The History of Roulette
Roulette is the most quintessential of casino games. It has a colorful and romantic history, replete with outlandish characters, which stretches back over two hundred years.
There was the legendary Charles Wells of London who in 1891 became known as “The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo” by winning all the available money at the roulette tables on many occasions. His winning streak eventually ran out, however, and it was claimed he ending up losing all his amassed fortune.
In modern times, Londoner sold everything he owned, a net worth of around $130,000, and went to Las Vegas to put it all on red. He won.
The British magician Derren Brown managed to lose £5000 of a public member’s money on a misplaced roulette bet in 2009 after he’d claimed to be able to predict the outcome of a spin.
These examples are enough to illustrate that roulette is a game steeped in lore both new and old. It is also more complicated than most imagine – it’s not simply about putting it all on red or black.
So if you’re new to the world of roulette, here’s a strategy guide which incorporates rules, tips and a little bit of history.
The name roulette comes from the diminutive of the French word for wheel, ‘roule’. Needless to say this wheel itself has been the subject of much interest and mythology, having been the place where hopes were pinned and fortunes won or lost over the centuries.
The wheel contains the numbers 1-36 in alternating red and black pockets and either one of two zero pockets (the 0 and 00). The single zero wheel is commonplace outside the Americas where the double zero wheel is favored, which confers a slightly higher house advantage. In fact, that additional 00 pocket doubles the house edge in the long run. At some point zero and double zero were given a green square to clearly distinguish them. So, now you’ve got a few probability facts to pull out next time you’re at the table.
Roulette wheels have undergone changes over time but none as significant, at least from a gambler’s perspective, as the introduction of the low-profile or shallow pocket wheels.
Laurance Scott, author of Professional Roulette Prediction and a man known as the “God of Roulette”, developed a system to beat the older, deep-pocket models and claimed that the newer wheels were a great countermeasure against predictive gamblers like himself:
“The golden age of roulette prediction was when the older Huxley Mark III and Tramble deep-pocket wheels were common. The casinos have learned that the most effective way to counter roulette prediction is to randomize the bounce of the ball via low-profile technology, commonly known as shallow pockets. Predicting when the ball will strike the wheel is really not that difficult. But, if the result is randomized by the bounce of the ball, then even 100 percent accuracy of the strike will not do you any good.”
New wheels are intended to be almost perfectly balanced, meaning that any bias to particular numbers or areas is all but eliminated. Biased wheels are the holy grail of gamblers and, although they might exist in some far-flung casinos, modern technologies have made them a rare occurrence. Nonetheless, roulette, while considered the most difficult game to beat, is vulnerable to several factors which affect its integrity from the point of view of the casino. Wheels are expensive to replace so eventually, through wear and tear, biases and inconsistencies can occur. The human element has also been touted as a common factor that can disrupt the random nature of the game: the dealer (the person who spins the wheel and the ball) can end up unconsciously or consciously sending the ball to a certain area of the wheel. In this respect, roulette is not nearly as random as slot machines which rely on microprocessors to randomly generate numbers.
The low-profile wheels which have low-sides and shallower pockets than previous models have considerably upped the randomness of the balls trajectory when it hits the pockets. They were created by English company John
Huxley whose trademark has been statistically proven to be the most accurate on the market. Anyone now wishing to find out the bias of a wheel would have to witness thousands of spins and even then they might not have conferred upon themselves any real advantage. And gamblers must remember that even if they find an older wheel which in fact offers a considerable advantage, the casino would very likely cotton on quickly and it would be removed or refurbished.
That’s the wheel covered. So, as hard it mays seem, draw your gaze away from the wheel for one moment and familiarize yourself with the ‘layout’, the cloth covered betting area. The differences between a layout from the 1800s and a modern one are not that pronounced, given that at heart the game hasn’t changed all that much in over 200 years. If you take an engraving of a 19th century French Roulette table, it is easily recognizable to a player of the modern game who will undoubtedly be familiar with the image below.
The layout is where all chips change hands.
- Players place their bets and after each outcome the dealer sweeps away all losing bets, often with a rake, then divvies out the winnings accordingly.
- Each number on the wheel has its corresponding square on the layout including the zeros. The red, black, even, and odd squares are self-explanatory. 1 to 18 and 19 to 36 which are sometimes seen as manque or passe respectively mean a bet will win if the ball lands on any number within those ranges.
- The 1st 12 section corresponds naturally enough to the first twelve numbers of the 36, or the first third. And so on for 2nd and 3rd 12. Although an in-depth look at betting practices will be the subject of a subsequent feature, it’s worth noting that a player’s bets are not confined to one number or square –they can be split across several numbers, different colours, and different areas.
- Depending upon where the chips are placed in relation to the lines between the numbers, it can signify a pair of numbers or a trio for example: a chip placed on the dividing line between 5 and 8 splits the bet between the two numbers; one placed on the bottom border of the 10 in the image above would split the bet over 10, 11 and 12.
Go to the next part of our strategy guide which discusses the different kinds of bets.