“Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel,
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel,
As the images unwind; like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind”
From “The Windmills of Your Mind”
By Legrand, Bergman & Bergman

The roulette wheel is a seductive and alluring way to test fate and ply your trade as a professional gambler. Some of the most fascinating tales of gambling surround this form of gambling, and some of the most fascinating – and high-rolling – players have tested their luck, tempted their fate, and made their fortunes, playing it.

What is a High Roller?

It could be someone with more money than sense or a true pro, old or young, a man or a woman. The only requirement is that he bets big, and can do so again and again.

Though the specific dollar values are different for various locations, even among specific casinos, generally speaking a ‘high-roller’ is a gambler who wagers large amounts of money on any specific gambling game, sports event or spin of a roulette wheel.

Individual casinos compete in terms of bet limits to entice the high stakes players to their establishments. The high-end gamblers often negotiate benefits, specific awards (called “comps”) and even discounts and cash-backs (reduction of losses based on the volume of the loss) if they lose!

From a gambling site’s standpoint, these “whales’ are themselves something of a risk to woo; should the gambler win, the level of the losses, plus the cost of the aforementioned benefits and perks can be considerable; But with the odds usually still in the favor of the house, a whale’s losses will more than likely well exceed the costs involved, an net the casino a big win!

The casinos know their prey, too. From the same source quoted above, the average ‘whale’ has these characteristics:

  • 80% are Asian
  • All have an instant credit line of a $1,000,000 or more
  • Prefer to gamble with bet minimums above $10,000
  • Usually has their own entourage
  • Extremely generous. They play big and tip big
  • Generally, their net worth is near or above $1,000,000,000.

The ‘little wheel’

Nearly everyone is familiar with the live roulette table (named, simply, from its compact size, the French word for its size and shape), its 37 pie-shaped sections (38 on American wheels) and their associated ‘pockets’, the shiny ball that counter-rotates until gravity, and the little ‘canoes’ that randomize its fall into the pockets.

Originally, the wheel only had 36 sections; when the nation of Monaco got into financial difficulty, the king, Charles III, commissioned the creation of wheels with the zero, which increased the house odds. Then, when he opened a casino, he offered roulette to the masses. It did help that the same year, France outlawed gambling. So, between those two events, Monaco was saved as a nation, and Monte Carlo, where the casino was built, became the staple of European gambling it remains to this day.

The Wheel and the Whales

What may surprise you is that it has been at the center of some great stories dealing with High Rollers. Here are some examples.

  • Joseph Jagger, an Englishmen, determined by sheer observation that a given roulette wheel at a casino in Monte Carlo had a predisposition to hit a certain collection of numbers more often than should be statistically consistent. (Taking advantage of a biased wheel is one of only two known ‘exploits’ to the game of roulette). Mr. Jagger won more than $120,000 in value, which would approximate today to SIX MILLION DOLLARS!
    • The Casino caught on, made some procedural changes, and sufficiently disguised the particular wheel, and thus ended the exploit.
  • In 1891,Charles Coborn, a noted English swindler, took a tiny bankroll of roughly 400 British pounds Sterling, and more on a run of luck than any form of strategy worked that up in one night to a staggering million francs ($500,000), and ‘broke the bank’ –meaning that paying him his winnings closed their operation for the day.
  • In a repeat of the biased wheel exploit much more recently (1990’s), Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo discovered a biased Roulette table, in the self-same city, and successfully extracted over a million Euros (in that case, the casino attempted legal action against him, but the courts determined he had done nothing wrong, and ruled against the Casino).
  • In 2004, a gambler decided to make a single-spin all –or – nothing bet. Ashley Revell, another Englishman, sold his home and all his possessions and walked in with a bankroll of 135,500. As the wheel began spinning, he put all his money on Red. When the spinning stopped, it was on Red 7, and leaving a tip of $600, Ashley walked out with a whopping $270,000!
  • The Sultan of Brunei, at one time the richest man in the world, once played roulette placing $250,000 all over the board (no claim to total wins or losses from that particular tale, though).
  • So-called “Fat Man” Fouad al-Zayat, a renowned whale, is said to have lost, over a fifteen-year period a whopping $19 million dollars. Ironically, in 1996, he had won approximately that same amount from a casino in Mayfair (The Guardian)
  • Jimmy Chagra, notorious drug dealer and whale in his own right was said to have tipped a croupier a massive $600,000 after a successful session with the wheel.

What it takes to become a whale?

With the perks and benefits that define the life of a ‘Whale’, what does one have to have, to be in order to enter this lifestyle? What defines them? What drives them?

From the outset, it would seem that life for a whale is part ecstasy, part agony. The paradigm one must have, stems from an economic anomaly, an obscenely large financial base from which to operate. Whether you be a business creator or facilitator, with access to nearly limitless resources,  a family treasure chest of immense proportion, or you control and dominate a whole nation whose gross national product is your personal piggybank, you can back, at least initially, all your plays with measurable worth.

As wealthy as you are, you must also have extensive, if not limitless, time to pursue the passion. You must be able to follow the streak (when it is hot) or remove yourself from the premises (when it’s not). The appeal of the big win is so great, you aren’t able to control your losses, any more than you can drive your wins. The clock, the calendar, simply must fall to your desires.

Your appreciation and respect for the dangers of risk have to be dimmed. You must be able to put your all at risk. In the vernacular, you need nerves of steel and brass cajones, because big wins take big risks to achieve. There cannot be any hesitation or fear of the loss, for the sharks that swim with the whale are in it for the big kill. Taking a whale down has big rewards, but the level at which they are playing is dizzying, the risks immeasurable, the rewards immense.

Next, to be a whale you have to have a plan. Individuals who are operating at this level are sharp negotiators. They know the odds of roulette, but they also know how to mitigate them, to manipulate them, and on occasion, how to mine them.

To be a successful high stakes player, aside from a huge betting bankroll and sound money management, you need to calculate the risk, reduce the losses when possible, and go for the kill without the hesitation of a fly.

Two more characteristics that seem incongruent, but that define perhaps better than the rest, are generosity and honor.

On the one hand, as the money flows through the system, the workers that provide the support for a whale rise and fall on the same wave of success. If you perform well in the pressure of that world, the high roller offers a significant reward, through seemingly excessive tips and perks alike. When a whale goes down, therefore, often he still has hidden resources, even among his own entourage. Never count the whale as out; they know the odds, they depend on them, and despite the great and terrible losses and dangers they face, they take care of their friends.

On the other, it takes a strong constitution to face the hard reality of what is euphemistically called “adverse results’. Imagine all the money you would ever need in the world, for the rest of your life, as your bankroll. Now, imagine playing a hand wherein the possibility exists to double it or more… few might be willing to make that wager, but a Whale would. Up or down, ahead or behind, the big players of the world would, if the odds were acceptable. They accept their lumps, but they negotiate for the best possible outcome, the greatest mitigation of their losses. They own a lot; they have a lot to lose, but the world to gain. It isn’t about the money, for money has lost its meaning. They do not think about the values for which they compete. For them, it is about the win. Pure. But never simple.