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Norman Leigh: 13 against the bank

What you are about to road did actually happen, and in my opinion did so purely thanks to short-term luck and nothing else. So why then should I put Norman Leigh and his system players onto my list of heroes of roulette if all they did was get lucky using a random system? They are here for reasons other than making money.

First, Norman Leigh became public enemy number one in the eyes of the French casinos in 1966 because ho won the substantial figure of FF800,000, which at the time was worth £58,000 – a very tidy sum forty years ago. Second, he scared the French gaming industry so much that they barred him from every casino in France. Third, he had the guts and determination to hit back at an industry that had wronged him by treating his father badly.

Monte Carlo casino win


The facts that Norman Leigh and his “reverse Labouchere” betting system has no proven long-term mathematical edge, and that he was only active for about two weeks and would have surely lost it back had his team continued, are neither here nor there. Hut what cannot be ignored is that his name went into roulette folklore because of what he did and his account of it in the wonderful book Thirteen Against the Bank. This tells the story of Leigh and his team of twelve individuals from all walks of life who took on the might of the Casino Municipal in Nice and broke the bank.

The term “breaking the bank” does not mean busting the casino. It means taking all the chips that are currently on the roulette table – a fair sum of money but nothing compared with the financial resources of a large casino.

The only reason that the French casinos gave for barring Leigh’s team was because they won systematically, consistently and methodically. Norman Leigh was born in 1928 in London and did his national service in 1946. He worked as an interpreter for a while but retained a lifelong fascination with roulette. Because Leigh was sent to prison for fraud in 1968, I’ve read comments from people who think that Leigh was a con man who tricked twelve individuals into bankrolling a trip lo Monte Carlo in 1966 while he basically free rolled with their money.

I don’t buy this, simply because the era that we are talking about is 1966 and not 2006. I think it is more likely that Leigh firmly believed in his own mind that his system was viable, which made the task of selling it to others a lot easier. I know from personal experience that casinos will bar players it they are winning too much money and especially if they don’t fully understand the reasons behind why they are winning.

Because Leigh was winning in 1966 and nor 2006, I believe that the casinos acted through fear brought about through ignorance. Modern-day casinos tolerate system players and even en¬courage them by placing score cards and writing equipment at the side of the table to assist them. They understand that there is no mathematical system available that can beat them and that they will eventually get the system players’ money.

The casinos knew only too well betting systems back in the 1960s, but were not overly aware of the strange looking: reverse Labouchere system, which is vastly different from the normal progression type systems. A two-week period is a very short amount of time to prove the validity of whether a betting system is working or not, so the fact that Leigh and his team won nearly £60,000 is academic.

The game was terminated by the casino when Leigh’s team was €58,000 ahead, which is a vastly different story. The gaming world is full of punters who have been ahead by astronomical amounts, only to lose it back. I could fill an entire book with stories of punters and even system players who were ahead for considerable lengths of time only to be wiped out by one big reverse; every casino employee in the world has similar stories.

But although casinos tolerate system players, they are not overly fond of them because they tend to bleed small amounts of money for long periods without giving anything back in return by way of action on other games. System players tend to be very careful with their expenditure and don’t get involved in any other game apart from roulette. In short, they are not interested in any other casino activity other than the one game where they can execute their system.

The best systems can defer loss for very long periods indeed, and it is strange quirk that creates the illusion that some of them work. The Labouchere system is one system named after of one Queen Victoria’s ministries. The “reverse Labouchere” turns the normal system requirement of adding to the bet after a loss on its head. It essentially only increases the bet when you are already ahead, but it does require significant starting capital to operate effectively.

Leigh came across this system while scouring a bookshop near Charing Cross so it wasn’t his idea; he merely copied it with a few added modifications of his own thrown in. In today’s more enlightened times, it is doubtful whether a man like Leigh could have convinced twelve seemingly intelligent individuals to go on a caper like this (but then again). But back in the 1960s, the overwhelming majority of people had next lo no experience of this kind of thing and had certainly not read about anything to do with the game of roulette.

But the determination of Leigh was something that I’ve always admired, especially after reading his book. If you can accept the fact that some of the events have been enhanced for literary effect, the book is a very enjoyable read. After getting hold of his system in a local bookshop, Leigh’s next step was to recruit a team.

This was the clever part about what Leigh did in my opinion; he knew full well that the system would require a fair degree of starting capital and that a bigger team would accelerate any winning run should they have one. A single person using the “reverse Labouchore” system could have taken weeks if not months to get wiped out, but could also have taken a long time to encounter one of the progression “mushrooms” as they called them in the book.

Leigh systematically interviewed every team member after placing an advertisement in a Bournemouth newspaper and then placing further advertisements in national newspapers for what he called “a limited number of vacancies of a clerical nature in a group to be formed on the Cote d’Azur”. The entire operation from the planning to the wording of the advertisement in the newspapers to the training and then execution of the system was almost military-like in its execution.

This team play really spooked the casinos in France; they had never encountered anything like it before. But forming a team and attacking the casinos systematically is something that I can relate to and anyone who has read my book Princes of Darkness: The World of Highs hikes Blackjack will know what 1 am talking about. Each team member walked away with almost $12,000 (£4,230) profit, which was a substantial sum in 1%6, but their greatest achievement was to scare the French gaming industry so much that the French government got involved at one stage.

       

As soon as Leigh’s book was published, he received offers to take his system to Las Vegas from numerous people, but he declined draw your own conclusions. But I take my hat off to a very intelligent and determined man who had the guts to take on an industry and stand tall under what must have been in¬tense pressure and very close scrutiny and come out standing tall: Norman Leigh… I salute you.

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