Tips for Getting the Best Odds Playing Roulette
Roulette holds a special place in my heart. It was the first casino game I ever played. I have fond memories of dreaming up methods of hedging my bets and writing down these “systems” on the back of napkins in the hotel room before the next gambling session.
I’ve since learned a lot more about the game of roulette, how it’s played, and how the math behind the game works. Some gamblers sneer at the game because of its relatively high house edge and lack of skill.
But I still think roulette is a lot of fun, and I think you will, too—especially if you go into it with the right attitude and a little bit of knowledge.
Roulette’s a simple enough game. It involves a table, a spinning wheel, and a metal ball. Where the ball lands on the spinning wheel determines which bets are winners or losers.
The table has a wide number of bets available, but almost all of them offer the same house edge. Figuring out how to place these bets doesn’t take long, either.
Defining a good bet versus a bad bet at the roulette table is a little more complicated, but not much.
I cover almost everything you need to know about roulette in the 7 tips for the first-time roulette player below:
1 – There Is No Skill Element in Roulette
Roulette is a game of pure chance. Every spin is an independent event, so there’s no point in paying attention what happened on previous spins. From a math perspective, the probability of the game never changes.
The most common type of roulette in the United States features a wheel with 38 numbers on it. 18 of those numbers are red, 18 are black, and 2 are green. Half the red and black numbers are even, and the other half are odd. The 2 green numbers consist of a 0 and a 00. The red and black numbers are numbered from 1 through 36, although they’re not arranged that way on the wheel.
You might bet on red or on black, for example. If you win a bet on red or on black, you’ll get even money. (Even money means you win the amount you risked. For example, if you bet $20 and win, you win $20.)
You can also bet on even or odd. Even numbers are those that can be divided by 2 with no remainder—2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 win. The other numbers are odd. This also pays out even money.
You can also bet on high or low. The low numbers are 1 through 18, and the high numbers are 19 through 36. This bet also pays even money.
But you can also bet on specific numbers. These bets have a higher payoff, because they’re harder to win. They pay off at 35 to 1. (For example, if you bet $20 on 7, and you win, you get a $700 payoff.)
There are also lots of bets in between, where you can bet on 2 numbers, 3 numbers, 4 numbers, etc. In all those cases, there’s no strategy to help you win more often. The game is entirely random.
2 – Even Though There’s No Skill Involved, You Can Make Decisions About How Much Risk You Want to Take
The house edge for American roulette is fixed at 5.26% for every bet on the table except one. I’ll cover that bet later in this post.
That’s as far as many gamblers get when they analyze the math behind roulette. They point out that a house edge of 5.26% is a lot worse than the 1% house edge on blackjack, then they move on.
I’d like to go into a little more detail about this, though, because roulette bets DO have more to consider than just their house edge.
Another aspect of a bet in a casino game is its volatility. This is a way of looking at how big your winning and losing strings are likely to be.
A bet with low volatility wins more often, but the payoff is lower. A bet with high volatility wins less often, but the payoff is higher.
A low volatility bet in roulette is an even-money bet. It only pays off at even money, but you’ll win this bet almost (but not quite) half the time.
To calculate the probability of winning a bet, you divide the number of winning outcomes by the total number of outcomes.
In American roulette, you have 38 possible outcomes. If you bet on black, 18 of the total possible outcomes are black.
The probability of winning such a bet is 18/38, or 47.37%.
That’s a low volatility bet—you win a small amount of money almost half the time.
But let’s look at the probability and payoff for a single-number bet, the highest volatility bet on the table.
With a single number bet, you only have one outcome out of 38 which can win. That’s a probability of 1/38, or 2.63%. When you do win, though, you win 35X the amount of your bet.
But when you do win, you’ll win almost enough to catch you back to even.
Depending on your bankroll, your attitude, and your risk tolerance, you might want to make low, medium, or high volatility bets most of the time.
If you don’t have a lot of money to gamble with, you should stick to the low volatility bets to make your bankroll last.
If you do have a lot of money to play with, but you don’t like going long times without a win, you should still stick to the low volatility bets.
But if you have a high tolerance for risk and love getting the rare but huge payoff, you should go with the higher volatility bets.
The lower volatility bets are called “outside bets”. The higher volatility bets are called “inside bets”. They are so called because of where the bets are located on the betting surface of the table.
3 – The House Edge Is the Same for Almost All the Bets, Though
The house edge is the percentage of each bet that the casino expects to win, on average, in the long run.
I italicized those last 2 expressions because they’re important.
On a single spin, or even a handful of spins, your results are going to vary widely from the mathematical expectation.
But over time, as you make hundreds and thousands of spins, the actual results eventually start to closely resemble the mathematically expected results.
That’s why the casino can make money in the long run, while some players walk away from the casino as winners in the short term.
The house edge in roulette is easier to understand than most games.
To calculate the house edge, let’s assume 38 spins of the roulette wheel, with the ball landing on each number once.
Assuming you’re betting on black, you’ll win even money on 18 bets and lose 20 bets.
You’ve won $1800 and lose $2000, for a net loss of $200. To find the average amount lost per bet, you divide the total amount lost by the number of spins. $200/38 spins is $5.26 lost on average per spin.
Since we’re looking at a ratio of $5.26 compared to $100, we say that the house edge is 5.26%.
The house edge doesn’t change on most of the other bets, either.
You’ll win once out of 38 spins, but you’ll win $3500 on that bet. You’ll lose $100 per bet on the other 37 spins, which is a loss of $3700. Your net loss is, again, $200 over 38 spins. That’s $5.26 per spin again, on average, or 5.26%.
4 – One Bet Has a Higher House Edge, Though
There’s one bet on the American roulette wheel, the 5-number bet, which has a higher house edge than any other bet. It’s also called a “basket bet”.
The 5-number bet is a bet that 0, 00, 1, 2, or 3 will come up. It pays off at 6 to 1, but the house edge is 7.89%.
There’s no reason you should ever make this bet. In the long run, you’ll just lose more money faster.
Let’s assume again that you’re making 38 spins at $100 per spin. You’ll win this bet 5 times, and you’ll win $600 each time, for a total win of $3000. But you’ll lose 33 times, at $100 per loss, for a total loss of $3300.
The net loss in this case is $300 instead of $200.
$300 averaged over 38 spins is $7.89, or 7.89%.
The only reason to ever make this bet is utter ignorance of the math behind the game.
5 – American Roulette Isn’t the Only Game in Town, Usually
I write from America at a largely American audience.
But even in the United States, where American roulette is the most common version played, you can find single zero roulette.
A single zero roulette game only has 37 numbers on the wheel, and only one of them is green—the 0. The 00 isn’t on the wheel for this version of the game.
The payouts and the bets are the same, though, except for the 5-number bet, which you shouldn’t be making anyway.
You place 37 bets for $100 each on black on a single zero roulette table. 18 of those bets win even money, and 19 of them lose. That’s $1800 in wins and $1900 in losses, for a net loss of $100.
$100 lost on 37 bets is $2.70 per bet.
The house edge on this version of the game is almost half as high as on an American wheel.
If you’re playing roulette online, you can find single zero roulette at any reputable casino. In online casinos, there’s never a good reason to play American roulette instead of single zero roulette. You’ll just be losing your money almost twice as fast for no good reason.
In live casinos in the United States, many casinos only offer American roulette. Some casinos do offer single zero roulette tables. You just have to look for them (and you should).
The Wizard of Vegas site publishes surveys of the rules available for various games at various Las Vegas casinos. According to that site, 3 casinos in Las Vegas offer single zero roulette: Cromwell, Palazzio, and Venetian. They’re located in the high roller rooms and have a minimum bet of $100 per spin.
6 – You Can Find Games That Are Even Better Than Single Zero Roulette, Actually
Some writers use the expressions “European roulette” and “single zero roulette” interchangeably, and that’s okay. Both versions of the game do have only a single 0 on the wheel.
In European roulette, if the ball lands on the 0, you only lose half your bet. This rule only applies to even money bets, by the way. If you’re playing European roulette, you should ONLY place even money bets to take advantage of this rule.
This reduces the house edge from 2.70% to 1.35%, which makes European roulette a game on par with blackjack and its 1% house edge. The difference is that you don’t have to worry about making “basic strategy” mistakes when playing roulette.
According to the Wizard of Vegas page I already cited, several more casinos offer European roulette, some with even lower minimums.
The lowest minimum bet on such a table can be found at the MGM Grand, which has a $25 minimum bet. Aria, Bellagio, and Mandalay Bay have $50 minimums. The other Vegas casinos offering European roulette are targeting high rollers and have a $100 minimum bet.
7 – You Can Also Find Games That Are Worse Than American Roulette
According to the Wizard of Vegas, there’s also a version of roulette that’s identical to American roulette with one additional change—another pocket on the wheel with an “S” on it. The “S” stands for sands.
The net effect of this additional pocket is to increase the house edge for every bet on the table to 7.89%. The Venetian is the only Vegas casino listed on that site offering that version of the game.
Any site that reports on game conditions at various casinos is only as good as its most recent update. Casino managers change which games they offer all the time. It’s better to educated yourself about the differences so you can spot the good roulette games from the bad roulette games as you visit each casino.
The best use of these kinds of sites is to get an idea about which casinos might be offering the better roulette games.
Roulette gets a bad rap.
Roulette is a fine game with little skill involved.
The relative slow pace of the game compared to other gambling games means that your expected hourly loss is lower than you’d think for a game with a high house edge.
And if you have the bankroll and the inclination to find the European roulette games, it’s actually a low house edge.