Ten Days at Monte Carlo at the Bank's Expense
Victor Bethell

Although this book, published in 1898, certainly falls into the "rare, out-of-print" category, very recently I was able to snap up a copy for a tenner. As a trip back through time, to the vicinity of Monte Carlo at the turn of the twentieth century, it was a a delightful read and worth every penny.

The book is authored by Victor Bethell, an old Etonian who worked in banking in the City of London, and recounts the tale of how he and one of his old Etonian "chums", Frank Curzon (a lawyer by profession), had spent a very pleasant ten day cycling holiday at Monte Carlo, funded in full by the famous casino there. They agreed to pool £300 each (around £36,000 at today's value) and use this to apply a system Mr Curzon had used in the past to the Roulette tables, which he assured Victor would generate sufficent profit to cover the costs of their visit in full. He told Victor that by applying the system, to which he had been made privy by a long-time Englishman resident of Monte Carlo, a Mr Wilfred Blundell, he'd never had to pay anything towards the cost of his annual visit to the French Riviera.

Ten Days at Monte Carlo at the Bank's Expense is 175 pages long. The first three chapters recall Victor's meeting with Frank, the explanation behind the system, preparations for the trip and the rail journey to Monte Carlo. From then onwards, each chapter is devoted to a day of the visit - what they did, their cycling excursions, where they ate and ending with a record of their visits to the tables. So in essence the book covers two themes; one being a cycling-touring account and travel guide and the other the application of a roulette system and the results of doing so. These two aspects are complemented with many ads of the time, promoting hotels and businesses (not just in the Monte Carlo area but in London and Paris as well), summaries of local postal times, telegraph rates, taxi-cab hire charges, travelling times to local venues and rounded off with a contact list of English speaking doctors, a dentist and the British vice-consul. So, even for those not planning to gamble Ten Days in Monte Carlo at the Bank's Expense made for a nice, pocket sized, local guide book - similar to the many DK and Rough Guides that are on offer nowdays.

Before starting out on this title, I think it's important that readers gain some perspective on the amounts the author writes about, and what these would be worth at today's value. The betting unit described was five Louis D'Or, a hundred Francs (both a Louis and a Napoleon were twenty Francs). At the time of writing, there were twenty-five Francs to the Pound, and so Victor and Frank were playing at four quid a unit. £4 at today's value is not too far short of £500, and in 1898 this would have represented around a month's pay for an above average wage employee. A parlour maid in a large house could have expected to earn half of that. So they were pushing some substantial amounts across the felt, and some of the losses must have caused Victor to reach for a stiff drink; on the first day, the results line hit minus ten units (£40, £5,000 at today's value) before its upward swing, and on the second day to minus thirty-nine units (£156, £18,700 at today's value) - ouch!

What about their system? Nothing groundbreaking there . . . . bet one unit on the colour that was spun last but one, and if you find yourself ten units down increase the stake to two units, if thirty down increase the stake to three and so on. So a negative progression system on the evens-payoffs. Their aim was to walk away when four units (FF400, £16, a bit short of £2,000 at today's value) up on each session's play, as this is what they considered they needed to fund their hotel accommodation, dining, rail travel, out of pocket daily expenses etc etc. Probably not a million miles away from what two people would need to spend in Monte Carlo nowdays for similar standards of accommodation. They played for as long as it took to win their four units each day.

No surprises that over the ten days they did indeed win enough to cover their holiday expenses and have a bit left over to share out at the end. I've fed the results Victor reported for each day's play (a total of 495 spins were wagered) into a spreadsheet and I found that they fall within statistical norms; their wins averaged out to around 0.15 standard deviations above the EV, and their losses to about the same the other way. The numbers do show that although there were three days when at some point they were running a fair degree in the red (the second, fourth and tenth, with their worst case positions being 39,30 and 36 units down), they never sufferred any major negative variance in their results over the course of the ten days and the variance fairy saw to it that they were treated to a free holiday. Lucky them. Presumably they returned to Monte Carlo after this excursion and repeated the exercise? For others I suspect that the results didn't average out quite so well.

Victor Bethell authored another book about roulette eleven years later in 1910 - Monte Carlo anecdotes and Systems of Play. Being somewhat of a cynic, I do wonder whether he continued to play Roulette during that period (I suspect so) and at how much he ended up losing through doing so. A hundred and twenty years later I suspect we will never know. What we do know is that he left behind him a blueprint for free holidays in Monte Carlo, the system of which I have seen discussed online by roulette pundits just a couple of years ago. Still, as with all systems take this one with a pinch of salt.

Both Ten Days at Monte Carlo at the Bank's Expense and Monte Carlo anecdotes and Systems of Play have been digitised and can be acquired in a range of e-formats - just follow the links below:

Ten Days at Monte Carlo at the Bank's Expense

Monte Carlo anecdotes and Systems of Play

July 2018.