Roulette is considered the queen of casino games. Like baccarat, it conjures up images of the well-heeled in Monte Carlo who are undaunted by the small fortunes they let go on the spin of a wheel. The game has its origin in France but is now one of the most popular table games in America.
Unlike other casino classics such as poker or blackjack, playing roulette does not require any skill and deep knowledge of complicated rules and strategies. You have nobody to play against, no tough decisions to make and to be honest, roulette is quite an elegant, leisurely game compared to blackjack, for instance, where the action is, indeed, faster-paced. Whether you enjoy watching the wheel spinning in anticipation – will it be red or black, will I win or lose, that is up to your personality.
Some casino players can spend hours at the roulette table, betting huge amounts of money only because they love the risk. Others would play a round or two just to unwind and take a break from a tense poker game. Before proceeding to bet your chips on the unknown, however, there are some things you need to consider. What type of casino game is roulette? Are the odds fixed or you can do something to increase your chances of winning? Is roulette worth playing at all?
In this guide, we are attempting to answer all these questions and explain the reasons behind the popularity of roulette, a game that has been played for over two centuries in casinos across Europe and North America. You will find all the basics of the game, its history and rules, its variations and modern adaptations in the following sections. Some of the most important aspects of the game will be discussed in detail in separate articles.
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What Is Roulette
Roulette is a casino game that is played on a green table by one or several individuals against the house. It is a game of chance where the odds of every bet are fixed. The outcome of every spin is random and is not determined by players’ decisions or change in the tactic. All these are the fundamentals of gambling – you bet money on an outcome that is determined purely by chance and cannot be predicted unless the game is rigged or biased in any way.
Some call it luck, others believe it is fate that decides whether they win or lose, but at the end of the day, it is all down to mathematical probability – something that can be calculated, counted and measured with precision.
The game is played with the help of just a few basic things that most people should be familiar with – a wheel, a ball and a betting layout where the gambler places the chips. You can bet on red, black, odd or even, a group of numbers or even on a particular number – once you choose, you need to place your chips on the betting layout. This is where all numbers from 0 to 36 are arranged in a chart with three columns and twelve rows.
When bets have been placed, the croupier spins the wooden wheel and throws a small ball in it, in the opposite direction. For those who are unaware of the term, the croupier is the casino attendant responsible for the roulette table. When the wheel stops spinning, the ball falls into one of the numbered pockets – if this is your number, colour, etc., you win the correspondent payout. If not, you lose your bet.
As you can see, the outcome of the game depends on one thing and it is pure physics. Each spin is independent of the others and there is no point in keeping track of all numbers that came up – the next winning number will not be connected with past results in any way. Anything else is just a misconception, a midwife’s tale. Winning and losing streaks are just a product of simple coincidence, while the so-called “roulette winning strategies” are merely betting systems that may help you lose less. Due to the house edge in every roulette game, however, eventually, you will lose. That is the nature of the game of roulette.
Origins and Game Development
Roulette is believed to be one of the oldest forms of gambling. Historical evidence suggests that Ancient Greeks gambled by spinning a shield with symbols drawn on it on the ground. When it stopped spinning, an arrow would point to the winning symbol – much like in the game we now know as roulette.
In its current form, however, the game was first played in France more than two centuries ago. According to some scientists, it was invented by the famous mathematician Blaise Pascal who used it in his experiments on the probability of gambling games. The creation of the roulette was actually a result of his attempts to built a perpetual motion machine. Whether it was his doing or not, the game of roulette was played by many in Paris around the end of the 18th century.
Back then, it was more or less similar to the modern game, having a wheel with numbers from 1 to 36 and “two house numbers”, the 0 and the 00. Red was for the single zero, while black was for the double zero, but the two zero colours were at some point replaced by green. In 1843, the French brothers Francois and Louis Blanc opened a casino in Germany and to attract players, they presented the first single-zero roulette wheel. It offered better odds for the players, which made it quite popular among gamblers. Not long after that, it was introduced to the newly opened Monte Carlo Casino and spread across Europe.
The game was also brought to the United States of America but this was the double-zero version. It was first played in New Orleans and soon made its way to gambling halls all over the country. With the rise of casinos and the gambling industry in Las Vegas, the game of roulette was popularized and today, it is considered a necessary piece in every high-quality casino establishment.
The game of roulette follows quite simple rules and they differ only very slightly in the different variations. The purpose is to “predict” where the ball would fall after each spin. Some bets are more likely to win than others, which is why the payouts vary. Those bets with a higher probability pay out less, while those that are riskier offer much better winnings.
But before we get to the payouts and the expected return of roulette, we should examine the basic components of the game.
Depending on the type of roulette, American or European/French, the wheel is divided into 37 or 38 slots, each holding a number from 0 to 36. Roughly a half of the numbered pockets are painted red, while the other half are in black, with the zero and double zero in green. The numbers are not positioned consecutively. On the contrary, they are scrambled across the wheel, black is followed by red, and low numbers (those from 1 to 18) are followed by high ones (19 to 36).
All this is neatly arranged on the table and players can place their chips on as many numbers as they wish until they reach the table betting limits. In the following sections, you can find out more details about the layout, why it is not always the same, and how much you can bet on one spin of the wheel.
The betting layout is positioned next to the wheel on the roulette table and its design mostly remains the same for all variations of the game. As mentioned above, the layout is just a numbered grid with 3 columns and 12 rows where all numbers from the wheel are placed. Once again, red and black alternate, while the green zero (or zeros) is positioned in a section on top of the main chart. In the bottom, there are sections where the player can bet on either of the three columns.
Alongside the main grid with the numbers, nine other sections can be seen. Three of them are for the three dozens of numbers – from 1 to 12, from 13 to 24, and from 25 to 36. There are also fields where you bet on red/black numbers, even/odd, or high/low.
The traditional colour of the roulette table is green, but there are tables and layouts in blue, for example. Some games also feature a slightly different design and appearance. None of this changes the gameplay, however, nor does it have an impact on the odds and return to player.
Table Limits and Chip Denominations
Each roulette table has a certain limit on the bets a player can make in a single round. The exact amount would vary across different casinos, of course, but usually, the minimum bet allowed would coincide with the value of the chips. Typically in a brick-and-mortar casino where multiple patrons would play roulette at the same time, each of them is given a set of casino chips in a different colour. So, whenever you wish to bet the minimum, you simply put a single chip on the table.
When it comes to the maximum table limits, they can be usually increased by the croupier at the players’ request. There are also VIP or high-roller tables, where both the minimum and maximum limits are higher.
In virtual roulette games, where patrons play solo against the casino, they are usually given the opportunity to choose the value of the chips. Each chip colour would be associated with a different denomination and the players would be able to bet as much as they want until they reach the maximum limit.
Types of Bets
Most casino players, even if they have never sat around the roulette table, should be familiar with the betting in this game. You can bet on red or black numbers, on even or odd numbers, on a column of the layout, on a group of numbers, or on a single number. There are other bets available and even though they seem really easy to understand and straight-forward, they may be a bit confusing to inexperienced players.
Knowing the bets is essential in winning at roulette. The reason for this is very simple – some bets are more likely to win than others, as we already mentioned. It is up to the player to decide whether a high-risk bet is worth it or it is better to always choose a bet with a higher probability to come out winning. There are two main groups of bets in roulette, inside bets and outside bets.
These bets are placed when the player puts the chips within the numbered chart of the layout. They offer better payouts because they are less likely to win. A straight up bet, or simply a straight, is when you bet on a single number. To do that, you need to put the chips in the square corresponding to this number on the layout. A split is when you bet on two neighbouring numbers in the chart – it may be 2 and 3, which are next to each other, or 11 and 14, which are lined vertically. The other bet is called a street and it includes one row of the chart or 3 consecutive numbers.
There are two other types of inside bets, the first one being the corner bet. It is also called a square bet, because of its shape – you bet on four numbers that are positioned next to each other in the layout, thus forming a square. This is, for instance, a bet on 23, 24, 26, and 27. The other bet includes even more numbers, six to be exact, and is called a six line. Another name for this bet is a double street because it covers two street bets.
Outside bets are those, in which you place your chips in the fields outside the numbered grid of the table layout. They cover larger groups of numbers and are, therefore, more likely to win. With the lower risk, however, come the less attractive payouts. Still, most players prefer placing outside bets and relying on smaller, but more frequent and reliable wins.
The first kind of outside bet is when you bet on red or black. This is the most common bet in the game of roulette, the favourite one for both beginners and experienced players. You can also try to predict if the ball would land on an even or an odd number – just place your chips on the field that says even/odd. Note that the zeros are neither of the two, so you could still lose this bet if the ball falls on 0 or 00 after the wheel stops moving. The same is true for the next kind of bet – low/high, where you can bet on a group of 18 numbers. Numbers from 1 to 18 are low, while those from 19 to 36 are called high numbers.
Another outside bet is known as the dozen bet, although it is usually written as 1st 12, 2nd 12, and 3rd 12. It is easy to see why – the red and black numbers are divided into three dozens. You can bet on the first one (from 1 to 12), the second one (from 13 to 24), or the third one (from 25 to 36). The last outside bet you can place is the column bet, which is, once again, pretty straight-forward. It allows you to bet on any of the three columns on the table layout. The zero is not included in this bet, too.
As already mentioned, there are three main versions of roulette, each coming to existence at a different place and different point in time. What is now known as an American roulette arrived from France to North America during the 19th century. During this time, across European casinos, the same game went through certain changes and as a result, we now have American, European and French versions of roulette that are mostly similar, yet differ in a few, key areas.
The European roulette is popular across the world and can be seen in most casinos from Monte Carlo to Macau. There are 37 numbered pockets on the wheel, 18 red, 18 black, and one that is in green. It holds the single zero (0) introduced by the Blanc brothers in the mid-19th century. This version of the game is considered a classic one and it follows quite basic rules.
Due to the presence of only one house number, the single zero, it offers players better odds of winning, that we would explore in more detail in the following sections. The house edge is 2.70%, which means that the house has the advantage and players will lose in the long term. This percentage shows that on average, 2.70% of your bet will be lost, or roughly $2.70 out of a $100 bet. This is, however, based on mathematical calculations and is true only in theory and for a huge number of spins.
The French version of roulette is very similar to the European one, with just a few differences in the design and overall appearance. It comes with a single-zero wheel and the same house edge of 2.70% as the European variation. All bet names, however, are in French on the betting layout, which is also a bit different in appearance. This does not affect the rules and how the game is played, however, which is why many players consider the French and the European versions of roulette almost identical.
There is one interesting thing about this roulette variation and this is the additional layout. In some casinos, you would find the wheel positioned in the middle of the roulette table, with the standard betting layout on one side of it. On the other side, however, there is an oval-shaped betting area, called racetrack. On it, players can bet on large sections of the wheel, thus increasing their chances of winning. The racetrack, which is sometimes present in the European roulette, too, comes with a separate set of bets that will be discussed further down this guide.
In addition, most French roulette games have the so-called La Partage rule, which is more favourable to the player. According to this rule, the player loses only half of an even-odds bet (red/black, even/odd, high/low) if the ball lands on zero. The En Prison rule is a variation of the La Partage and it allows the player to win back the lost even-odds bet in the same situation during the next spin. These rules are rarely found in American roulette games, although there are several casinos in the United States that do offer them.
The third main version of roulette is the American-style roulette, in which you have a double-zero wheel. Along with the 18 red and 18 black numbers from 1 to 36, there are two green numbers, namely 0 and 00. In American roulette, consecutive numbers are positioned against each other on the wheel, with the colours alternating completely. While in European/French roulette, high and low numbers also alternate as much as possible on the wheel, in this game, the variance is not achieved in this respect. For this reason, the American-style wheel is considered to be less balanced.
With the extra zero pocket, the house edge in this variation of the game is much higher, at 5.26%. This means that the casino would keep 5.26% of your bet on average. Although this seems insignificant, it is actually a large advantage over the players. Despite the worse odds, this is the most popular type of roulette in the United States and Canada and North American players would typically prefer this version of roulette. Still, it is always better to opt for European/French roulette, if given the choice.
Racetrack Layout and Call Bets
Some versions of roulette, typically the French and the European styles, have an additional betting layout that allows players to bet on sections of the wheel rather than on groups of numbers – red or black numbers, even or odd numbers, three consecutive numbers, etc. This option is preferred by most casino players for one very simple reason – those bets that cover wider sections of the wheel are more likely to win. In other words, their probability of success is higher than the probability for any single number, for instance.
This additional betting layout is called racetrack due to its shape that reminds of an ancient hippodrome or a stadium racetrack. Instead of the standard grid with different sectors for each number, we have this oval layout where the numbers follow the same order from the roulette wheel. There are three main sectors where chips can be placed and they are typically displayed in French. They correspond to the so-called announced or call bets, although they are sometimes called French bets.
The first bet is Voisins du zéro, which translates as “Neighbours of zero”. This bet covers 17 numbers that are positioned around the zero on the wheel, including the zero. The next largest call bet is Le tiers du cylindre (A third of the wheel), which encompasses 12 numbers positioned on the opposite side of the roulette wheel. Two smaller sections are, thus, left out and players have the option to bet on them. They are called Les Orphelins, which literally means “The orphans”, and include a total of 8 numbers.
Jeu zéro, or the zero game, is a bet that covers 7 numbers, namely the zero plus six numbers surrounding it. There is another type of call bets and it is known as “… and the neighbours” or just neighbours. This is a bet on any number on the wheel, along with the four numbers that are the closest to it, hence the name. In addition, European and French roulette games often feature final bets, sometimes called finals or finale. With this option, players can bet on all numbers ending in the same digit such as 2, 12, 22, and 34.
Although the racetrack is not typical for the American version of roulette, many online variations feature call bets and final bets. In some releases, they can be found as Special Bets or French Bets. Still, those who are interested in betting on larger sections of the wheel should look for casinos that offer French roulette. Many gambling establishments across Europe have the racetrack layout and the corresponding call bets.
Odds, Payouts and House Edge
Every experienced casino player would first check the house edge of any particular game before starting to play for real money. Unlike some gambling games where the odds and the house edge can vary depending on the strategy one uses, the odds in roulette are fixed. Each bet has odds based on its probability. As mentioned above, outside bets have better chances of winning and are, thus, paid out more modestly. Inside bets, where the chances of winning are significantly smaller, have better payouts.
It is the difference between the true odds of roulette and the payouts that constitute the house edge in this game. This is a built-in advantage in all casino games that makes sure that the house will always win. Of course, some games such as slot machines have bigger house edge built into them (5%-10%), while blackjack, for instance, has a house edge of around 2%. Using the proper strategy, on the other hand, blackjack players can cut this percentage to only 0.5%.
There is no way to do that when playing roulette, though. An exception to that is the La Partage/En Prison rule in French roulette. But lets us take a closer look at the odds of each bet in the game of roulette and see why they are so important.
The probability for winning of each roulette bet can be easily calculated – it is always the same, no matter what betting strategy or system one uses when playing. Let us take a look at the straight bet when the player places the chips on one particular number. The probability of this number coming out as winning is 1 in 37 (in European/French roulette). In other words, you have 1 way to win and 36 ways to lose. This could be expressed with a simple mathematical equation – 1/1 + 36 = 1/37 = 0.0270, which is 2.70%. This is the probability that a straight bet, any straight bet, would win.
It is interesting to see, however, the probability for the so-called even-odds or even-chance bets such as red/black, high/low, and even/odd. Some people believe that the chance for a black or red bet to win is fifty-fifty or 50%, but that is just a misconception. In reality, not all numbers on the wheel are red and black – instead, we have the zero, which is green and falls in neither category. The probability for success, then, is less than 50% and can be calculated as follows 18/18+19 = 18/37 = 0.486. This means that in n European/French roulette, it is 48.6%, while in American roulette, it is 47.37%.
The same formula could be used for calculating the probability of each and every bet in roulette. For example, the probability for success on a column bet is 12/12 + 25 = 12/37 = 0.3243, or 32.43%.
The other important thing to look at before starting playing roulette is the payout table. Note that the payouts are the same in American and European/French roulette games although the probability for success of each bet is different in these versions. Comparing the offered payout and the odds for each bet, we can see they are not the same.
Let us take the same example with the straight bet – in European/French roulette, you have 1 way to win and 36 ways to lose. So, the odds against winning are 36 to 1. The payout for this bet, however, is 35:1, which means you win an amount that is 35 times the amount of your original bet. For the payout to reflect the probability fairly, it should have been 36:1. The difference may not seem so huge, but it is enough to ensure that casinos will always win, whereas players will eventually lose.
The straight bet has the highest payout in roulette and all other bets offer less attractive winnings. The more likely a bet is to win, the lower its payout. A split is paid 17:1, as opposed to odds against winning of 17.5 to 1. The payout for a street bet is 11:1, it is 8:1 for a corner bet, it is 5:1 for a six line, and 2:1 for a column and a dozen bet. Bets that have almost even chances of winning are paid 1:1. Note that the odds against winning for red/black, high/low, and even/odd are 1.05 to 1.
|Odds (European Roulette)
|Odds (American Roulette)
|36 to 1
|37 to 1
|35 to 1
|17.5 to 1
|18 to 1
|17 to 1
|11.3 to 1
|11.6 to 1
|11 to 1
|8.25 to 1
|8.5 to 1
|8 to 1
|5.16 to 1
|5.3 to 1
|5 to 1
|2.08 to 1
|2.16 to 1
|2 to 1
|2.08 to 1
|2.16 to 1
|2 to 1
|1.05 to 1
|1.11 to 1
|1 to 1
|1.05 to 1
|1.11 to 1
|1 to 1
|1.05 to 1
|1.11 to 1
|1 to 1
Roulette House Edge
As it has been clearly demonstrated above, the payouts for the different roulette bets do not reflect the exact mathematical probabilities. This difference shows that the risk is always higher than the potential winnings. Many people believe that winning or losing in roulette is just a matter of luck, but it is based on this built-in house advantage. As with all casino games, the odds are stacked in the favour of the casino. This does not necessarily mean that when playing European/French roulette you will lose exactly 2.70% of your bet.
Let us remind you that the house edge in these two versions of the game is 2.70%, while it is almost twice as big in American roulette at 5.26%. This means that on average, you will lose $0.27 of every $1 bet placed on European/French roulette. The idea could be difficult to understand for some players because it represents only the theoretical advantage the casino has over them. Let us take a bet of $1, for example. When we place a $1 chip on any sector of the betting layout, there are only possible scenarios – we either lose it or we win it. And we will certainly not lose $0.27 of that $1 – this is impossible.
So, what exactly is the house edge? The house edge shows the average loss – the dollars we would lose after placing an infinite number of bets. Here, you should think of millions of bets placed over a long period of time. You could always play roulette for an hour and win big. You could also lose your entire bankroll with just a few unlucky bets. The longer you play, the closer you get to the theoretical house edge.
The zero (or two zero sections in American roulette) on the wheel is considered the house number. Casino patrons tend to ignore it when playing and rarely bet on it. In fact, the most common bets on the roulette table in any given casino is red and black. But the zero is just as likely to come out after a spin as any of the other numbers. Unlike any other number, however, the zero does not fall within the red/black, high/low, even/odd, or column bet categories. The zero, as it seems, is in a league of its own.
There are a couple of special rules that are specifically designed to address the zero problem in roulette. They are used predominantly in European/French roulette games and are rarely found in North America. With these special rules, however, the house edge can be cut to a percentage comparable to the house edge in blackjack, for instance.
In French, the name of this rule literally means “sharing, partition, split”. The rule is applied in even-odds bets such as red/black, high-low, and even/odd. Whenever the player makes any of these bets and the ball falls on the zero, the player loses only half of the bet. The bet is split, divided into two, with one part returned to the player and the other half is surrendered to the casino.
The La Partage rule cuts the house edge in half to around 1.35% for the even-odds bets. It is usually found in European/French variations of roulette, as well as in virtual roulette games. There is another rule that is used by some casinos for the same situation and this is the En Prison rule.
Similarly to La Partage, the En Prison rule is activated when the ball falls on the zero and the player has made an even-odds bet. In this case, the bet is not lost but it is rather kept “imprisoned” as the name of the rule suggests for the next round. It is left on the same sector and when the wheel stops spinning, the player has the chance to claim back the bet. If the bet loses in the second spin, the player loses it all. The En Prison rule is not so common but just like La Partage, it lowers the house edge to only 1.35%.
Many first-time roulette players believe in various myths that have been repeated multiple times over the years but have been clearly debunked by mathematicians and gambling pros. One of the most commonly spread believes even today is that there are winning roulette strategies that can guarantee certain success. This is also one of the most dangerous misconceptions about playing roulette.
The truth is that there are no strategies for winning at roulette. As explained above, the odds are fixed and the house always has the advantage. In other words, no matter what you do, you cannot overcome the house edge. There are various betting systems, on the other hand, which may help you generate small wins in a relatively short amount of time. Betting systems are systems, in which the player changes the size of the bet, based on the results in the previous rounds. The purpose is to compensate for one’s losses through betting the right amount of money at the right point in time. Remember that using a betting system or a strategy that relies on the idea that a particular number is due after a large number of spins is pointless, to say the least. In most cases, such strategies lead to large losses because, in roulette, no number is ever due – the outcome of every spin is truly random and the wheel has no memory.
The Martingale System
This is one of the oldest and certainly, the most famous betting system in gambling. It is a negative progression because players bet more when losing, which may be useful sometimes but with this system, in particular, can also be very dangerous. The risk lies in the Martingale’s basics – it stipulates that after players lose an even-odds bet, they double its size, while if the bet wins, its size should be reduced to the original value.
The idea is that at some point, your bet is large enough to recoup for all loses up until that moment and if you win, the potential winning would compensate for all you have lost. While this system seems to make sense, at first sight, it is extremely risky – imagine you bet $5 on red. If you lose, you need to bet $10 and if you continue losing, the size of your bet will quickly reach $320. This will happen after exactly 5 more losses and this scenario is far from impossible. On the contrary, you may find yourself having a losing streak that might easily “eat up” your entire bankroll. It is also very likely that you reach the table limit before being able to recoup for your losses.
As you can see, the Martingale has its drawbacks and risks, but there are plenty of variations of it and you can choose from a wide array of betting progressions, depending on your budget and your willingness to take risks. Remember that the Martingale works only in the short term – if you use it for a long time, your loss is certain according to mathematicians who have studied the system and made the calculations.
The Labouchere Roulette System
This is another betting progression for even-odds bets in roulette but it is much more conservative than the Martingale and less risky. When using the Labouchere system, players start by determining a target, a particular amount of money they want to win. Then, they write down a line of positive numbers whose sum is the determined target. The first bet will be the sum of the first and the last numbers from the line – if it wins, you remove the two numbers. If the bet loses, however, you add its value at the end of the line and continue.
While the system may sound too complicated, it is actually quite straight-forward and could be adjusted to any bankroll and type of player. For example, you have a bankroll of $100 and wish to win $30. You can start more cautiously with a progression of $0, $1, $2, $3, and $4 for the first target of $10. Your first bet will be $4 (0+$) and if it wins, you can remove the first and the last entries on your list, continuing with a bet of $4 (1+3). If that bet wins again, you will proceed with a bet of $2.
But what happens if you lose? If the first bet loses, you will add $4 to your progression and continue with it. The zero at the beginning ensures that, at least at first, the bet will not be too large to handle. With this system, you will not be able to win huge amounts of cash. You can rely on safer and more dependable winnings over a short period of time, however. Note that in the long term, this system would also lead to losses.
The D’Alembert System
Based on a theory by the French mathematician Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert, the D’Alembert system is one of the most popular betting systems today, although makes use of a well-known gambler’s fallacy – that you are more likely to lose after a win and vice versa, that you are more likely to win following a loss. The system is, once again applied to bets that have nearly 50/50 chances such as red/black, high/low, and even/odd.
To use it, you simply add up 1 unit to your next bet if you lose. If you win, you deduct 1 unit from your current bet to calculate the next one. For instance, you start with a $2 bet (take $1 as 1 unit) and you lose. Your next bet will be $3 and if you win, you will proceed with another $2 bet. This is quite a conservative and safe betting system that does not offer huge winnings. The good thing about using it is that there is no high risk involved, as well.