Saturday, December 15, 2007

The First Known Professional Roulette Cheater

In the early 1800s, the French Gaming Police was established to combat casino crime among the royalty that gambled in Monte Carlo's princely gaming palace, Le Grand Casino, and later in the other Côte d'Azur beachside gaming playgrounds lining the Mediterranean. Surprising these gaming gendarmes, European royalty were found on both sides of the fence. Dukes, barons and earls could not only be found buying their "chances" at a roulette wheel but often pocketing other royal family members' gold pieces they had furtively removed from the layout when somebody else wasn't looking. Generals, polo players, and even a beloved princess, had all been caught tampering with spinning wheels to give themselves a little royalist edge over the commoners.

But most of these elegant cheaters were just part-time opportunists who took advantage of spur-of-the-moment whims. However, one infamous French casino cheat took Old World casino cheating to another level, and this certain Marcel Calvert, who would become know as Marcel "Le Pic-Vert", "the woodpecker" in English, is one of my greatest idols in the colorful history of professional casino-cheating.

Le Pic Vert was a carpenter by trade and he had toiled on numerous occasions inside France's grand casinos--where he got both his grand idea and his nickname. Being an inveterate roulette player and loser, who, much to his wife's dismay, snuck out to the casinos while she was asleep, Marcel endlessly dreamed of a way he could finally beat the spinning wheel. One night while watching the ball land on zero and the dealer rake his chips, Le Pic Vert was struck by his coup de foudre (lightening bolt). The next night he hid inside Monaco's Grand Casino with a tool box from his atelier when it closed in the early morning. Alone in the darkness, he lit his torch and went to work filing down the grooves on the inner disk of certain roulette wheel cylinders, which he knew would result in biased roulette balls preferring to land with odds-defying frequency on a dozen select numbers. He came back the next night and played the tables with the wheels he'd tampered with. And the night after that. And the night after that. When the casino became suspicious, Le Pic Vert changed casinos. He found another elegant one along the French Riviera. Soon he found himself hiding in the toilet stalls of a dozen ritzy casinos after they closed. Naturally he was sweating bullets (or more aptly for his surroundings "shitting bricks") but he had an amazing run of luck managing not to get caught hiding in the john.

Naturally it couldn't last forever.

Marcel Le Pic Vert got wealthy, busted, broke, divorced, wealthy again and remarried, before finally dying broke and divorced in a wooden cell inside a French Riviera prison, ten years after having been caught a second time with his torch and tool box inside the Grand Casino.