Of all the games you’ll find in a casino, roulette is among the most familiar. The star of the show is the spinning wheel and bouncing silver ball. Roulette is a classic casino game that made its way into casinos all over the world from humble roots as an 18th century French game of chance. This particular game moves at a slower pace than other casino table action, which lends it a sense of sophistication. Roulette is one of the most popular games in casinos the world around, though in the United States it tends to take a backseat to the big three American casino table games: craps, blackjack, and baccarat.
Roulette is a downright peaceful game compared to other tables in the casino; even though the spinning wheel attracts plenty of attention, your average game only produces about 45 decisions per hour. Compare that to the average number of hands per hour in blackjack, for example, and you’ll see why roulette is considered a “laid back” game. Roulette moves at about 1/3 the speed of games like blackjack or craps, depending on the number of players. Having said that, the number of spins per hour also depends on the type of game you’re playing, whether you’re playing at an online or land-based casino, and a few other factors.
The History of the Game
Though opinion is divided on the invention of the game, it is traditionally believed that 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal invented it while trying to develop a perpetual motion machine. Throughout history, opinions on the game’s invention have varied wildly. Those opposed to games of chance, especially religious groups in the United States, attempted to scare people away from the game by declaring it an invention of the devil, which is where the nickname “the Devil’s wheel” comes from. Still others consider roulette a holy game invented by French Dominican monks to pass the time at their monasteries. We don’t know for sure who is responsible for its invention, though games of chance involving spinning wheels have been around since the 17th-18th centuries.
Roulette comes in many different forms, especially if you venture into the world of online casinos. Right out of the gate, there are two distinct versions: one with a single zero space on the betting surface and spinning wheel and one with two zero spaces. Beyond that major difference in roulette rules, there are minor rule variations found at different casinos and even from one table to the next. Like any casino game, you should familiarize yourself with the rules of a specific roulette table before you start playing.
American vs. European Rules
The two basic types of roulette you’ll find in the casinos are called either European style or American style. To further complicate the issue, the names of these two variants aren’t standard. Sometimes the European game is called French roulette, sometimes it is called single-zero, etc.
The major difference between these two styles is the number of betting spaces on the wheel. European roulette wheels have 37 possible slots for the ball to land in: 36 different numbers and a space reserved for the number 0. American style wheels have two zero spaces: “0” and “00” or double-zero. The American style game has 38 possible slots for the ball to land in representing 36 different numbers and the two zero spaces.
The difference in the number of spaces on the wheels of American and European games means a major difference in their odds. European (single-zero) games offer much better odds by virtue of there being one less zero space for the ball to land on. Generally speaking, European wheels give the casino a 2.7% edge while the standard American style game increases that edge to 5.26%. It’s no wonder roulette is not as popular in America as it is in Europe: your odds of winning on American wheels are about half what you can expect from the European game.
En Prison & Surrender Rules
There are as many rule variations as there are casinos offering the game, but some rule variations remain fairly consistent across the board. For example, many European style games offer a rule called “en prison.” When playing at a table with the “en prison” rule in effect, even-money bets that lose because the ball lands in the green zero space do no automatically lose, but are instead placed “en prison,” French for “in prison.” That means your bet is held on the table for one more spin, and if your bet wins on that turn of the wheel, your wager is returned to you, though you don’t collect any winnings. Games with this rule in effect give the casino a much lower edge: just 1.35% instead of the standard European 2.7%.
Some American style games offer a rule called Surrender which is essentially the same as “en prison.” The difference is that under Surrender rules, even-money bets that lose because the ball lands in a green 0 or 00 space are only half-losses, with half your bet returned to you. American style games with the Surrender rule in effect lower the casino’s edge to just 2.63%, much better than the standard 5.26% edge American games offer.
Online casino gambling became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s, and is still a major part of the worldwide gambling industry. It didn’t take long for roulette to make its way onto online casino game lists. Most online roulette games are single-player versions, which means you’ll see more decisions in an hour of online roulette play than in a brick and mortar casino with several players gathered around a single table. When you play online roulette, you can easily double or triple the average number of outcomes per hour.
Online casino software designers have added many variations of the game not seen before in traditional casinos. It is common to find a multiplayer version, a single player version, a three-wheel version, a game called bonus spin, and plenty of other online variations that alter or add a rule or two to change the game’s odds and add intrigue to traditional play. Internet roulette has come full circle; online casinos are now offering the live dealer game, which connects you via webcam to a real croupier you can see and interact with, rather than a computer program and random number generator.
Roulette has been a casino mainstay since it first spread through Europe during the 1700s. Thanks to online casinos, the game is popping up in places it had never been before, and players in traditional casinos are expecting more variation in rules and odds. The game of roulette is not one of the best games in the casino in terms of odds, even in single-zero European versions, but it is just plain fun to play. Because this is a sophisticated game with decent odds, and because people recognize the Devil’s wheel the world over, roulette will likely continue to tempt casino gamblers for another three or four hundred years.