Top 10 Gambling Stories
While there are countless novels, films, and programmes that weave various forms of gambling into their storylines, sometimes real life is far more compelling. Throughout the course of history, gambling has spawned more than its share of interesting tales and anecdotes. Whether we’re dealing with sketchy characters at shady Las Vegas casinos, members of the Royal Family, or just about anyone else, betting gives us a window into the human condition. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to be entertained or want to hear a cautionary tale, you’ll want to read these legendary gambling stories from Britain and beyond.
Shooting for the Moon
The 1969 moon landing feels like ancient history, but it was an unlikely proposition when Kennedy proposed to land on the lunar surface seven years earlier. Although JFK didn’t live to see his vision come to life, one bright bloke from Preston was rewarded handsomely for his patience and faith. In the spring of 1964, David Threlfall convinced William Hill to give him 1,000 to 1 odds that a man would land on the moon prior to January 1971. Even though the sci-fi fan only wagered £10, he obviously received his £10,000 with time to spare. That’s worth more than £155,000 today. What’s even more interesting is William Hill has offered 500 to 1 odds that the government will admit to faking the whole thing. Who knew being a conspiracy theorist could be profitable? Of course, we would advise you against placing that bet.
Double Crossed at Crockfords
With ten World Series of Poker bracelets to his name, Phil Ivey is arguably one of the greatest all-around card players on the planet. Yet sometimes greatness isn’t immune to controversy. After winning £7.7M at London’s Crockfords casino playing baccarat in 2012, the gaming establishment refused to pay Ivey. The man who is often called the Tiger Woods of the poker world admitted to using edge sorting, which is a system that takes advantage of irregularities in playing cards to help players determine whether a card is high or low. The real question is whether edge sorting is cheating in a game of pure chance like punto banco baccarat. So far, the courts have repeatedly sided with the casino, but Ivey is hoping the Supreme Court is on his side. It’s worth noting that Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa successfully sued Ivey and his accomplice for $10.1M for using the same edge sorting technique.
The Royal Baccarat Scandal
Britain’s most famous gambling scandal might seem tame by today’s standards, but it’s noteworthy because it involved the Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII.
In September 1890, while at a party hosted by Sir Arthur Williams at Yorkshire’s Tranby Croft, Edward was playing baccarat against his friend British lieutenant-colonel Sir William Gordon-Cumming. To make a long story short, Sir William Gordon-Cumming was accused of cheating. In order to prevent the prince from being associated with any sort of scandalous behaviour, the alleged cheater agreed to sign a statement agreeing he would never play cards again. In return, everybody in attendance agreed never to mention the episode.
Naturally, the public found out about the incident and Gordon-Cumming demanded an official retraction, which he did not receive. He eventually sued and lost the high-profile case, which was filled with theatrics. Gordon-Cumming was not only expelled from high society, but the cheater was terminated from the army the day following the trial.
Betting on the Family
If you don’t believe that it’s possible to bet on nearly anything in Britain, you probably haven’t heard of Harry Wilson. When Wilson was just 18 months old, William Hill gave his grandfather Peter Edwards 2,500 to 1 odds that the lad would eventually play for the Wales national football team. In the Autumn of 2013 at the age of 16, Harry became the youngest player to take the field for the team. While that certainly made Wilson the pride of Wales, his grandad won £125,000 for putting his faith in a football-loving toddler and was able to retire early. Harry enjoyed 10 years in the Liverpool Youth Squad but is yet to make his Anfield debut.
Seven Minutes to Retirement
Progressive jackpot fruit machines are easily the biggest draws at online casinos. While we all dream of winning millions, that proved to be reality for a veteran solider who served in Afghanistan. On October 6, 2015, Lance Corporal Jon Heywood deposited a measly £30 and started playing Microgaming’s popular Mega Moolah title, which he saw advertised on television moments earlier. After placing modest £0.25 bets for roughly seven minutes, Jon hit the £13,213,838.68 jackpot just before midnight. Likely due to the discipline he picked up in the forces, the lucky winner initially kept his prize a secret and even made his way to work the following morning. The best part is that unlike many other online jackpots, Mega Moolah is awarded in one lump sum.
Winning with Lasers in London
The luxurious Ritz Club in London is known for its history, glamour, opulence, and sophistication. Yet on March 16, 2004, the basement casino became the setting for what seemed like a sophisticated scam run by an Eastern European gang. After winning £100,000 the night before, a group of two Serbian men and a Hungarian woman managed to win an additional £1.2M playing roulette. The trio apparently used a computer-connected mobile laser scanner to measure the velocity of the ball, which would reveal which region of the wheel it would land on. Despite alerting the authorities, freezing the winnings, and arresting the suspects, no charges were laid since they didn’t violate any law. Apparently surreptitious devices aren’t illegal, unless they interfere with the gameplay itself, at least in the United Kingdom. The group was free to go and were able to keep their £1.3M haul.
Stepping Out of the Ring
Boxer Floyd Mayweather isn’t just considered to be one of the greatest professional boxers of all time. He’s just as famous for making massive bets on sporting events. If you follow him on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve probably seen photos of his multi-million-pound betting slips and stacks of banknotes to match. Yet it’s hard to top the $5.9M bet he placed on Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals. Fortunately for Mayweather, LeBron James came through scoring 37 points as the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win their second consecutive championship. Unfortunately for Mayweather, there was no game 7 in 2014 as the Spurs soundly defeated the Heat four games to one.
Betting it all on Red
Who doesn’t have a fantasy of visiting a casino, emptying out their pockets, placing a single bet, immediately winning big, and walking away with a new fortune intact? In 2004, a British bettor did just that in Las Vegas. After selling all his possessions, including a BMW, Rolex, and set of golf clubs, Ashley Revell crossed the pond, and made his way to the Plaza Casino and Hotel in downtown Las Vegas. With the equivalent of £76,840 in chips, Revell headed to a roulette table. Surprisingly, he hadn’t yet decided whether to stake his life savings on red or black. In the heat of the moment Revel opted for red and the ball ultimately landed on lucky number 7. The man of the hour bagged an impressive £153,680 in what now seems like a publicity stunt. Aside from this episode, Revell rarely bets.
The Jackpot That Sent a Woman Packing
While winning even a modest jackpot is usually grounds for celebration, a woman in Arizona quickly learned there are exceptions to every rule. In 2013, Mirna Valenzuela won $1,200 at the Casino del Sol in Tucson, but it was hardly her lucky day. When claiming her prize, Valenzuela was required to provide identification in accordance with U.S. federal law. That’s precisely where this story takes a turn for the worse, as the winner and her daughter provided the casino with fraudulent documents. Instead of paying her, management alerted the authorities and Valenzuela was deported back to her native Mexico. Interestingly enough, winners only need to provide identification when claiming prizes of $1,200 or above. Had she won a penny less, she might still be living the American dream.
You Only Live Twice
It’s not entirely surprising that the man who is best known for playing James Bond on the silver screen has a knack for gambling. During a 1963 trip to the St. Vincent Casino in the Italian Alps, Sean Connery placed a wager on lucky number 17. Despite losing, he placed the same bet a second time only to lose again. Hoping the third time would prove to be a charm, the real life 007 repeated his wager again. Not only did Connery win, but he left all his chips on the table to bet on 17 a fourth time. Despite the odds, the ball did land on 17 again and the lucky man took home 17M lira or roughly £10,000. That’s close to £200,000 in today’s money. No word on whether Daniel Craig has ever been that lucky.