On 18 August 1913, players at the casino in Monte Carlo were astonished when the ball landed on black no fewer than 26 times in succession. Believing that this run could not last, many punters had convinced themselves that red must come up next. They lost their money. Others reasoned that as black had been lucky so many times it would continue that way. They, too, lost when the series finally ended.
The story appears on numerous websites, and for many years it has been included in books on gambling and the laws of chance. But is it true?
I was determined to find out more, and to discover who had been the winners and losers. So I searched a number of sources including the Times Digital Archive, The British Newspaper Archive and Google Books. Surprisingly, I was unable to find any contemporary account of this event from August 1913 – or indeed any mention of it whatsoever until many years after. Having trawled through numerous articles and books I located what I believe to be the first published account of it – in a book published as late as 1959. This work is entitled ‘How to Take a Chance – a light hearted introduction to the laws of probability’ and was written by Darrell Huff. (Note the phrase ‘light hearted’). The author of this volume presumably invented the story just by way of example and now it appears in reputable publications as though it were an established fact.
But if it had really taken place, what would have happened if a gambler had bet on black starting with a stake of £1, and then left their winnings to accumulate on the same colour for 26 spins of the wheel? A quick calculation shows that in theory they would have finished up with over £50 million! This would have been something of an inconvenience to the casino, to put it mildly. To prevent any player from winning sums of this magnitude, the casino’s rules at that time limited the maximum stake to about £250, a measure which would have reduced the total win to about £9,000 – still a good return on an initial investment of £1 !
By the way – if you know of any source for this tale which pre-dates Darrell Huff’s 1959 book, I’d be delighted to hear all about it. firstname.lastname@example.org