17 Facts about Roulette that Will Surprise Your Friends
Published on September 13, 2016
Roulette was one of the first games I learned to play in a casino. I think a lot of gamblers get started with this game, because the bets are deceptively simple. It’s both a better and worse game than some writers say.
I’ll explore almost everything you need to know about the game of roulette with this list of 17 facts. Feel free to use these to impress and startle your friends with what an expert on gambling you are.
Roulette gets a certain amount of derision from gambling writers because the house edge is relatively high at 5.26%. But there’s more to take into consideration when judging a gambling game than the house edge.
First of all, ANY game in which the player has a mathematical disadvantage is a game which will eventually drain the player’s entire bankroll. Even if the house edge is only 0.1%, if you play long enough, eventually the casino will win all your money—if you play long enough.
From that perspective, it doesn’t matter how high or low the house edge. The only real comparison to make is with games where you might actually have an advantage. The difference between a 0.1% house edge and a 0.1% player edge is far more significant than the difference between a 0.1% house and a 0.2% house edge.
Here’s something else to consider about roulette:
It’s a much slower game, so if you care about things like your expected hourly loss, roulette might even be a better deal than games with better odds.
Here’s an example of how that matters:
You calculate how much the casino expects to win per hour by multiplying your average bet size by the number of bets you’re placing per hour. That’s how much hourly action you’re bringing the casino.
You multiply the total action by the house edge to get your expected loss.
Let’s say you’re playing for $5 a spin at roulette. You’re seeing an average of 55 spins per hour, so you’re putting $275 per hour into action. 5.26% of $275 is $14.47 in expected losses per hour.
Now let’s say you’re playing 8/5 Jacks or Better, the best video poker game available at many casinos. The house edge for this game is 2.7%, which is about half that of the American roulette wheel. You’d expect to lose half as much money per hour on average, wouldn’t you?
But most video poker players get in 600 hands per hour. At $5 per hand, that’s $3000 per hour. With a house edge of 2.7%, you expect to lose $81 per hour on that game.
There’s a huge difference between an expected loss of $14 versus $81 per hour.
So don’t let people who THINK they know something about gambling mock you for liking roulette. It’s a better game than the odds might indicate because of its slow pace.
The even money bets are the wagers that you’ll land on red or black, or on odd or even, or on low (1-18) or high (19-36). Most players think they have a roughly 50% chance of winning such a bet, and that these bets are close to break-even because of their even money payouts.
That’s not entirely accurate. A standard roulette game has 38 possible outcomes. 2 of those 38 outcomes are outside the parameters of any of those even money bets.
A roulette wheel has a 0 and 00, and those are both colored green—NOT red or black. These 0 and 00 also don’t count as even OR as odd. So any even money bet loses when the ball lands on a 0 or 00.
In fact, calculating the probability of winning such a bet is easy to do. You just take the number of ways you can win and divide that by the total possible number of outcomes.
There are 18 black outcomes out of a possible 38 total outcomes. The probability of winning that bet is therefore 18 divided by 38, or 47.37%.
The same math applies to the other even money bets.
Understanding this is the first step in understanding why betting systems in a roulette game don’t work.
I should amend this to say that there’s no realistic, practical way of getting an edge. Players have gotten an edge at the game, but it’s not something the average person can learn to do easily. (If you’re looking for a gambling strategy that anyone can learn, consider counting cards in blackjack.)
Most players try to get an edge by using some kind of betting system that involves raising and lowering the size of their bets based on the previous results on the wheel.
The problem with these betting systems is that past results have no effect on the probability of future results. That seems counter-intuitive, but that’s how the math of the game works.
Look at it this way:
You’re playing roulette, and the ball has landed on black 5 times in a row.
What is the probability that the ball will land on black on the next spin?
Since there are still 18 black outcomes and 38 total possible outcomes, the probability is STILL 47.37%. It hasn’t changed because of the previous results.
It’s counter-intuitive because the probability of getting a black result 6 times in a row is something that can be measured, and it is unlikely.
But you’re not betting on whether or not the ball will land on black 6 times in a row. You’re betting on what’s going to happen on the next spin.
Other players have clocked roulette wheel to look for biases. Since a roulette wheel is a mechanical device, it’s possible—even likely—that it’s not going to offer mathematically true results.
Here’s the problem with taking that approach to beating the game.
You’d have to clock the wheel for thousands of spins before detecting a bias. That would take dozens (maybe hundreds) of hours.
Even then, you might not find a bias. Or you might not find enough of a bias to get an edge.
So you have to start over.
Even if you do find a biased wheel, the casinos move roulette wheels and tables periodically during the week. It’s not practical to think you could track the same wheel at the same table long enough to get any kind of realistic edge.
This is actually only true of American roulette, which is the most common version of the game. But I’ll write about other roulette variations in later bullet points.
The house edge is the average loss you’d expect to see on any given bet expressed as a percentage of that bet. It assumes a nearly infinite number of spins.
Here’s how to calculate it for a couple of different roulette bets:
You want to know the house edge for a bet on black. You’ll start by assuming that you’re betting $100 per hand. (That’ll make it easier to convert to a percentage.)
Then you’ll assume a perfect distribution across 38 spins.
This means you’ll lose $100 on 20 spins, and you’ll win $100 on 18 spins.
Your gross loss is $2000, and your gross win is $1800. Add these together, and your net loss is $200 across 38 spins.
To find out your average loss per spin, you divide 200 by 38. The result is $5.26.
Since we assumed a $100 bet, that’s 5.26% of each bet that’s lost on average.
Let’s look at a single number bet next. That bet pays off at 35 to 1 when you win.
You win $3500 once, but you lose $3700 on the other 37 spins. You still have a net loss of $200, which is still an average of $5.26 per bet.
The only bet with a different house edge is the 5-number bet. This is a bet that you’ll wind up with a 0, 00, 1, 2, or 3. It pays off at 6 to 1.
So you’ll win this bet 5 times out of 38, which is a net win of $600 X 5, or $3000. But you’ll lose this bet 33 times, for a loss of $3300. Your net loss is $300. Divide that by 38, and your average loss per spin is $7.89.
That’s the worst bet at the table, so you should avoid making it.
A European roulette wheel only has a green 0 instead of having a 0 and a 00. This variation was introduced in the 19th century in Germany. The casino was trying to compete with other properties in the area, so they invented a version of the game that offered better odds.
If you can find a European roulette game, you should always play it instead of playing an American game. The house edge is only 2.7% on this game, which is significantly better than 5.26%.
You’ll also be considerably more likely to walk away from any given situation as a winner.
This actually isn’t a tactic exclusive to online casinos. Land-based casinos also sometimes offer both American and European roulette wheels right next to each other. Unsophisticated players don’t realize there’s a difference. If they do, they often underestimate how much of a difference there is.
This isn’t exactly a shady practice. After all, casinos are in the business of selling customers the hope of beating the odds and walking away a winner. Learning the math behind casino games and gambling isn’t hard. It’s just not something that most people do before trying out the games.
Make no mistake. It’s the players’ responsibility to understand the difference between games and to choose the one with the better odds.
Now that you’ve read this post, you’ll never again play an American roulette game when a European game is available, will you?
A lot of people think that roulette is an easy game to cheat because they’ve seen movie and television shows which imply that the croupier (the dealer) has some kind of control over the outcome of the game.
The most famous example of this is in Casablanca. Rick wants to help out a young couple who are being victimized by the local authorities. He tells the young man to bet on 22.
He gives the croupier a signal, and the game results in a 22. Rick tells the young man to keep his money on 22. He wins again.
In reality, I can’t think of a way that you could rig a game in such a way as to make a ball land in a specific pocket. There are too many variables. You MIGHT be able to rig a game in such a way that certain ranges of numbers are more likely.
But being able to land the ball in a specific pocket 4 times in a row would be impossible for anyone who didn’t possess telekinesis as their superpower.
I have a friend who’s an English professor. He’s brilliant—probably one of the only geniuses I’m acquainted with.
And he’s absolutely convinced that the Martingale System works great as a roulette strategy. Of course, he’s wrong, and I’ll explain why shortly.
Here’s how the Martingale System works:
You place an even money bet at the roulette table. Let’s use $10 as a starting point. If you win, you’re up $10.
But if you lose, you place another bet, this time for twice the amount–$20.
If you win, you’ve won back the $10 you lost on the first spin. And you have a $10 profit.
But if you lose, you double your bet again, this time to $40.
If you win, you get back the $30 you lost on the first two bets, and you have a $10 profit.
This progression continues until you’re up by one unit, then you start over.
This seems foolproof at first glance, but here are 2 things most people don’t take into consideration:
Here’s why those 2 things matter:
Eventually, you’ll need to place a bet so large that you either won’t have enough money to cover it, or it will be higher than the betting limits at the table.
Doubling your bet over and over again adds up far faster than you think.
Let’s assume you start with $1000. This seems like plenty of money to play with if you’re making $10 bets at the roulette table, right? It’s 100 units, so it covers 100 bets if you’re flat betting.
Here’s how fast the progression eats away at your bankroll, though:
Yes, it’s unlikely to lose an even-money bet 6 times in a row. But most people underestimate how unlikely it is. It’s going to happen occasionally, and if you’ve spent any time in a casino watching the game, you’ll realize it happens more often than you think.
Here’s the other problem with this system. Even when it works, your net winnings are small. Your eventual big loss is going to eat up all those small wins and then some.
The Martingale can be fun in the short term, but over the long run, it has no effect on the casino’s edge. They’re still going to win all your money if you play long enough.
This is just an interesting bit of trivia. One of the nicknames for the game is “the Devil’s wheel”. There are 2 reasons for that.
One is the numbers adding up to 666.
The other is that players who lose are often confounded and assume that such a game MUST have been invented by the devil.
The number 666 is from the Bible, the Book of Revelations. It’s the “Number of the Beast”. Some superstitious types fear this number, and it’s common enough that there’s actually a name for this phobia–hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.
I like this. It gives roulette a certain panache that other casino games lack.
After all, the dealer at the blackjack table is just called “the dealer”. The same phrase is used for the dealer at Caribbean Stud and other casino card games.
Craps dealers don’t really deal anything, but they run the game. They have cool names, too, but nothing as cool as “croupier”. They have names like “boxman” and “stickman”, but honestly, how elegant do either of those job titles sound?
There’s also a 1998 crime film named Croupier. Clive Owen portrays the eponymous character. It’s a neo-noir and a gambling movie, so if you’re into either of those genres, it’s worth checking out.
Newcomers to the casino might not realize this, but the chips at the roulette table are different from the chips elsewhere in the casino. This is done so that the croupier can tell who gets the winnings on each bet.
Imagine if everyone at the roulette table were just using the standard chips.
It’s common for roulette players to place several bets at a time. Get a table going with 4 or more players, each of whom are making 4 or more bets each, and you can see how it would be confusing to pay people off unless each player had her own color-coded chips.
You buy these chips at the roulette table, not at the cashier cage.
This, of course, doesn’t apply to online roulette.
This probably isn’t surprising, as the game was invented in France. But a casino in France is a strange experience for an American gambler, for multiple reasons.
For one thing, the players are dressed up a little nicer than you’d see in Vegas or Reno.
For another, you won’t see nearly as many slot machines in a French casino. Yes, they do play slots there. But roulette is the most popular game in most French casinos.
You’ll also find plenty of card games, especially blackjack and baccarat.
Most people credit Blaise Pascal with inventing roulette. He was actually trying to devise a perpetual motion machine. (He failed, of course.)
More sophisticated gambling historians look for a game more recognizable as the modern game of roulette. They find it in historical records dating to 1796, in a novel which describes the game being played in a casino.
The rules for modern roulette are actually a mish-mash of several other games, most of which are no longer played. You’ve probably never heard of them, either. They include:
Some of these games are also wheel-based games like roulette, but some of them are also board games.
And even though early versions of the game were recognizably roulette, some of the rules varied in earlier times. For example, in the United States during the Old West, a roulette wheel not only had a 0 and a 00, it also had an American eagle symbol.
Also, in early versions of roulette, the 0s and the eagle symbols were an automatic win for the house. You couldn’t bet on them, so when the ball landed in one of those pockets, the croupier just collected all the bets off the table.
If I owned a casino, I’d enjoy that aspect of the game.
California has strange gambling laws, and one of the stipulations there is that gambling is legal, but the only device that can be used to generate results is a deck of cards. As a result, clever casinos there offer “California roulette”, which is played with cards rather than a spinning wheel and a ball.
This adaptation of roulette rules and bets being adapted to a card game is also common among casinos in the state of Oklahoma, where they also have craps games where the outcomes are determined by a deck of cards.
The odds and payouts for these games are the same. The only difference is the methodology used to generate the results.
My favorite roulette anecdote concerns a gambler named Ashley Revell. He sold everything he owned and raised $135,000.
Then he bet it all on a single spin of the roulette wheel at the Plaza in Las Vegas.
And he won.
This is a great example of a strategy called “maximum boldness”.
Here’s the theory behind this:
If you’re playing a game where the house has an edge, your best bet is to place as few bets as possible, and make them as large as possible. This increases your chances of doubling your money.
Here’s how that would work:
If you bet on black at the roulette table, you have a 47.37% chance of doubling your money.
But if you place 2 bets on black at the roulette table, you have to win twice in order to double your money. The probability of winning 2 bets in a row is 22.44%.
The more bets you place in a game where the odds are against you, the more likely it is that your results will resemble the expectation.
On the other hand, if you have an edge, your goal is to place small bets and grind out a small win over time. This is called a “minimum boldness” strategy, and this is the way card counters in blackjack and professional poker players manage their bankrolls.
Everyone’s familiar with roulette because it’s been featured in a large number of TV shows and movies. Some of these include:
I think it’s likely that as long as there are casinos, roulette is going to be a thing. It’s just too popular and iconic a casino game to not continue to be played in gambling halls.
Every activity has expected sets of behaviors associated with it. Roulette is no exception. Here are some examples of good manners at the roulette table:
These are examples of good manners, but there are also serious behavioral issues that are actually considered rules by the casino. Here are some examples:
Roulette is a fascinating game with lots of ins and outs—more than you would expect from such a deceptively simple game. It’s my favorite game to use to explain the mathematical concepts behind the house edge and payoffs, too. And it’s a lot of fun.
I hope these facts have helped you become a better educated roulette player.