Roulette is one of the most enduring casino table games, a sleek, thrill-a-minute, high-stakes game of chance. There is nothing like the excitement of watching that little steel ball ricochet around the wheel and pop into your number, colour or row of choice.
The word ‘roulette’ conjures up images of Monte Carlo and other glamorous casinos, and huge stakes riding on a single spin, with players transfixed and scarcely breathing as they await the outcome.
But the question you must ask is whether the excitement of the “devil’s wheel’’ compensates for the house edge you are conceding.
A couple of things have become clear to us in our long and largely unprofitable experiences with roulette: there is no way to consistently beat the house, though there are staking plans that can give you the best possible chance; and if you have the choice you should play European roulette over the American alternative (see below).
Short history of roulette
The word ‘roulette’ translates from the French as ‘little wheel’, and the game has its origins in a surprising source.
In the 17th century French inventor and mathematician Blaise Pascal was trying to build a perpetual motion machine and the roulette wheel was a happy spin-off from his endeavours.
His wheel had no zeroes, and therefore no house edge, a state of affairs that was never likely to last for too long.
Gambling houses in France soon added slots for a single zero and double zero to make roulette profitable for the house; on the early wheels they were coloured red for single and black for double. These days they are, of course, green.
In the 1800s the game spread around Europe and the United States.
Then in the 1840s Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc introduced a wheel with only one zero to a casino in Bad Homburg, Germany, to attract business from rivals. As gambling controls were tightened in Germany, the Blancs later relocated to Monte Carlo. Their single zero wheel was later adopted all around the world.
The term “devil’s wheel” comes from the fact the original wheel had 36 numbers. If you add all the numbers on such a wheel together you get a total of 666, the so-called number of the devil. Legend has it Francois Blanc made a deal with Old Nick to secure the secrets of the game.
Roulette, in all its forms, has remained one of the most popular casino games, though it has been through its share of controversies.
Over the centuries many players (and operators) have tried to rig the wheel to gain an edge. Some succeeded, but, given the intense scrutiny on the game these days, you’re unlikely to find anything but a fair wheel, provided you stick to recommended casinos.
Bet types for roulette
The roulette table can seem a little daunting for newcomers, but the game is really not that difficult.
Bets are divided into two types: inside and outside. Outside bets will have higher limits than the inside bets, which include wagers on single numbers at odds of 35-1.
There are many more bets available, but here is our simple guide to the main bet types.
The inside bets
Straight number (single) (35-1 payout): Place the chip on the number, ensuring it is not touching the outer lines of the box.
Split (17-1): A bet on two adjoining numbers. Place the chip on the line between your numbers of choice.
Street (11-1): A bet on three numbers in a line. Place the chip on the outside line of the left or right number.
Corner (square) (8-1): A bet on four numbers making a square. Place the chip on the intersection between four numbers.
Double street (5-1): Place the chip on the intersection of lines at the end of two streets.
The outside bets
Red or black (1-1): A bet on in which colour the ball will land. Essentially an even-money bet, aside from the green zero slots.
Even or odds (1-1): Bet on an odd or even number coming up. Another of the toss-of-the-coin scenarios.
1 to 18 (low numbers) (1-1): A single bet under which you will win if the ball lands in any of the numbers up to and including 18.
19-36 (high numbers) (1-1): As above except you have the high numbers running for you.
Dozen bets (2-1): Similar to the low- and high-number bets except here you bet on the numbers 1-12, 13-24 or 25-36.
Column bets (2-1): A bet on any of the three vertical lines down the roulette table. Place your chip below the final number of the row.
Once all bets are down and the ball has nestled into a pocket, the dealer will place a marker on the winning number. They will then sweep away all losing bets and work out the payouts for the winners.
Players should not add or remove bets while the marker remains on the table.
European (single-zero) roulette v American (double-zero) roulette
The European wheel has 37 numbered slots: 1-36 and one green zero slot; the American version has 38 numbered slots: 1-36 and two green zero slots (single zero and double zero).
This might not sound like a significant difference but the double-zero game skews the odds markedly in favour of the house. For most bet types, the house edge almost doubles from around 2.7 per cent to 5.3 per cent.
That can make a big difference to how long you can stay in the game, whether playing online for real money or at a land-based casino.
Despite the names indicating otherwise, both games are widely available in North American and European casinos as well as online.
There is a reasonably common third version, French roulette, which is certainly one to consider.
French roulette is played on a wheel with one zero pocket and it incorporates the “la partage” and “en prison” rules, which favour the player and can reduce the house edge to as little as 1.5 per cent.
Under the la partage rule, if you have placed your chips on one of the even-money outside bets and a zero is spun, you will have half your original wager returned.
Under the en prison rule, if you have wagered on the even-money bets and zero comes up, your bet will remain on the table – in prison – for the next spin. If you win that spin your original wager is returned, but if you lose, it is of course forfeited.
There are certain other betting options available in French – Voisins, Ophelins and Tiers – and represent three areas of the wheel.
Real money online roulette
People around the world flock to play roulette on the Internet. It is largely played on the live dealer tables, which feature a video stream to your personal computer, Mac, smartphone, tablet or smart TV. You will find all of the standard variants such as American, European and French, plus games such as multi-wheel, a version where you have more than one wheel on your screen, and many others.
To play real money online roulette firstly you need to find a safe casino to visit and one which accepts players from your location. For instance, an American player will need to find one with deposit options available for their jurisdiction. Because the USA has not regulated online wagering it is important to note you will have to play ‘offshore’, and will have fewer options than someone in the United Kingdom, Australia or many regions in Europe. These latter places fall into two categories: they are either fully regulated or have not addressed online gambling.
So how do you find a real money roulette table online? Firstly, you need to work out whether you want to play live dealer or a RNG game. We recommend playing live dealer because it replicates land-based play and is a lot more fun than a graphics-based game. A few of the more impressive live dealer set-ups are provided by Evolution Gaming, Playtech, Microgaming, Ezugi, Playfors and NetEntertainment.
You then need to use websites such as this one to find a casino with the game you wish to play. They will advise you on what casinos are the best for your region. You must then fund your account, which can be done with many different methods, including Visa and other credit cards, web wallets, payment processors, checks and the old-fashioned bank transfer.
You then will play either via the downloadable software (Microgaming, Playtech) or the instant-play interface, which you can access in your browser. If you have chosen the live dealer option a video feed will appear, and you will be able to ‘take your seat’ at the table. You then choose your chip denomination and place your bets on a table emulating the real thing, but powered by graphics.
Is there a system to beat the roulette wheel?
Unless you can find a faulty contraption in which the ball consistently drops into a certain segment of the wheel, this seems unlikely.
But here is one cautionary tale about playing high-stakes roulette in the belief that eventually your number (or colour) must come up …
On August 18, 1913, a roulette wheel at the Monte Carlo Casino spun up 26 blacks in a row. Yes, that’s right, 26!
This memorable event is often cited when it comes to explaining the gambler’s fallacy or, as it is also known thanks to this remarkable sequence, the Monte Carlo fallacy.
This is the belief that past outcomes will somehow influence what will happen in the future when it comes to games of chance. Which, of course, is nonsense. Each result is independent of any that came before.
So this is a gentle reminder that if you have plans to employ the Martingale system of wagering, think twice about doing it at the roulette table.
Your correspondent tried it once at a private casino in Glasgow and walked away with empty pockets, but hopefully a little wiser.
Quotes about roulette
We like our movies and we like our quotes at the World Gambling List. It’s those off-the-cuff comments that are often the best. Roulette, particularly the Russian kind, lends itself perfectly to quotes. So here we go:
“In Vegas, I got into a long argument with the man at the roulette wheel over what I considered to be an odd number.” – Stephen Wright (English actor).
“Horse racing is animated roulette.” – Roger Kahn (American author)
“All the evidence shows that God was actually quite the gambler, and the universe is a great casino, where dice are thrown and roulette wheels spin on every occasion.” – Stephen Hawking (English physicist & philosopher).
“The roulette table pays no-one except him who keeps it. Nevertheless, a passion for gaming is common, though a passion for keeping roulette wheels is unknown.” – George Bernard Shaw
Albert Einstein knew a thing or two about physics and numbers, so remember this when you are playing roulette: “You cannot beat a roulette table unless you steal money from it.”