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Frank Scoblete - Gambling?s Greatest Wins, Runs, Records & Legends

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  • Frank Scoblete?Daddy, tell me a story,? said my little son so many years ago when he was seven. I always told my kids stories at bedtime.

    ?Once upon a time there was a regular guy named Joe and he went to work every day at the local school where he was a teacher. Joe was a good man and....? ?No, Daddy, tell me a story about giants and monsters and how I kill them,? said my son.

    ?...and one day Joe turned into this hideous monster with two heads and giant teeth who ate all the children in the class and spit out their bones...?

    ?That?s more like it,? said my son, ?now, I?ll be able to go to sleep.?

    My son was no different from the typical kid of any era; he wanted an outsized story that he could mentally put himself into as an outsized hero who did prodigious things. We casino gamblers are no different, by the way. Check the look on the faces of your fellow low- to medium-rolling casino players as they watch a giant whale (a mega-high roller) betting and winning more money on one hand of blackjack or craps than some of them make in a year. They have a dreamy look that says: ?That?s really ME playing those hands, and that?s MY money, and everyone around ME is watching ME bet all this money and they are all watching ME win all this money. This is really a story that is all about ME!? And when our gambler goes to sleep, he will dream those impossible dreams, just as my little son used to.

    But some real, flesh-and-blood gamblers, a fraction of a percent of a fraction of a percent, mind you, get to experience the outsized, the outlandish, the outer limits of gambling?s good fortune. You sometimes read about these folks in the papers; such as how on January 26, 2000, Cynthia Jay-Brennan put $27 in a Megabucks machine at the now-defunct Desert Inn in Las Vegas and won $34,959,458; or how on Sunday, November 15, 1998, a 65 year-old retired flight attendant won $27,582,539 on a Megabucks machine at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and how this very same woman, one month previously, had hit for more than $680,000 on The Wheel of Fortune at that same casino; or, for really low-rollers with big dreams, how that fellow who, on July 24, 2000, put in his nickels in the Nickels Deluxe machine at Harvey?s Resort Casino in Nevada and won a tidy $1,655,998 and 20 cents! But giant slot progressives are made for lightning strikes and, strange as it is to say this, there is nothing really ?unusual? in winning against those 49,846,031 to 1 odds, since some 130 people have won the coveted Megabucks jackpots nationwide since its creation in 1986.

    But how about one- (or two)-of-a-kind stories that aren?t shared with 130 people, but are really from the true ?once upon a time? school of the fantastic but real? What about stuff that only epic heroes can accomplish or luck so lucky that it occurs only once or twice in a century?

    Roulette naturally lends itself to the fantastic but true realm of casino gaming stories as it is the oldest game with the longest tradition and the most written about it worldwide.

    Try these stories on for outsize:

    Over a seven year period, between 1904 and 1911, William Nelson Darnborough from Bloomington, Illinois, challenged the monstrous Monte Carlo casino at roulette, winning close to a half million dollars (in early 1900s currency, mind you). He did this after winning untold sums playing roulette in the United States in illegal casinos operated in saloons. Darnborough was a wheel watcher, a man who could anticipate with an unusual degree of accuracy where the ball would land. After winning his fortune, he quit playing to marry a beautiful young woman of noble blood whose family frowned on gambling. He lived happily ever after on a huge estate in England.

    In 1971, Dr. Richard Jarecki operated on the casinos in Monte Carlo and San Remo to the tune of $1,280,000. Dr. Jarecki was a biased-wheel player who looked for wheels that were ?off.? He found them and stitched together quite a winning streak.

    In a three-year period, from 1986 to 1989, Billy Walter?s roulette teams won approximately five million dollars from casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, also playing biased-wheels.

    But all the above biased-wheel players owe a debt of gratitude to the grand-daddy of biased-wheel play, the man who might have ?invented? it, one Joseph Jaggers who won $325,000 in 1873 from Monte Carlo. (How much would that be worth today?) Jaggers staggered Monte Carlo because until that time no one -- and I mean no one -- had ever had sustained a winning streak of his proportions at the famed casino. Those are some of the men who performed heroically in the face of Lady Luck by using skill at roulette, but what about weird and wild streaks that were just old-fashioned once-in-a-lifetime crazy luck?

    Here is an eyewitness account from Barney Vinson, author of the acclaimed Ask Barney, of something that has only happened twice in ?recorded? roulette history: ?Here?s a true story, and I saw it happen. At Caesars Palace on July 14, 2000, at 1:35 p.m., the number 7 came up six times in a row at Roulette Wheel #211. To figure the odds of such an occurrence, multiply 38 x 38 x 38 x 38 x 38 x 38, or over three billion to one! The dealer said it was the first time he had seen this in his 27-year career. Another sidelight. After the ball landed on 7 four times, the floor supervisor told the pit boss, ?I?ll bet you a million dollars that it won?t come up again.? Then here it came again, and again.?

    During this twice-in-a-century event, with players and pit bosses and dealers all agog at the incredible repeating 7, how much money did Roulette table #211 lose? Hundreds of millions? Millions? Hundreds of thousands? Thousands? Nope, a mere $300! Barney Vinson saw something that has only been recorded one time before. The number 10 appeared six times in a row on July 9th, 1959, at El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico. There must be something about the month of July (the author of this article was born in July -- another amazing thing!) since Caesar was said to be born under a lucky star and July is named for him.

    Now, some other wild roulette ?eyewitness? accounts aren?t as reliable as Barney Vinson?s, but I give them to you nevertheless, and you be the judge of their veracity. Black was said to have come up 23 times in a row at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas (a dealer told me this in the early 1990s) or was that 22 times in a row at Caesars in Atlantic City (mid-1990s)? Red once came up 21 times but I can?t remember who told me or where it was. I just remember I was in Vegas and someone saying to me: ?Here?s another glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, sir, and Red once came up 21 times at that roulette wheel over there, no, no, turn your head, sir -- that one over there!? If you?re looking for strange to go along with your odds, try this one: A roulette ball rocketed off the roulette wheel, almost hit a croupier in the eye but he swiped at it just in time, hit it up in the air, where it bounced off a chandelier, came back down, ricocheted off a patron?s cigarette holder, then dropped back into the roulette wheel, where it landed in the four pocket. This happened in England. It was told to me by a flight attendant for American Airlines who claims to have witnessed it.

    Next time: Monster Rolls!

    Some of Frank's most popular books can be purchased by clicking one of the image links below:

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