Richard Jarecki didn’t have the luckiest start in life, what with being born to Jewish parents in the middle of Nazi Germany and all, but this was not a sign of things to come.
Jarecki’s family escaped to America in 1939, settling in New Jersey and affording Jarecki a safe childhood and a good education, which he put to excellent use by earning himself a medical degree and becoming a doctor.
Interestingly though, he got his degree back in Germany, albeit 20 years later when the country was no longer dangerous and the war had been finished for over a decade. However, his having bases both in the USA and in Europe gave him a unique insight into the casinos in both places.
After marrying his wife back in New Jersey and working as a medical researcher for a time, Jarecki made a permanent move across to Germany in 1967.
The Scourge of Casinos
He had been gambling in his downtime for years, but it wasn’t until he settled in Heidelberg that he began to really focus on how he could outwit the casinos he was visiting.
Roulette was Jarecki’s game of choice, and being an extremely intelligent man, he knew there was nothing he could do to beat the game mathematically. However, he also knew how to handle data and statistics and these things did not lie.
He began to look for wheel bias at casinos over Europe, enlisting his wife to help record the results and sometimes gathering data on as many as 10,000 spins per wheel. Sometimes this frustratingly led him nowhere, but when he discovered a bias he capitalised on it, and took the casino for as much as he could.
There was nothing original about what Jarecki was doing, wheel bias had been used by gamblers since the 1800’s when Joseph Jagger travelled to Monte Casino to exploit the wheels there, but Jarecki perfected it.
It was not only about choosing the right wheel, but also the right casino. The casinos is Europe were more tolerant of big winners than those in the USA, and even then some were more welcoming than others. Jarecki would also make sure to befriend the staff at the casinos he was using, so they would feel bad about asking him to leave, and his harmless bewildered professor persona made him difficult to dislike.
By 1969, he had been described as “a menace to every casino in Europe”.
The Lie That Bought Him Time
Nevertheless, a casino is in the business of making money not giving it away, so when Richard Jarecki’s winning streaks started to bring on the heat, he had to come up with something.
The San Remo casino in Italy was hit particularly hard by Jarecki’s winning spree, and they suspected him of exploiting wheel bias. In an attempt to foil him they swapped the wheels around each day, but he knew them down to every tiny detail and could spot the biased wheels wherever they were moved to.
This led to him being questioned by the gaming police as well as casino management, and even some press, and he told them that he had cracked the game using a super computer from the University of London.
This was a lie, but it threw them off the scent for long enough for him to keep playing.
Eventually though, the casino bought new wheels entirely and Jarecki’s assault on the San Remo was over. Soon new wheels were being developed such as the Starburst which not only made wheel bias less likely, but also less effective, and Jarecki was in effect forced out of the game.
Not before he had won more than $8 million in today’s money though, having taken on casinos in Italy, Germany, France, Las Vegas, and Monte Carlo, and won.
His playing days were never truly over – he played a roulette competition in Manila just before his death and won – but his reign of terror over the casinos ended in the 1970s.
In 1974 he moved back to America and went into commodities trading where he was also very successful, eventually becoming the governor of Comex, a commodities futures exchange.
Since he was still gambling on the roulette wheel and on blackjack, casino owners would offer him employment to partner with them but he always said no.
After retirement he settled in Manila, Thailand, where he died of pneumonia aged 86, in 2018, leaving behind his wife of more than 50 years, 3 children (one of which became a chess master aged 12), and 6 grandchildren.
A long life lived to the full, with a loving family by his side, now that’s what we call lucky.