Chest Full of MoneyBreaking the bank at a casino is an experience that only a handful of people have ever achieved, and one was so famous they even wrote a song about him.

However, even today there is some confusion over exactly what the term ‘to break the bank’ means in relation to casinos.

It actually comes from the Monte Carlo Casino back when it was owned by Francois Blanc. The man who was rumoured to have done a deal with the devil in return for the secret to roulette even came up with a dramatic ceremony for when this rare event occurred.

The term has also made it into our everyday language and is still commonly used by people all over the world, although these days it tends to be used in reverse: “We can afford two if they are only a fiver each. That’s hardly going to break the bank.”

What is Breaking the Bank at a Casino?

Monte Carlo Gambling Room

Credit: Matthew Hartley Flickr

Way back when, every table at a casino would start the night with a certain amount of money with which to pay out winnings to lucky players. In Monte Carlo this was 100,000 francs, and this was known as the table’s bank or reserve.

Throughout the working day players losses would be added to this reserve and winnings would be paid out from it, and it would almost always finish the night holding more money than it started with because that is the nature of a casino – the house always wins.

However, on the rare occasion that a player won so much money that this reserve or ‘bank’ actually ran out of money, it was known as breaking the bank.

So the term refers to the brief shutting down of a table due to lack of funds, not to a whole casino. The casino has more money but the table does not.

The ceremony that used to occur when the bank was broken in Monte Carlo included laying a black cloth over the table while the employees brought more funds from the casino’s vaults, at which point the table was re-opened and the player could continue or settle up.

People Who Have Broken the Bank Playing Roulette

The man Who Broke the Bank at monte Carlo SongAs well as those men listed below, there are some blackjack players who managed to break the bank by using advantage play as well as playing at very high stakes.

It is still possible to break the bank in any game which pays out there and then, although these days the bank will be made up of casino chips rather than real money – those days are long gone.

Some famous roulette players who have broken the bank include:

  • Joseph Jagger Probably the first man to do so was Bradford born mill worker Joseph Jagger, who used his mechanical expertise to take advantage of wheel bias.
  • Charles Wells The man behind the famous song was a con artist and cheater, and to this day no one knows quite how he managed to break the bank at Monte Carlo, although dishonest means are suspected.
  • Kenneth Clark – Nothing more than extraordinary luck is behind this Scottish industrialist’s huge win in the 1900’s. He used some of the money to buy a golf course and then built a hotel on top of it.
  • Arthur de Courcy Bower – Breaking the bank once wasn’t enough for the self styled ‘Captain’, he went on to break the bank five times in total in 1911. He was another fraudster and ended up being sentenced to 6 months hard labour.

There may well be others, not all names in all casinos are recorded or ever made public, but these are some of the best known roulette bank breakers.

Some players are credited as having broken the bank when in actual fact they have only achieved huge wins, without forcing the table to stop play. Winning big is still a huge achievement, but it’s not technically breaking the bank.