Albert Einstein? Nick the Greek? Nicholas Dandolos? Ted Thackrey, Jr.? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: According to a legend in the gambling world Albert Einstein once visited a Las Vegas casino and after observing the action around the roulette wheel he said:
You cannot beat a roulette table unless you steal money from it.
Any truth to this story?
Quote Investigator: QI believes this quotation can be traced back to an article and a book by a controversial reporter named Ted Thackrey, Jr. In 1968 the Toledo Blade newspaper of Ohio published a series of articles by Thackrey under the title “Secrets of a Master Gambler”. The fourth article discussed a colorful gambler named Nick the Greek who died in 1966 and whose full name was Nicholas Andrea Dandolos. A version of the saying attributed to Einstein was included [AETT]:
Indeed, Albert Einstein once made the flat statement no one could possibly win at roulette “unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking.”
But during the little mathematician’s visit to Las Vegas the Greek stopped off briefly at a roulette table, bought a handful of chips, plunked them down on red — won — and let them ride for two more spins, on which red also appeared.
Then he cashed in, pocketed his winning and grinned at the scientist.
Also in 1968 Thackrey published the book “Gambling Secrets of Nick the Greek” which gave a more elaborate account of the supposed interactions of the famous gambler and Einstein [AEBG]:
Just how or when the gambler and the scientist happened to become acquainted was a matter that neither man ever bothered to explain.
According to Thackrey the event at the roulette wheel occurred when Dandolos was showing Einstein around the city [AEBG]:
So when the great mathematician decided to make a brief stopover in the gambling capital during a coast-to-coast journey, it seemed only natural that The Greek should be waiting at the airport to greet him and conduct him on a special tour of the city’s principal points of interest.
In the book the description of the roulette anecdote was extended, and after Dandolos won three times Einstein was apologetic [AEBG]:
Then he cashed in, pocketed his winnings, and grinned at the scientist.
“One,” said Einstein.
“And it is . . ?”
“I was wondering if you would be kind enough to wash my mouth out with soap?”
Humorous and outlandish details were presented as true by Thackrey [AEBG]:
Realizing that most of his gambling friends wouldn’t understand who Einstein was if he told them, Nick introduced the scientific genius as “Little Al from Princeton—controls a lot of the action around Jersey.”
In the book Dandolos and Einstein discussed the odds of various games, and Einstein wondered why someone would play a game like Chuck-A-Luck with such poor winning odds. Dandolos was also unable to understand the psychology of such gamblers.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.