Charles Wells: The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
Charles Wells is known for his extraordinary luck at the roulette tables, breaking the bank at the Monte Carlo on more than one occasion. His love of gambling would eventually get the best of him, though, causing him to resort to fraudulent behavior to fund his addiction. Although Wells was born in the mid-1800s, his actions are still talked about today.
To learn more about Charles Wells, his childhood, how his life of crime and gambling started, and how he managed to break the bank at the Monte Carlo on more than one occasion, please read through this detailed biography. Who knows? You might even discover something you never knew before.
Charles De Ville Wells was born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, in 1841. His father, Charles Jeremiah Wells, was a well-known poet and lawyer. His mother, Emily Jane Hill, was a stay-at-home mother who took care of Charles and his three older sisters. When Wells was still an infant, his family moved to Quimper, France, which is where Wells spent the majority of his childhood.
Wells' parents took him to church every week in order to instill good morals in their young boy. Addiction to both alcohol and gambling ran in the family, and they were hoping Wells would not run into the same difficulties when he was older. His time in church proved to be profitable when he was young, as he was very respectful and always followed the rules.
He attended L'ecole de Diwan, a very prestigious private school in France at the time. Wells did exceptionally well in school, managing to graduate at the top of his class in 1959. He earned himself a scholarship to attend Clermont-Ferrand University, where he graduated with his bachelor's degree in engineering.
After he graduated, he accepted a job as an engineer at the Marseille shipyards. While working there, he invented a device that could regulate the speed of a ship's propellers. He was able to sell the patent for his invention for 5,000 francs, which was about 5 times his yearly salary at the time.
A Life of Crime and Gambling Begins
With a little extra money to spend, Wells became a frequent visitor of the many casinos in France. This is where things started to take a turn for the worse for this once-well-mannered, church-going gentleman. He quickly became addicted to gambling, and before he knew it, all of his money was gone.
Desperate for cash, he found some investors who were willing to fund his railroad building project. He had plans to build a railroad in Berck, an area in France that was in need of transportation services. After seeing how expensive it would be to actually build the railroad, Wells decided to take his investors' money and flee. This was out of character for Wells, but he felt like he had no other choice.
He found himself in England, where he continued to gamble away every dollar he brought in. Once again, he turned to investors for help. He convinced several different wealthy members of society to invest in one of his many inventions. He took their money without any intention of paying them back, instead using their money to feed his gambling addiction. This went on for several years.
Breaking the Bank
Wells visited the Monte Carlo Casino for the first time in July of 1891. At that time, each roulette table at the casino had a cash reserve of 100,000 francs, which was often referred to as "the bank." Every time a gambler won an amount larger than 100,000 francs, they were said to have "broken the bank." When this happened, the casino officials would be forced to break into the casino's vault to pay the winner in full. Wells' luck at the roulette tables during his stay at the Monte Carlo amazed everyone, as he was able to "break the bank" several times during the course of his stay there.
Up until that moment in history, the bank at the Monte Carlo had been broken only 5 times, by 5 different people. It was unheard of for someone to be able to do this more than once. Given his criminal record, many people believed he had somehow managed to cheat his way to victory. They questioned if he somehow rigged the wheel or paid the spinner to turn the odds in his favor; a thorough investigation proved them wrong, however.
Wells contributed his wins to the Martingale system. The Martingale system is simple in theory; it involves keeping your bet the same when you win and doubling it when you lose. While this system may have helped Charles at the Monte Carlo, it has been proven to be unsuccessful in the long run.
Once Wells had a substantial amount of money to his name, he decided to purchase a standard ship and turn it into a luxury yacht. He named his new yacht Palais Royal; it came complete with a fully-stocked kitchen and a 50-person ballroom. He hosted lavish parties aboard his yacht almost every weekend; they were an invite-only affair. This was to avoid having one of the many people he had scammed over the years show up to his party in search of vengeance.
A Life of Crime Continues
While that never happened, one of his famous yacht parties was interrupted by the authorities, who had a warrant out for his arrest. He was extradited to England to face charges in connection with the former investors he had failed to pay back. His trial took place at Old Bailey in March 1893, where he was found guilty on 23 counts of fraud. The penalty for his crimes was 8 years of imprisonment, but he was able to get out a few months early for good behavior.
Once Wells was released from prison, he set up a private bank in Paris under the alias "Lucien Rivier." He promised to pay investors an interest rate of 365% per year, or 1% per day, on their investments. Eager to take advantage of this generous offer, investors started sending money his way. Within just a matter of weeks, 6,000 investors deposited a total of 2 million francs. He paid his existing customers out of the funds coming in from his seemingly never-ending supply of new customers, which would only work for so long.
French authorities soon started investigating his business practices to make sure his bank was legitimate. Once they started doing this, he fled back to England once again with his customers' money. He is said to have revisited Monte Carlo at this time, only to lose the majority of his customers' funds at the roulette tables.
It took authorities nearly two years to make the connection that Lucien Rivier and Charles Wells was the same person. Wells was arrested in January of 1912 and sentenced to another five years in prison. To make sure Wells would not be able to do anything like that again, the French government issued strict controls on private banks that involved a rigorous background check on the owners.
After Wells was released from prison the second time, he kept a low profile for the remainder of his life. He spent his evenings gambling away the rest of the money he had left. In 1922, he passed away just after his 51st birthday as a result of kidney failure. Only family members were invited to attend the private funeral service that was held in his honor.
Impacting the Media
Wells' life has been the theme of various books, films, and musicals over the years. His life story first hit the entertainment world in 1935 with the release of the American romantic comedy The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo. This film was directed by Stephen Roberts, and it starred Ronald Colman, Joan Bennett, and Colin Clive. A fictional book with the same title was written by Michael Butterworth in 1983. Then, in 1988, a musical titled Lucky Stiff made its first appearance on Broadway.
It wasn't until recently that a nonfiction piece of literature was actually written about him. Robin Quinn wrote a factual biography about Wells in 2016 titled The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire. This is a thorough biography that exploits many of Wells' darkest secrets; Quinn wrote it after interviewing several of Wells' ancestors and reading through several of his private diaries that were left behind after he passed away.
Wells' love of gambling certainly got him into trouble. It caused him to steal millions of dollars from thousands of innocent people across England and France. In addition to his crimes, he will forever be remembered as the man who managed to break the bank at the Monte Carlo on several different occasions. People can choose to believe whatever they want about Wells, but one thing we know to be true is that this man was passionate about gambling!