of Monte Carlo as a high class gaming in Europe. Grand casinos like the Casino de Monte-Carlo began to appear. Updated by the Blanc family and designed by architect Jules Touzet the building (as we know it) was completed in 1890. Additions and facades were added on by famous artisans such as Charles Garnier of Paris Opera-House fame. With origins dating back to Prince Florestan of Monaco in the 1850s, the casino was designed to be the ultimate elegance in gaming.

Known for catering to the rich and famous of Europe, here are some of the legends said to have visited during the 1800s:

Walter Caspari Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo in the 19th-20th Century, courtesy Wikimedia via Walter Caspari (1869–1911)
  • A Countess, who obtained a gold Louis blessed by the Pope. She won at first, then lost, ending up in disgrace and banished to a convent.
  • The Prince of Nepal, who kept the salons open constantly during the five days a year he was allowed to gamble.
  • Charles Wells was reported to have broken the bank up to 18 times in the early 1900’s. While sentenced to prison for cheating, no one could ever prove his method.

Monte Carlo had transformed from a poor and sparesly populated piece of land with a small casino in 1856 to a thriving metropolis and haven for the rich and famous. For a great visual timeline of the Casino de Monte Carlo, look here. As Monte Carlo and the famous and elegant casinos in the area became known for glamour and celebrities, roulette and casinos became more popular worldwide. While no longer alone as a gambling mecca, Monte Carlo is still among the elite of the casino world today.

Monte Carlo and Fame

Sir Roger Moore
Sir Roger Moore, well known as James Bond, Agent 007, via Wikimedia Commons by Allan Warren.
Monte Carlo is known for celebrities today too. Located in Monaco, and ruled by Prince Albert II. Prince Albert is one of the wealthiest royals in the world, in addition to being the son of famed American actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III. The Monaco Grand Prix is a premiere even of Formula One racing, and the city of Monte Carlo houses not only the president of this event, but many famed drivers.

Tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki call Monaco their home; as does actor Sir Roger Moore. Roger Moore is well known for his role as James Bond, 007. Many James bond films have scenes in Monte Carlo, including: Never Say Never Again, Goldeneye, and Dr. No. Other popular media mentions can be seen in Cars 2, Madagascar 3, Ocean’s Twelve, and an episode of Archer.

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