In his day, and even by modern standards, the man is worthy of legend. But it's the means by which he funded his endeavor and the manner in which he achieved it that continue to mystify. It is alleged that Wells initial bankroll came courtesy of defrauding investors who believed Wells was an inventor in need of money to test and research his designs. It is also alleged that Wells' wins were the result of a scam; proposed explanations range from a scheme brokered among casino employees and the use of a weighted wheel.
Charles Wells was born in 1841 and was, by all accounts, a fan of the "good life" early on. Verbal histories suggest he spent his money frivolously and loved the attention he eventually earned as a 20th century counterpart to today's Rock Stars; it is said that upon entering any nightclub, the band would immediately begin playing "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo", the Fred Gilbert song for which Wells is believed to be the inspiration.
This Rock Star image emerged after his wins at the Roulette table in Monte Carlo. In 1891 Wells visited the famed gambling hot spot and within 13 hours of play, "broke the bank" a record 12 times and parlayed £4000 into 1 million francs (worth approximately £4 today).
To dramatize the win and attract new bettors, casino owners covered the wheel whose bank had been broken in a black shroud and transferred play to a new one. Excited onlookers crowded Wells' table, placing bets on his selected number/color combination in hopes of sharing in his fortune. The scene became so riotous that casino owners were forced to limit the number of bettors per spin. Though the decision was unpopular among gamblers, it did little to deter visitors to Monte Carlo, which was quickly becoming the day's gambling destination of choice thanks to late 20th century newspaper coverage of casino events alongside political and economic news. Wells' wins made him a celebrity and Monte Carlo a Gambling Mecca.
Wells cashed in again on two subsequent visits. The first earned him 1 million francs over the course of three days. The second occurred in 1892, when Wells and his mistress sailed to Monte Carlo in his luxury yacht, the money for which is purported to have been coaxed from investors told that his journey was in order to test a fuel-saving device he had invented for use on steamships. On this visit, Wells broke the bank another six times.
His hot streak, however, ended as abruptly as it began. He begged money from friends and former investors but lost that, too. He was eventually arrested at La Havre and, following extradition to England, was sentenced to 8 years in prison for fraud. Upon release, Charles Wells became Charles Davenport and the clever con returned to his racket. He served two additional sentences-3 and 5 years, respectively-for fraud and financial schemes.
Wells glory never returned. He died penniless in Paris in 1926. Though a convicted criminal, his frequent conquering of the roulette wheel and suspected use of the martingale betting system, continue to confound authorities and gambling insiders, who have still to discover how he did it, and captivated the imaginations of hopeful gamblers.
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