You can read about the different ways in which people have tried to cheat the casino using the game of roulette elsewhere on this site. One such article is about whether or not a croupier would be able to control the outcome of where the ball landed on the roulette wheel, with the simple answer being that they would not. At least, they would not if we assume that they are trying to do so without using some technology to help them in their aim. As we know from the story of Monique Laurent, however, it is easy enough to win if you have technology on your side.
Laurent was the French woman at the heart of what became known as the ‘Cigarette Pack Scandal,’ working with her brother and her husband in order to win more than a million francs from a casino in which her brother was a croupier. The scam involved a radio transmitter placed inside a cigarette pack, which communicated with a receiver inside a roulette ball in order to get it to land in one of six numbers that Laurent’s husband had placed bets on. They lost five of the bets but won more than enough with the other one in order to cover those losses.
What Is Known of Monique Laurent’s Early Life
Monique Laurent was born on Valentine’s Day of 1948 in a hospital in Deauville, Normandy in France. She was often referred as an ‘uncommon beauty’ when she was growing up, boasting a distinctive bone structure and short brown hair that appealed to the men that met her. A highly intelligent woman, she was always keen to earn a quick franc if the opportunity presented itself. Other than this and the fact that she definitely had at least one brother, the information about Laurent’s early years is somewhat scant. There is, perhaps, a sense of mystique that exists around her.
Fifteen years before Laurent became the engineer of one of the greatest casino cons in French gambling history, a film called Les Tricheurs was released in France. Pascale Petit played a character called Mic, who bore some similarities with Laurent. Both had short hair and a small physique, for example, which Mic also liked the idea of getting something for nothing. Did Laurent base her style around the character from the film, or are the similarities between the pair entirely coincidental? It is a question we’ll never get the answer to, but it might be worth watching the film if you want to get a sense of what Laurent was like.
The Basis of an Idea
In 1973, Laurent’s brother got a job working as a croupier at the Casino Deauville. Employed to spin the wheels on the roulette tables in order to make sure that all of the results were accurate, the ambitious Frenchman soon grew bored. As a result, he used the quiet times in the casino to see whether he was able to manipulate the outcome of the ball in any way. Could he make the ball land roughly where he wanted it to just by spinning it in a specific way? He quickly realised that the answer to that question was ‘no’ he couldn’t. Rather than giving up, however, he spoke to his more intelligent system.
Always happy to look for additional finances where she could, Monique Laurent was happy to use her time in order to try to help her brother beat the casino. Her brother, she knew, was interested in technology, so could anything be done in order to take advantage of that fact? It was soon realised that radio transmitter might just give them the edge that they needed in order to ensure that they could accurately predict where the roulette ball would land on the wheel, placing corresponding bets that would allow them to walk away from their time at the table in profit.
Manipulating the Ball
Having established that a radio transmitter could influence what the ball did as long as there was a radio receiver embedded in the ball, the Laurents next had to find a way to get the receiver into the ball without it being obvious. The ball had to be introduced to play, but it also needed to look like a standard roulette ball and behave just as such a ball should behave. There was a large amount of trial and error during this part of the plan. Some of the balls didn’t look right once the receiver was placed inside them, whilst other balls were far too heavy to act like a standard roulette ball.
Thankfully, Laurent’s brother had a friend who was a sculptor. After yet more trial and error, he was able to create a ball that ticked all of the boxes. It looked like a normal roulette ball, weighed a similar amount and, crucially, behaved as a roulette ball should when it was spun around the wheel. The only difference between it and an actual roulette ball was that it had a radio receiver inside it that allowed the control of the ball with an accuracy of 90%. The plot was almost ready to be put into practice, with the only problem being that they needed a third team member.
The Cigarette Packet
It soon became clear that any attempts to take on the casino would involve three people: the brother acting as the croupier in order to get the fake ball onto the wheel, Monique triggering the ball by using the radio transmitter and the third person to place the bets. The good news was that there was a third person ready, willing and able to place the bets on the outcome of the roulette spin: Monique Laurent’s husband. The only other thing to think about was how, exactly, Monique would trigger the transmitter. It wasn’t exactly as though she could stand in the middle of the casino with it out in public.
Thankfully, the transmitter was an idea size to fit within a cigarette packet. Back then, of course, smoking inside public buildings was entirely allowed and not in any way frowned upon, so Laurent was able to buy a packet of Marlboros and stand in the casino looking entirely normal. She stood close to the roulette wheel where her husband was playing and her brother was the croupier, awaiting a signal from them that she should trigger the transmitter in order to influence the outcome of the ball’s spin, getting it to land where it needed to for them to make money.
A Winning Method
Monique Laurent’s brother’s role as the croupier allowed him to put their ‘fixed’ ball onto the table, putting the regulation ball into his pocket. Once the balls had been switched, Laurent’s husband would place wagers on the six possible outcomes for the ball, whilst the brother would signal to his sister that it was time to launch the transmitter. It was a method that worked without fail, allowing the group to win millions through their cheating. Though the casino knew that something was amiss, it was all but impossible for them to pin down how they were being cheated.
Having watched the croupier closely, they decided that he wasn’t doing anything untoward. As a result, they called in specialists in order to take the wheel apart and inspect it. They did just that, examining it for any irregularities and noting that it was a perfectly balanced wheel. The owner of the casino was entirely baffled about what was going on, which gave the trio confidence to carry on gambling even though they knew that the casino had their suspicions about the wins that they were managing to rack up week after week. In the end, it was their greed that caused their downfall.
Lusting After a Beauty
Had the team decided to walk away the moment that the casino began to be suspicious of them, they would almost certainly have got away with their ruse. Sadly, they were too greedy to do that and continued to place bets on a table that they knew that they were rigging in their favour. One thing that they hadn’t taken into account was the casino manager taking a shine to Monique Laurent. He had been watching her for weeks, finding it odd that a beauty such as her would come to the casino alone and never play any of the games, to say nothing of the cigarette packet she had but never seemed to smoke.
Initially, he was happy to ignore these peculiarities as he was keen to flirt with Laurent. However, when his approaches were constantly rebuffed, he decided that there was something unusual about what the woman of his desires was up to. It also occurred to him that she happened to always stand near to the table where the unusual winning took place. He began to suspect that some form of radio transmission might be taking place, so a debugging crew was brought in. Low and behold, it was discovered that a radio signal was being sent during winning games.
The Plot Unravels
Once the debugging crew had discovered the radio signal that was being transmitted during winning games, it didn’t take the manager long to put two and two together. He contacted the local police and was accompanied by the Police Chief as he approached Monique Laurent and asked her for a cigarette. When she was unable to provide him with one, however, he got a member of his security team to confiscate the pack and look for anything suspicious. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t take them long to find the radio transmitter and the jig was well and truly up.
It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to wonder what might have happened to the trio if they had been operating their scheme in Las Vegas. For starters, as soon as suspicions were raised the game would have been shut down. Once it was figured out what was happening, the guilty party would have been thrown in jail, if they were lucky. It seems as though the French were far more forgiving than their American counterparts back then, for no such thing happened to the cigarette packet trio. Whilst they had to return the stolen money, they didn’t end up going to jail for what they’d done.
La Belle Voleuse
When stories of what the trio had been up to made it into the press, Monique Laurent was dubbed ‘La Belle Voleuse,’ which translates roughly as ‘the Beautiful Thief.’ Though she’d stolen a huge amount of money from the casino, or perhaps because of that fact, the French public seemed to love her. She gained some small amount of notoriety and made the most of that whilst it lasted. It didn’t last forever, however, and she eventually made the decision to move to Las Vegas. Perhaps the thrill and joy of gambling had gotten into her bloodstream, even if she had to start playing straight.
Laurent apparently got a job working in a trendy clothes store on the Las Vegas strip, which allowed her to spend her nights and weekend at the casinos nearby, gambling with her wages and without the ability to guarantee the outcome of whatever game it was that she ended up playing. In the end, the scheme that Laurent and her brother came up with was successful for a time, but the greed of the trio proved to be their undoing. The combination of brains and beauty was enough to win them a large sum of money, but they failed to walk away when they were on top, which is a lesson to gamblers everywhere.