Many gamblers dream of developing the type of edge that’ll help them win millions of dollars from casinos. But few players ever master an advantage play technique — let alone earn a fortune through casino games.
Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo is an exception to the norm. The Spaniard recruited family members to help him dominate roulette wheels from Las Vegas to Spain.
The Pelayos used an advantage strategy called wheel bias to crush gambling establishments. They won countless riches before casinos knew what hit them.
Unfortunately for Gonzalo, casinos fought back and began using various tactics to throw the family off.
Were the Pelayos (a.k.a. los Pelayos) able to keep winning? How did they beat casinos in the first place?
I’ll answer these questions while discussing one of the most-fascinating gambling stories ever. But first, here’s a closer look at Gonzalo’s background along with more on wheel bias.
Who Is Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo?
Unlike some famous professional gamblers, Gonzalo didn’t spend his early years learning casino games. Instead, he became interested in film at a young age.
Gonzalo, who was born in Madrid in 1947, studied at Spain’s Official Film School in the 1960s. But the school closed before he was able to graduate.
With his movie-producing passions temporarily on hold, Pelayo began working for the National Radio. This job helped him gain a foothold in the entertainment industry.
Gonzalo would use this opportunity to develop relationships with many prominent Spanish musicians. He’s since produced records for famous acts like Alameda, Maria Jimenez, Triana, and Smash.
Pelayo would eventually work in the film industry as well, but he’s best known for his music contributions. He helped found Andalusian rock, which combines flamenco and Andalusian folk music.
How Does Wheel Bias Work?
Before I begin retelling the story of Gonzalo and his family, it’s important to know more on the strategy that they used to win big.
Wheel bias begins with searching for faulty roulette wheels that favor certain numbers and/or sections. Finding these biases allows you to bet on the favored numbers/sections and gain an edge on casinos.
Wheel bias happens when roulette wheels begin breaking down due to wear and tear. The wear can occur through a damaged wheel shaft, loose frets (pocket dividers), uneven pockets, and a deformed ball.
It’s rare to spot these imperfections with the human eye. But one can find biased wheels by recording results and analyzing the data.
The easiest way to spot a faulty wheel is by looking for section bias. A favored section includes multiple numbers, meaning you don’t have to be as accurate.
It’s possible to find biased sections within 400-500 spins. Contrast this to trying to determine biased individual pockets, which can take around 5,000 spins.
- You record 500 spins on a wheel.
- You put the data into a spreadsheet.
- The data shows that the wheel favors a section ranging from 10 to 26 (19 numbers).
Once you’ve verified the accuracy of the biased wheel, you can begin betting on the sections/pockets.
Keep in mind that you may not immediately experience success. After all, you merely have the edge on the casino — not a guaranteed track towards winning.
But as long as you have a sufficient bankroll and make reasonable wagers, then you can exploit this advantage and make long-term profits.
Gonzalo Turns a Roulette Hobby into a Lucrative Job
The process of wheel bias isn’t as difficult to understand in comparison to other advantage gambling techniques. The main aspects include recording spins on the same wheel(s), analyzing the data, and looking for biased pockets and/or sections.
But you also have to take a leap of faith to do this. Spending hours recording results is often fruitless because most roulette wheels produced perfectly random results.
Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo was up against an additional challenge before he began his advantage play journey. Pelayo began gambling in the early 1990s, when consumer internet was in its infancy.
Therefore, he couldn’t just grab a smartphone or laptop and start learning about wheel bias. Gamblers’ knowledge of this strategy was limited to vague stories of others pulling it off.
Of course, Gonzalo wasn’t thinking about advantage gambling when he started playing roulette. Instead, he was just looking for an escape from the studio.
Through a History Channel special called “Breaking Vegas: The Roulette Assault,” Pelayo admitted to being tired from producing over 150 records. He saw roulette as a fun release from his job.
Gonzalo played so much roulette at Casino Gran Madrid that he began wondering if some numbers came up more than others. This thought led him to begin recording roulette spins to see if there was anything to his theory.
The record producer knew that tracking more than one wheel would be a difficult pursuit for one person. So he recruited his son, Ivan, to help with jotting down spin data.
Ivan spent up to five hours a day in the casino watching roulette wheels and recording the winning numbers. These efforts allowed Gonzalo, who was excellent at math, to create a formula on his computer to analyze the data.
Pelayo’s math and simulations showed that multiple wheels in Casino Gran Madrid favored certain numbers and sections.
But despite the findings, he wasn’t happy enough with the current sample size. This is where the rest of his family comes into play.
The Pelayos Plan Their Assault on the Casinos
Inspired by his initial findings, Gonzalo recruited his daughter, Vanessa, and two nephews to join the family roulette team. Expanding the team allowed los Pelayos to record more spins at a quicker pace.
While the family members agreed to help Gonzalo, there was one roadblock in their way: money.
I explained earlier how one needs a sizable bankroll to absorb any potential losing streaks. Gonzalo knew that he and his family weren’t immune to this potential problem.
Despite a successful film and music producing career, Pelayo wasn’t rich by any means. He ended up selling the rights to a wildlife documentary that he produced to gain a bankroll worth $2,200.
This is by no means an incredible amount of money for a gambler — especially a team of aspiring professionals. But the small bankroll did help them avoid casino scrutiny early on.
Thanks to his family’s efforts, Gonzalo collected enough data (30,000 spins) to confidently determine that they had an advantage with specific numbers (instead of sections). His calculations showed that los Pelayos would maintain a 6% edge on the casinos.
Considering that Gonzalo’s data showed biased individual pockets, the family chose to bet on single numbers.
This is a risky strategy when considering that a single number only has 36:1 odds of winning. But the 35:1 payouts make singles a lucrative investment when combined with knowledge of biased numbers.
Los Pelayos Win Big in Spain
The Pelayos got off to a rocky start by initially losing half their bankroll in Casino Gran Madrid. But they continued betting on the biased numbers and eventually started producing winners.
The family became so successful that they began visiting Casino Gran Madrid six nights per week. Each team member spread out to a different biased wheel so that they weren’t associated together.
They quickly increased their bankroll to over $100,000 after just two months of play. This success allowed them to make larger wagers and capitalize on their strategy.
Of course, the team also had bad streaks, including one night where they lost $80,000. But these were more than balanced out by huge wins.
“It was easy to lose one night,” recalled Gonzalo. “It was easy to lose two nights. But almost impossible to lose three nights [in a row].”
Los Pelayos kept winning with consistency, earning thousands of dollars per week. Unfortunately, their success and lack of dealer tips (Gonzalo’s rule to maintain profits) began drawing the casino’s attention.
Management began monitoring the Pelayos’ action and trying to figure out their system. They tried everything from sweating the team to telling dealers to spin the ball faster.
The casino staff even switched wheels to different tables. However, the Pelayos quickly identified these moves by wheel marks and imperfections they’d noticed while playing night in and night out.
Fed up with the team, Casino Gran Madrid started barring them from the premises. Courts ruled that they could continue playing, though, which Los Pelayos took advantage of.
Casino management finally solved their problem by changing the inner workings of the wheels, which completely altered the biased numbers.
The Pelayos were now convinced to quit playing at Casino Gran Madrid. Their final tally was a $1 million profit over a year’s time.
Gonzalo and His Family Go on the Road
Los Pelayos took their wheel bias show on the road to other major casinos throughout Europe. Their first stop was Amsterdam, where they quickly won $400,000 within the first four months.
The Amsterdam casino eventually contacted Casino Gran Madrid and found out that they were dealing with roulette professionals. They too switched their wheels and forced the Pelayos to find another spot.
A stop in Vienna proved lucrative, as the family hit a personal record of $110,000 in winnings in one night. Los Pelayos experienced big wins in other cities too.
But they also dealt with an increasing problem in that their reputation proceeded them. European casinos contacted each other about the family, and they were often banned from casinos after playing for just a few hours.
Gonzalo’s two nephews became burnt out from the constant travel and being banned. This whittled the team down to he, Ivan, Vanessa, and his wife, Carmen.
The family had to visit the bright lights of Sin City just to get roulette action. Playing in Vegas was tougher for a couple of reasons, including the American wheel (5.26% house edge) and enhanced casino security.
The American wheel’s higher house edge forced the team to find even bigger biases to maintain a solid advantage. Los Pelayos also changed their accents to appear less distinctive and avoid drawing attention.
They spent the summer of 1994 winning around $500,000 before Gonzalo collapsed due to stress and exhaustion.
Los Pelayos quit playing after this and started living simple lives again. They ended their roulette run with over $1.5 million in “pure” profits (factoring in travel & hotel costs).
Gonzalo would recover and write a story about his family’s casino adventures called La Fabulosa Historia De Los Pelayos (The Fabulous Story of the Pelayos).
Ivan used some of his winnings from the venture to start “Grupo Fun,” an event planning business in Madrid. Patrick Santa-Cruz, a former table games inspector from Casino Gran Madrid, became his business partner.
Why the Pelayos Roulette Feat Is Almost Impossible Today
The story of los Pelayos might inspire you to go out and try conquering roulette through wheel bias. The only trouble, though, is that it’s very difficult to pull off this feat today.
Many casinos feature Starburst wheels, which have metal frets (instead of wooden) and shallower pockets. These two features make Starburst wheels less susceptible to normal wear and tear.
Another technique that casinos use involves tracking results to look for patterns. You’ve probably seen electronic boards featured next to roulette tables.
Many players think that these are for their convenience. After all, gamblers like to watch the most-recent roulette results and use the data to determine their next bet.
- You’re betting on odd in the odd/even wager.
- You notice that even has won three times in a row.
- You double your next odd bet under the assumption that it’s “due” to win.
Results tracking no doubt helps provide extra entertainment for players who bet on these trends. But the collected data also helps casino spot wheel bias too.
Finally, casinos regularly perform equipment inspections on roulette wheels and balls to make sure that nothing is defective. They’ve refined their techniques over the years so that they rarely miss anything these days.
Los Pelayos have definitely earned a spot in gambling lore. Never before has a concentrated family effort been used to beat casinos to this degree.
Of course, the winnings didn’t come easily. Casino Gran Madrid did everything in their power to stop the Pelayos from profiting.
Some of their tactics included harassing the family, having dealers spin the balls faster, switching wheels around, and banning the players. The casino finally stopped the team by switching parts out in the wheels.
Casino Gran Madrid would continue making things tough on los Pelayos. This included calling other European casinos and sharing details on the team so that they were banned.
Nevertheless, Gonzalo and his family found other players to keep winning. They didn’t stop playing until Gonzalo, who was unknowingly suffered from fatigue and exhaustion, collapsed in a Vegas casino.
The Pelayos retired from roulette after this. But their exploits are still widely discussed in gambling circles today.