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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Roulette

The game is more intricate than you might imagine

By Basil Nestor

Roulette is a fun game that’s easy to play. Just pick a number and cross your fingers. But the obvious simplicity of the contest hides an interesting and intricate design—and an unusual history. Here are ten things you might not know about roulette:

  1. Roulette supposedly was invented in France, but the spinning-wheel design was likely borrowed from English games.

The first roulette-like gambling game appeared in England in 1720. It was called roly-poly. The contest had a wheel with forty alternating black and white spaces, and a spinning ball. You could bet on black or white. One slot was labeled “bar black.” Another was “bar white.” That was it, no numbers. There was no French record of roulette until 1758 when a cryptic reference was mentioned in a law published in New France (modern-day Quebec). Roulette means “little wheel” in French, but the law included no description of the game.

  1. The so-called American roulette wheel, 38 slots with a zero and double zero, was introduced in France.

The game we know today as American roulette appeared quite suddenly in Paris in 1796, described in detail by a contemporary French writer. Nobody knows who invented the contest, but from the very beginning it was our modern game in every significant way. There were 38 slots numbered one through thirty-six, zero, and double-zero. Two centuries later, the game survives and thrives with essentially no rule modifications. The double-zero game you play on the Strip, the Boardwalk, or wherever is identical in almost every way to the contest Parisians played when the French Revolution was in its guillotine-crazed heyday.

  1. The original wheel design has a (somewhat) secret numerical layout.

Everyone can see that red and black alternate on the wheel. But it’s less obvious that pairs of odd and even numbers alternate; pairs of high and low alternate. And every odd number has its even successor directly across the wheel. The table is equally marvelous. It can accommodate dozens of unique wagers; all of them have various probabilities of success, and yet all of them have an identical house edge of 5.26%. The game is ruthlessly systematic, yet utterly random. It’s a remarkable invention to have been developed anonymously.

  1. The so-called European wheel, 37 slots with one zero, was invented in Germany.

French brothers Francois and Louis Blanc wanted to improve roulette by lowering the house edge. So in 1842, they rearranged the numbers and debuted a single-zero roulette wheel at their new casino in Hamburg(roulette was illegal in France at the time). The game was an instant hit, and it turned Hamburg into a popular gambling destination. Ac-cording to an article published in 1868 in the London Daily News, “Hombourg was an obscure village… During the twenty-six years that have elapsed since its [the casino’s] foundation, a vast palace dedicated to gambling as been built, the village has become a town, well paved, and lighted with gas… the visitors are numbered by tens of thousands.”

  1. Monte Carlo was a nothing-backwater before roulette.

Monaco was once the poorest state in Europe. That was before Francois Blanc brought his game and casino know-how to the tiny country in 1863. Roulette subsequently transformed the principality into an international sensation. Monte Carlo is why the single-zero wheel is called “European”. To this day, you can walk into any casino in Europe, and you’ll see single-zero roulette dominating the table layouts (unlike casinos in the U.S. where card games dominate tables).

  1. There is a semi-secret way to bet sections on an American wheel.

On an American wheel, if you bet 1-6, 13-24,and 31-36 (24 slots altogether) the bets will cover two contiguous 12-slot sections on opposite sides of the wheel. The mathematic effect is identical to betting two groups of twelve on the layout.

  1. Double-zero roulette is better in Atlantic City.

Casinos in Atlantic City have a rule called “surrender” in which 1:1 wagers that lose to zero or double-zero are only half-lost. You can leave the bet on the layout and hope for a push or take half back. Surrender cuts the house edge on 1:1 bets down to 2.63 percent. That’s much better odds on double-zero games than you’ll get almost anywhere else in the U.S.

  1. Fyoder Dostoevsky was obsessed with roulette.

The legendary author of classic novels such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov was so enamored with roulette that he wrote a novel about the game called The Gambler. The action takes place in Roulettenburg, a fictitious resort town patterned after Wiesbaden where Dostoevsky(ironically) lost his royalties for the book playing roulette.

  1. It takes only two bets to turn $10 into $12,950.

Bet $10 on one number, and let it all ride once when the bet wins. That’s $350 for the first win and $12,600 for the second win! How often does it happen? Very often compared to slots and most other table games. You’ll spin big bucks usually 1 in 1,444 trials. That might seem like long odds, but it comes about once every 28 hours on a traditional table, and about every 20 hours playing Rapid Roulette. Ahhhh… but there’s a caveat. If you have exactly average luck, you’ll spend $14,420 in your quest to win $12,950.

10.You’re allowed to take written notes while playing roulette.

Taking notes will get you arrested while playing most table games. But roulette is generally an exception. However, you must use paper and pen or pencil. Spend too much time tapping into a smartphone, and you maybe suspected of using a computer, and that will get you a tap on the shoulder.

Enjoy the game!

Basil Nestor is author of The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack, The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps, and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? and drop him a line.


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