Some famous figures in history rise from obscurity and dominate an entire
generation. Their actions shape the lives of millions, and they’re debated and
discussed down through the centuries. Then there are those who flicker across
the pages of history for just an instant, leaving behind a small-yet-interesting
footnote. Monique Laurent falls into the latter category, although her
reputation in France is more notable than in other parts of the world.
Simply put, Monique became notable as a roulette cheat. She was one-third of
the infamous “French Cigarette Pack Scandal,” an event that rocked the gambling
world in the early 1970s. While she never became a bad girl cultural icon on the
level of Jean Seberg in Breathless or Pascale Petit in Les Tricheurs, the
brunette Frenchwoman still maintains an interesting place in the history of
The Early Years
The details of Monique’s early life are vague. It’s known that her birth
occurred at a Deauville, France hospital on Valentine’s Day in 1948. She had at
least one brother, although the existence of any other siblings is unknown.
Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, she took a husband. It’s safe to
assume that she became Monique Laurent when she adopted her husband’s surname,
but even that information is open to debate.
An Uncommon Beauty
Throughout the early years of her life, Monique was hailed as an uncommon
beauty. With a delicate bone structure and distinctive short hair, this brunette
Frenchwoman turned heads wherever she went. She was also noted as being highly
intelligent, and this made for a potent combination. Unfortunately, her looks
(and desire to cheat a casino) would also prove to be her undoing.
Anatomy of a Scam
In the summer of 1973, Monique’s brother landed a job at the prestigious
Casino Deauville on the coast of the French Atlantic. He was employed as a
croupier on the roulette wheel, and part of his responsibility was to spin the
wheels and make sure that the results were accurate. While most employees
would’ve viewed this as just another job, the young man in question was slightly
more ambitious (aka greedy).
Whenever there was a lull in business, Monique’s brother would test the
wheels to see if the outcome of a spin could be manipulated. He didn’t have much
luck during the early phases of his experimentation, so he eventually asked his
clever sister for help. Monique, bored and eager for additional finances, was
all too happy to oblige.
Monique was aware of her brother’s interest in technology, and she wondered
if this might give them an advantage over the casino. She turned out to be
right, as the duo discovered that a miniature radio transmitter was the answer
to all their problems.
Once a small receiver was embedded in the roulette ball, whoever held the
transmitter could cause the ball to fall and land on one of six numbers with a
90% degree of accuracy. Of course, Monique couldn’t very well hold the
transmitter for all to see, so they came up with the idea of concealing it in a
pack of American cigarettes (Marlboro, in fact). This would allow the brunette
to blend in with other casino patrons, as this was a time when smoking indoors
was commonly accepted around the globe.
Now that the perfect method for cheating had been found, the next challenge
involved the roulette ball. Not only did it have to be introduced into play, but
it had to contain a miniature radio receiver while looking and behaving like a
This phase of the plan required a tremendous amount of trial and error. Some
balls simply didn’t look right, while others proved to weight too much when
examined up close. Thanks to a sculptor friend of the brother, however, a ball
was finally created that satisfied all the necessary criteria.
The French Cigarette Pack Scandal
Since Monique and her brother already had distinct duties once the scam was
underway, they were going to need a third party to assist them. Of course, it
had to be someone they could trust, as neither sibling was eager to get caught
Luckily, Monique’s husband was just as ambitious as his wife, and he readily
agreed when approached by the duo. Now that the group was complete, it was time
to put their plan into motion.
Here’s how it worked:
The first step of the plan involved Monique’s brother being the croupier
at the roulette table. Whenever possible, he would pocket the regulation
roulette ball and replace it with one containing the miniature radio
Monique’s husband would play at the wheel run by his brother-in-law.
When the balls had been successfully switched, you would place wagers on
each of the six possible winning numbers. Even though five of the wagers
were losers, the payout on the sixth would be large enough to cover the
expenses and still generate a sizable profit.
Once the ball had been switched, Monique’s brother would give her a
discrete signal. Monique would stand at a nearby table with her back to her
accomplices, but she could easily turn just enough to take care of business.
When the wheel began to spin, she would activate the transmitter in her pack
The trio was understandably nervous when they first started their scheme, but
they soon found that it worked like a charm. It worked so well, in fact, that
within a week they were able to split $1 million in winnings between them.
It didn’t take the casino long to notice the large sums of money that were
being won by a single player at the roulette table. Initially, it was chalked up
to nothing more than luck, but soon it became obvious that something more was
They kept a close eye on the croupier, but there was no sign that he was
doing anything out of the ordinary. The wheel was their next item of interest,
and an outside team was even hired to take the wheel apart and examine it for
any irregularities. The results showed a perfectly balanced wheel, which left
the casino owner and his staff baffled as to what was going on.
It’s interesting to note that the casino never refused service to Monique’s
husband, no matter how much money he won. It’s hard to imagine a Las Vegas
casino continuing to accept a customer’s patronage under such circumstances, but
perhaps this was due to some European code of hospitality. Then again, maybe the
casino just wanted to string him along until they could discover the source of
By the same token, Monique and her crew were equally persistent. Even after
the casino started sniffing around, the trio continued to apply their scheme and
rake in the money. If they had been content with a little less, they might have
successfully completed their scheme. Ultimately, it was a combination of greed
and lust that led to their discovery.
The owner of the casino was a lusty Frenchmen with an eye for beautiful
women, and he had been watching Monique for weeks. He found it odd that such a
lovely female would always come to the casino alone and hardly ever play the
games. Her pack of cigarettes and lack of smoking also drew his attention, but
initially he was interested in more carnal pursuits.
Like any respectable male stereotype, he set out to bed the young woman.
However, his overtures were continually rebuffed. This attention was slightly
concerning to Monique, but she soldiered on after talking with her husband. The
latter believed the owner would be far too enamored with the brunette to ever
catch on. In some cases, Monique even activated the transmitter while the owner
was actively flirting with her.
After continually being rejected, the owner’s attitude towards Monique began
to change. He became spiteful and suspicious, and that’s when he realized that
she always stood at the table adjacent to where the big wins were taking place.
He started watching her every move thanks to the casino’s security cameras,
intent on discovering her involvement in what was going on.
In order to rule out any sort of radio interference, a debugging crew was
hired to come in and investigate. They did some evaluations while the games were
in progress and, sure enough, discovered that something was amiss. Afterwards,
it didn’t take the owner long to put two and two together.
Accompanied by the Deauville Police Chief, the owner of the casino once again
approached Monique. This time, however, he wasn’t interested in flirting. He
walked up to the brunette and asked for a cigarette. When she couldn’t produce
one, he had security confiscate the pack and search for anything suspicious. It
only took a few seconds to discover the hidden transmitter, and the young woman
was immediately detained.
After catching Monique, it wasn’t long before both her husband and brother
were also apprehended and arrested. Luckily, the French must be more
understanding about this kind of behavior than their American counterparts, as
none of the trio served any prison time for their actions. They did, however,
have to return their ill-gotten gains.
The story became a sensation in the European press, and the lovely Monique
was elevated to the status of a minor celebrity for a time. Despite her sneaky
nature, the French public still seemed to admire her for her beauty and
ingenuity. She was dubbed “La Belle Voleuse,” which translates in English to
“The Beautiful Thief.”
The thrill of gambling had obviously worked its way into her bloodstream, as
Monique later relocated to Las Vegas. Reports had her taking a position at a
trendy clothing store, a job that allowed her to spend nights and weekends at
the various casinos along the Las Vegas Strip.
She would be 68 at the time of this writing, and it’s unknown whether she’s
retired or still peddling clothing. Whatever the case, it’s hard to imagine that
she’s kicked her love for gambling.
Life Imitates Art
The events that made Monique Laurent famous took place in 1973, but there are
some interesting parallels to a French film that debuted 15 years earlier. The
movie was released in France as Les Tricheurs, although it was also known is
various nations as Young Sinners, Youthful Sinners, The Cheaters, and Peccatori
in Blue Jeans.
The movie revolves around Bob Letellier (Jacques Charrier), a middle-class
science student who makes the acquaintance of the rebellious Alain (Laurent
Terzieff). Bob is enamored with the self-centered lifestyle of Alain and his
pals, and this brings him into the company of the free-spirited Mic (Pascale
Mic has a number of unusual similarities with Monique Laurent, from her short
hairstyle and petite figure to her love of gambling and easy money. The duo
hatch a scheme to get Mic a luxury car, but events are complicated by a love
triangle, pregnancy, and the generally disaffected nature of all involved.
The depictions of free love were considered controversial in 1958 France,
although the film proved to be the fifth highest-grossing release of the year
(making the modern-day equivalent of $6,669,152.55). Despite being banned in
some parts of the country, it went on to receive the nation’s coveted film award
Grand Prix du Cinema Francais.
The film critics of the influential Cahiers du Cinema–which included future
director Francois Truffaut–were especially unkind, citing the movie and its
characters as examples of the decline of the country’s filmmaking industry.
Others viewed it as an honest depiction of post-WWII youth, while the majority
of moviegoers just appreciated it for the sometimes lurid content.
Most gambling cheats never become well-known to anyone other than casino
owners and their security staff, but that wasn’t the case with Monique Laurent.
The French beauty and avid gambler was a rare combination of looks and brains,
and her sheer audacity and brief success endeared her to a score of Europeans
who were bitter about getting cleaned out at the casinos. If the French
Cigarette Pack Scandal had occurred in modern times, she probably would’ve wound
up with her own reality show.
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