The old man sat at the roulette table next to a well dressed middle aged woman. He wore a tattered brown coat, grey stubble covered his cheeks and chin. The croupier looked at him with a mixture of pity and disdain.
The old man watched as the croupier called for bets, gave the wheel a helping spin and rolled the ball into the gutter. The ball made a swishing sound as it spun in its track finally falling onto the wheel. Then there was a chatter as the ball bounced over the frets. It stopped at twenty two.
The croupier said "pay twenty two even" and pushed several piles of chips toward the lucky players.
The old man dug deep into a pocket in the coat, withdrew his hand holding a crumpled dollar bill. He stared at the bill as if it was the last he would ever see. He carefully flattened the money with the heel of his hand, stared at it again and then offered it to the croupier.
The croupier looked at the money, accepted it with a sniff, pushed a single chip toward the old man.
The old man slowly lifted the chip and looked at it for a long time. Then he carefully returned it to the table. He reached again into one of the pockets, fumbled a bit and found what he was looking for. In his hand was a toy roulette game, the kind that you might find in a cheap novelty shop. It was a small black plastic box with a clear window on the top. Beneath the window was a tiny wheel and a small ball. On the side of the box was a plunger.
The old man set the toy next to the chip, examined it for a long time and finally set its wheel into motion by pushing the plunger. The little wheel spun and the tiny ball bounced along the miniature frets. It finally stopped at seventeen. The man then took the chip and placed it on the number seventeen on the betting field.
The croupier watched the man with mild amusement and spun his ball into its track. Once again, the ball made the swishing sound followed by the clatter, it stopped at seventeen.
"Seventeen odd" said the croupier, he then pushed a large pile of chips toward the old man.
Once more, the old man reached into the inexhaustible pocket. Finally he retrieved a worn paper bag. He placed all but one of the chips into the bag, folded its top and placed it on the table beside the toy machine.
Again, he pressed the plunger on the toy. Its wheel spun, the ball bounced and stopped on double zero. Again, he placed his single chip on the "real" double zero and waited for the croupier to start the game.
"Double Zero" called the croupier and pushed another stack of chips toward the old man.
As the old man's winnings increased, several things happened. The well dressed lady looked at him with increased interest and then she and a number of the other players began to follow his bets. The croupier was becoming increasingly upset.
Finally, after ten straight wins, the croupier, unobserved by anyone else at the game, pressed a small button beneath the edge of the table. In a few moments, two men approached the croupier and they whispered to each other. The croupier nodded toward the old man. The men then walked to the old man and stood on either side of him. One leaned over and said in a low voice, "You had better come with us now, please don't make any trouble."
The only person that saw the old man's quick flash of a smile was the well dressed woman, "I can't imagine how he thought he could get away with it!" she said to no one in particular.
"The charge is using a device to affect the outcome of a game of chance," the security officer said. There were several people in the room, a police officer, a man in an expensive suit, obviously the casino manager, two security guards and another man that the manager had referred to as the casino statistician.
The old man sighed, "It's only a good luck charm, it's just a toy, I didn't think there were any rules against it."
"This state has some very strict laws regarding what you did. Using a device, any device, that can change the outcome of a game is worth several years in prison." The manager spoke evenly and without a trace of emotion. Then he smiled, "If you tell us how it works, however, we will let you keep your winnings, of course you will be barred from this and any other casino in the future. I am sure you understand this" he said.
The croupier now entered the room and stood silently by the door. The manager turned toward him, "Could you see how he did it?" The manager asked.
"Not really" said the croupier, "He just played the toy wheel and then placed the same bet."
"How much did he win?" asked the manager.
"Not much", said the croupier, "He won ten times, all on different numbers. After each play he put all but one of the chips in a bag and played that one chip. That makes 280 dollars."
"Hmm" said the manager, "how about the other players?"
The croupier cleared his throat, "Well, after his third or fourth win, the other players started following his bets, they bet pretty heavy when they saw what was going on. We lost over four hundred thousand dollars. Here are the exact figures." He handed the manager a slip of paper.
The manager turned to the old man, "OK" he said, "who was in on it with you, which one of the other players was your partner?"
After a while, it became apparent that the old man would not change his story or divulge how the tiny roulette game could do what it did.
The policeman took the old man and all the evidence to the police station where he was finger printed and put in a cell to wait for his trial.
The bailiff called out the charges and the trial began.
The prosecuting attorney interrogated the croupier, the well dressed lady and several other of the players that had been at the table. They all told the same story.
He then took testimony from the manager, the security guards and the casino statistician.
The statistician said that the odds against 10 consecutive wins on single numbers at roulette were millions to one, he actually gave a more exact figure but nobody seemed much interested in the details.
The prosecutor then took testimony from the old man, he just repeated his story that the toy wheel was simply a good luck charm.
Finally the public defender called his only witness, a scientist of impeccable credentials from the university. The scientist had taken the toy wheel apart and found that it had been disassembled before. "Ahh" said the prosecuting attorney, "Ahh" said several members of the jury. The judge nodded his head.
The scientist said that what he found in the toy was quite interesting. "Ah ha" said the prosecuting attorney. "So" said someone on the jury. The judge said "Hmmm".
The scientist then showed the judge, the attorney and the jury what he had found.
"This is a piece of parchment paper with some astrological signs printed on it. This is a claw from some kind of bird. This appears to be the ear of a bat. And there is a small amount of blood that we think came from a chicken."
The prosecuting attorney stared at the scientist in disbelief, "That's it?" he said. Someone on the jury laughed, another jury member said "yuck, how disgusting". The judge discretely cleared his throat.
The prosecuting attorney then said "But how does it work?"
The scientist said "It doesn't".
The public defender rested his case.
The prosecuting attorney had nothing to add.
The jury was out for ten minutes.
"Not guilty" said the foreman of the jury.
"The defendant is free to go," said the judge, "furthermore, the defendant is not to be barred from any casino."
The old man sat at the dice table next to a well dressed
middle aged woman. . . .