The Ins and Outs of Roulette
A beginner’s guide to playing the game
By Henry Tamburin
Take this short quiz to see what you really know about roulette
1. The probability of any bet winning at roulette is the same. T or F.
2. An American roulette wheel has 36 numbers. T or F.
3. After the roulette ball drops into a pocket, the dealer immediately sweeps all losing bets. T or F.
4. There is a total of 11 different roulette bets. T or F.
5. All the outside bets pay even money. T or F.
6. A player who bets $1 straight up on numbers 2, 6, and 10, plus $1 on red and $1 on odd, has met the $5 minimum bet table requirement. T or F.
7. The odds of a red number winning are 50/50. T or F.
8. The European roulette wheel has one less number than the American wheel. T or F.
9. If a red number has won the last 10 spins in a row, the next spin is more likely to be black number. T or F.
10. Atlantic City casinos have a surrender rule in roulette. T or F.
11. The five number bet is the worst bet on a European wheel. T or F.
12. The table layout has numbers arranged in the same order as the wheel. T or F.
13. Roulette chips can be redeemed at the cashier’s window. T or F.
14. To avoid confusion, roulette players in American and European casinos are assigned their own colored chips to bet with. T or F.
15. There are no progressive betting systems that will alter the casino’s edge in roulette. T or F.
Answers: Questions 4, 8, 10, and 15 are true. The rest are false. For detailed answers, read on!
Roulette is a great, and somewhat glamorous, casino game. It has the advantage over other table games in that there are less decisions per hour (e.g. slower pace), and the amount of your bets and where you place them has no effect on other player bets (i.e. non-intimidating).
History reveals that roulette was first played some 200 years ago in France. Its precursors were the Italian game of biribi and the English game of Roly-poly. It wasn’t until the horizontal gaming wheel was invented (actually for Roly-poly) that roulette became one of the more popular and permanent casino games.
The roulette wheel is a very important part of the game. Its makeup consists of four parts. The stationary “stator” is the base and outside of the wheel. It’s 32 inches in diameter and usually made of polished wood. The inside surface of the stator contains the track where the dealer spins the roulette ball. The rotating wheel or “wheel head” that contains the roulette numbers sits inside the stator (sometimes referred to as the “bowl”) on a single ball bearing. The centerpiece (or “spindle and turret”) rests atop the rotor and a hole in the wheel head, holding the whole thing together. A fully assembled roulette wheel weighs in at approximately 100 pounds and costs around $9,000.
Inside the rotating wheel are 38 pockets separated by metal dividers or “frets.” The pockets contain the 38 roulette numbers and are where the roulette ball finally comes to rest. Most players mistakenly believe that the numbers on the wheel are randomly distributed. This is not true. The order of the numbers around the wheel represents an attempt to distribute high, low, red, black, and even numbers in as balanced a fashion as possible.
For example, starting at the 12 o’clock position on the wheel there is the number 0, followed by alternating red and black numbers around the wheel. The 00 is directly opposite the 0. Directly opposite each odd number is the next highest even number (e.g. directly opposite the number 1 is 2 and opposite 27 is 28). Pairs of odd numbers alternate with pairs of even numbers, and pairs of low numbers are followed by pairs of high numbers.
If you check it out, you’ll find that the first, second and third dozens of numbers are also well distributed around the wheel. You’ll also discover there are no more than one red or black number in a row. In actuality, the roulette numbers are mathematically balanced around the wheel.
The roulette numbers on the betting layout are arranged in an organized, numerical fashion. The numbers 1 through 36 are divided into three columns in numerical order. At the far left (dealer right), closest to the roulette wheel, are the numbers 0 and 00, followed by the three rows of 36 numbers, 12 to a row. Each number is colored red or black, corresponding to its color on the wheel.
Directly below the three columns is the first dozen (1 through 12), second dozen (13 through 24) and third dozen (25 through 36). Below that and closest to the players, is the betting area for the low (1 to 18) and high numbers (19 to 36), even and odd, and red and black. The numbers 0 and 00, often referred to as the “house numbers,” are green.
The inside bets in roulette consist of making bets on the 0, 00; 1—36; or any combinations of these numbers within the inside of the layout. The outside bets include the three columns; high/low; even/odd; and red/black wagers.
Spinning the Wheel
A roulette dealer spins the wheel in a counterclockwise rotation and launches the steel ball in a clockwise direction around the outer rim of the bowl. The ball will circle in the track several times and then lose momentum and drop into the bowl. Brass deflectors imbedded in the side of the rim frequently deflect the dropping ball in a random way until it bounces into a pocket. The ball will usually bounce in and out of several pockets before finally coming to rest.
Players can continue to make bets on the layout while the roulette ball is still spinning, but once the ball’s momentum begins to slow and the ball is ready to drop into the bowl, the dealer will wave his/her hands across the layout and announce “no more bets.” The dealer will then immediately place a marker (known as a “dolly”) on the layout on top of the winning number.
Casino practices require the dealer to pay off winning bets and collect the losing bets in a specific sequence. First, the dealer will remove the losing bets from the layout. Then he’ll pay off the winning bets on the outside of the layout by placing the winning chips next to the original bets in like stacks. Finally, he’ll pay the winning inside bets by placing the winning chips in front of the player and off the betting layout, while leaving the original bet on the winning number intact. If you want to remove the original bet, wait until the dealer removes the marker before doing so.
Special chips called “wheel chips” are used in roulette. They cannot be used anywhere else in the casino–only at the roulette table where they were issued. This also means that the roulette chips are not redeemable at the cashier’s cage, so don’t pocket them while you’re playing.
Usually a roulette table will have six or seven different color groups of 300 wheel chips each. Each seated player will have his/her own colored chips to bet with so there is no confusion whose bet on the layout belongs to whom. You purchase the wheel chips by placing currency (or regular casino chips) on the layout (but wait till after the dealer removes the marker from the layout to do so). Just tell the dealer you want wheel chips and she’ll count your money (or casino chips), get the OK from the floor supervisor, and then slide the colored chips to you. You are now ready to bet.
In some gaming jurisdictions, it is permissible to make a roulette bet with regular casino chips. Usually this occurs if a player is standing, making only one or a few bets, and no other players are doing the same. Casinos would prefer however, that players use wheel chips.
Wheel chips are normally sold in stacks of 20 and the denomination of each chip is established at the time you purchase them. Suppose the table minimum is $1 and you give the dealer a $20 bill. On a shelf on the outside of the layout, the dealer will place a special marker button or “lammer” on your color to signify each of your chips are worth $1. No other person can bet with your chips.
Before leaving the table, you must “color up” your wheel chips. Stack your chips into piles of 10 or 20 chips, tell the dealer that “color is coming in,” and push your stack of chips toward the dealer. The dealer will recount them, check their value, and pay you in regular casino chips.
Roulette chips have different minimum and maximum bet restrictions that are posted on the table. You must bet the table minimum on each spin. On an individual or group of inside bets, the sum of all the bets must equal the table minimum. On the outside bets, each individual bet made on the even money or 2 to 1 payoff bets must equal the table minimum.
For example, if the table minimum was $5 and you wanted to wager on the first column and red, you must bet at least $5 on the first column and another $5 on red. On the inside bets, you could make five individual $1 bets in order to meet the minimum requirement for inside betting.
Types of Roulette Bets
There are 11 different types of roulette bets; six are inside bets and five are outside bets.
Straight up bet
A bet made on one of 38 numbers. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) directly on the number. The wining payoff is 35 to 1 (you win 35 chips for the one wagered).
A bet made on two adjacent numbers on the layout, such as 7, 8 or 13, 16. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on the center of the line between two adjacent numbers on the layout. The winning payoff is 17 to 1. Note that with a split bet you have twice the chance of winning compared to a straight up bet, but the payoff is half as much.
A bet made on any three numbers that run north/south on the layout, such as 1, 2, 3 or 19, 20, 21. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on the line separating the row of three numbers from the dozens betting area (essentially at the bottom of the row of three numbers). The winning payoff is 11 to 1.
A bet made on any four intersecting numbers on the layout, forming a square, such as 5, 6, 8, and 9. Make the bet by placing chip(s) directly on the center point of the square (where they all converge). The winning payoff is 8 to 1.
Five Number bet
There is only one five number bet: the numbers 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on the line between 0 and 00 and the numbers 1, 2 and 3. The winning payoff is 6 to 1.
The Line bet
A bet made on two adjacent rows of numbers, such as 7, 8, 9 and 10, 11, 12. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on the outside line that separates the two rows of numbers. The winning payoff is 6 to 1
A bet made on one of the columns of numbers on the layout. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) at the bottom of the column in the area that says 2 to 1 (opposite end of the wheel). The winning payoff is 2 to 1.
A bet made on either the first dozen of numbers (from 1 to 12), the second dozen (from 13 to 24), or third dozen (from 25 to 36). These bets are located below the three columns of numbers (labeled 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 12). The winning payoff is 2 to 1.
A bet made in the hopes that the winning number will be red or black. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on either red or black (located on the bottom center of the layout). The winning payoff is 1 to 1.
A bet made in the hopes that the winning number will be either odd or even. Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on either odd or even (located adjacent to the red/black betting area). The winning payoff is 1 to 1.
A bet made in the hopes that the winning number will be either low (1 through 18) or high (19 through 36). Make the bet by placing your chip(s) on either low or high (bottom of the layout adjacent to odd and even). The winning payoff is 1 to 1.
As you see, different roulette bets have different winning payoffs. Occasionally, but not often, a dealer may miscalculate your payoff. An easy way to calculate if you are being paid off properly is to mentally divide 36 by the number of roulette numbers you have covered by your bet and subtract 1. The answer is the payoff. For example, if you make a split bet, the correct payoff is 36 divided by 2 equals 18. Subtract 1 gives 17, which is the correct payoff for this bet. A line bet covers six numbers. The correct payoff is 36 divided by 6 equals 6. Subtract one gives a 5 to 1 payoff. This technique for figuring the winning payoffs works for all roulette bets except the five number bet.
The casinos have the upper hand in roulette. They make their money not when a roulette player loses a bet, but rather, when they win. How can this be? They simply short-change players every time they win. It is done like this.
The probability of winning a single number bet is 1 in 38. Another way of saying this is that the odds of winning are 37 to 1. The latter means that on every spin the roulette ball has just as much chance to drop into one of the 37 losing numbers as it does the single winning number. Hence the odds are 37 to 1 against winning the bet.
If you get lucky and win, what does the casino pay you? Not 37 to 1. Instead, they pay at 35 to 1 odds (two less than the true odds). This means that if you bet a $1 chip on a number and it wins, you get $35 (not $37) in winnings. Essentially, the casino keeps $2 of your winnings, a sort of hidden tax because most players don’t realize they have been shortchanged. In percentage terms, the casino keeps $2 out of every $38 worth of bets made by players, which equals a casino edge of 5.26%.
You can calculate the casino’s edge for any roulette bet by using this simple equation developed by Chris Pawlicki, host of www.roulette.casino.com, a great Internet site for roulette players:
Actual payoff minus correct payoff times probability of number winning.
For example, using the above equation for a straight up bet:
35/1 – 37/1 times 1/38 times 100 (convert to percent) = -5.26% (a negative player’s edge).
You can use the above equation to calculate the casino edge for any roulette bet. Table 1 summarizes the results. Not surprisingly, the casino’s edge on all roulette bets is 5.26%. The five number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3 has the highest casino edge of 7.89%, and it should be avoided.
Notice from the data in Table 1 that the probability of winning different roulette bets is not the same. You are more likely to win betting on a red number on any spin than, say, betting on number 7. The reason, of course, is that there are a lot more red numbers on the wheel (18 of them to be exact). However, winning the easy-to-hit red number pays only 1 to 1, whereas hitting the more difficult number 7 pays a lot more–35 to 1. When you factor together the probability of a number hitting with its payoff, you arrive at a casino edge of 5.26% for all bets except the five number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3.
In practice, you’ll have less fluctuations to your bankroll betting on red than you would betting straight up on number 7. But in the end, after many playing sessions, the casino’s edge will take its toll and you will lose 5.26% of all the money you bet.
How to Win More
You can reduce the casino’s edge in roulette by half, or even a third. Here’s how.
Casinos in Atlantic City have a surrender rule, which means if you wager on any even money payoff bet, and the ball lands in 0 or 00, you lose only half your bet (not the entire bet). By being able to salvage half of your bet, the casino’s edge is reduced to a more respectable 2.63% on the even money outside bets. That’s a 50% reduction in the normal casino edge.
Some casinos also offer a single 0 roulette game. The wheel consists of the numbers 1 through 36 and a single 0 (the double 0 is eliminated). The casino’s edge on all bets in this game is reduced from 5.26% (American double 0 game) to 2.7%. That’s a 49% reduction in the casino’s edge compared to the American double 0 game. Happily, the five number bet, which is the worst bet on the American double 0 game, does not exist on the single 0 wheel.
The standard roulette game in European casinos has a single 0. They also have the en prison rule. When the single 0 hits, all even-money payoff bets do not automatically lose. The bet is “imprisoned” and returned to the bettor if it wins on the next spin. If it loses on the next spin, it’s lost. This rule reduces the casino’s edge on the even money outside wagers from 2.7% to only 1.35%, a 50% reduction. It’s one reason why roulette is much more popular overseas.
Before you buy that plane ticket to Europe, you should also know that roulette rules and conduct are much different in European casinos. The game is more formal, there are two layouts per wheel rather than one, regular casino chips are used to bet with (not different colored chips), and the bets on the layout are in French (e.g. A Cheval is a Split bet). Players often call out their bets for the dealer, and the play is much slower (due to the use of a rake to remove losing chips and the practice of the dealer precisely counting the winning chips in front of him before giving them to the player). Plus, there are special bets that you don’t find on the American game (like the “Neighbour bet,” which is a five chip bet on any number on the wheel and the two adjacent numbers). You can get a glimpse of how the European game is played by stopping at the Paris Casino in Las Vegas and checking out their European roulette game.
Table 2 summarizes the casino’s edge for the different types of roulette games. Smart players will seek out the games with the lowest casino edge. However, many casinos that offer single 0 wheels do so with higher minimum bets. If you can’t afford the higher minimums, don’t play roulette on these games; the increase in the minimum bet requirements will more than offset the decease in the casino edge, resulting in an overall increase in your cost to play.
You can easily do a quick calculation to determine your cost per bet. Just multiply the amount of your bet times the casino edge. For example, your cost for making a $5 bet on a double 0 game is 26 cents ($5 times 5.26%). At a $10 minimum single 0 game, your cost is the same ($10 times 2.63% = 26 cents). However, at a $25 minimum bet single 0 game, your cost is 2.5 times more ($25 times 2.63% = 66 cents).
Another factor to consider when determining your cost to play is the number of spins per hour. Since the casinos have the edge in roulette on each spin, the more spins per hour, the more it will cost you to play. It’s better, therefore, to play roulette at full tables where the action is slower.
There have been countless betting systems developed and promoted for beating roulette. In fact, many of these systems have been around for hundreds of years and include the Martingale, d’Alembert, Fibonacci, Labouchere, and others. The most dangerous is the Martingale progressive betting system that has you doubling your bet following a loss. Even though you win frequently using this system, there will come a session when your bets increase and approach the table maximum betting limits. In essence, you will be betting the majority of your bankroll to win a single unit. In the long run, it’s a loser for the player.
The bottom line is that there is no betting system that will overcome the casino edge in roulette. If you want to use one, it’s OK, but just make sure you set loss limits and you know going in that it will not alter the casino’s edge one iota. However, if you still believe that your betting system works, my friend and fellow Casino Player magazine writer Michael Shackleford (Wizard of Odds) will mathematically analyze it for a fee. If it shows a profit over millions of bets, Michael will not only refund your fee but will give you full credit on his popular website for disproving every respectable book on probability ever written. I’m sure you’ll also be inducted into the “Gamblers Hall of Fame” to boot.
If a red number wins on 10 consecutive spins, most roulette players mistakenly believe that a black number is “due” to win. This is not so. Each roulette spin is an independent event and the roulette ball doesn’t know and doesn’t care which numbers won on previous spins. On an evenly balanced, unbiased wheel, red or black has the same chance of winning, even after 10 reds in a row.
Many roulette players mistakenly believe that a bet on red/black is a 50/50 proposition because there are 18 red numbers and 18 black numbers on the wheel. Although the latter is true, what players forget is that the wheel also contains the green 0 and 00 numbers. When the roulette ball lands in either of these pockets, all bets on red and black lose (this is why the 0 and 00 are sometimes referred to as “house numbers”). This means on any spin you have 18 ways to win on red and 20 ways to lose. In a cycle of 38 spins, you’d win $18 and lose $20, for a net loss of $2. If you divide the $2 loss by the $38 bet, you arrive at a casino edge of–you guessed it–5.26%.
Another misconception is the belief that if you make several “combination bets,” like betting $1 on number 17 (35 to 1 payoff), $2 on first dozen (2 to 1 payoff) and $5 on black (1 to 1 payoff), that you will do better than making a single bet. Guess what? The expected result of combination bets equals the sum of the expected results for the individual bets. In other words, you can’t combine a group of “bad” bets into a single “good” bet.
As long as the roulette numbers are winning exactly as expected by random chance, the casino will win money and the players will lose money. However, if some numbers hit more frequently than expected, a bias may exist which players can exploit.
Biases can occur due to physical defects in the wheel (loose or worn frets, for example) or due to a dealer signature. The latter sometimes occurs when a veteran dealer spins the ball with the same velocity in a predictable way. Some experts believe that it’s possible to find a dealer bias by tracking and analyzing the results of many spins to determine if, consciously or unconsciously, the dealer rhythm causes the ball to land in certain sections of the wheel more than probability would dictate. By exploiting this bias, it’s possible to turn the tables on the casino and gain the advantage.
In order to be absolutely certain that the bias is real, you would have to record the results of thousands of spins and then analyze them to determine if any number or group of numbers around the wheel are winning more frequently than by pure chance. Most roulette players don’t have the time or patience to do this. However, there’s nothing wrong with checking the last 20 or so winning numbers–they’re posted on the electronic scoreboards at most roulette tables–for repeating numbers. If you spot one where a number or group of adjacent wheel numbers have won more than twice, it doesn’t hurt to bet them. You won’t be altering the normal casino edge against you, and if a true bias does exist, you’ll be able to capitalize on it. ´
Henry Tamburin is the author of six best-selling books, including Henry Tamburin on Casino Gambling–The Best of The Best. For a free copy of Tamburin’s gaming catalog call 1-888-353-3234 or visit his website at www.smartgaming.com.
The Ins & Outs of Roulette.