The Game of Roulette – a Historical Account

For more than two centuries the roulette wheel has been a renowned symbol, which instantly comes to the mind not only of any casino player, but of almost every person, when asked about gambling. What is more, the roulette wheel, has become the face of the casino industry itself. Regardless of whether we are watching a movie or a television show, or simply having a glance at a photograph of a casino gaming room, what unavoidably captures our attention is the roulette wheel.

Oldest game at casinos

Being the oldest casino game known and played at present, the popularity of the roulette, especially in the European casino practice, has grown significantly. It is popularity itself that has turned the mere action of getting a seat at a roulette table into a bit of a challenge. In European casinos the game of roulette comprises over 50 percent of legal gaming revenue. However, that is not the case with practice observed in the United States. Roulette is not a preferred game for the majority of casino players. As evidence we have the fact that less than 5 percent of overall gaming revenue is accounted for by roulette.

Yet, during the past few years there have been a number of changes in the way the game of roulette is looked upon in the US. It tends to be accepted more and more by casino players, especially if we take into consideration locations such as Las Vegas. Among the changes it seems that single-zero roulette wheels, the use of electronic reader boards and the increase of maximum bet limits have been the most relevant. At the same time, there has been a tendency that the game may provide gamblers with a greater chance of success.

Black and white illustration of people playing roulette in old casino

Changes in US casino practice

A growing number of newer casinos in the United States have been trying to lure their patrons to the game of roulette and, considering its soaring popularity, we could draw the conclusion they may have been successful. This recent tendency probably was fueled by the following changes, which made the access to the roulette game much easier for the average player:

First, a trend has emerged that increasing number of casinos installed single-zero wheels. Back in 1996 when the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino in Las Vegas opened its doors to customers, every one of ten roulette wheels was of the single-zero type.

Second, in time all the later casinos took a step further and installed electronic reader boards at the roulette wheels. These boards continuously list the most recent winning numbers in the sequence, in which they occurred. This way they seem to be drawing the attention of more people to the roulette wheels.

As a matter of fact, a lot of the older casinos have been trying to keep up with this innovation and fit their wheels with the same type of display equipment.

Third, the maximum limit on both inside and outside bets has been raised considerably. In the meantime, the minimum bet requirements remained almost unchanged. We shall discuss at a later time in our guide why system players are able to take advantage of a higher maximum limit.

Black and white illustration of people playing roulette in old American casino

Origins unknown?

Let us have a look back in history. Some experts claim that the origin of roulette has been lost in oblivion. However, there are others who defend another allegation – that modern roulette wheel configuration and game rules can be traced back to France over two centuries ago.

Among the earliest descriptions of the modern form of roulette is the one presented in the French novel ”La Roulette ou le Jouer” by Jacques Lablee, released in 1801. Lablee likened the wheel as a device having ball pockets with the numbers 1 through 36 and two extra pockets marked with a zero and a double zero. These extra pockets were reserved for the bank and represented the mathematical advantage of the casino.

Later, in 1843, the casino in the German town of Homburg was opened to the public and with it the first single-zero wheel was unveiled. The single-zero wheel provides a better pay-off to the player compared with the double-zero wheel, a matter we shall discuss at a later time in the guide.

In 1863 the casino in Monte Carlo was reorganized. This event saw the installation of single-zero wheels, with the objective being a boost of the casino’s popularity. The act was not just a success. What is more, it established the gaming standards for all other regions of the European continent. In order to remain operational, at some point, any casino in Europe was urged to copy this business idea and install single-zero wheels.

In the 1850s some surplus double-zero French wheels emerged in New Orleans. During that time the typical wheel at US casinos had 28 pockets with numbers, three zero pockets for the house, one double zero and an eagle. This enabled the house to pay single-number odds at 26 to 1, or 12.9% advantage over players was ensured.

When single-number odds were paid at 35 to 1, the double-zero French wheel provided the house with a 5.26% advantage over players. This appeared to be a considerably better opportunity for gamblers compared with what their US counterparts had been playing against. The new wheel was largely welcomed by players with a more profound understanding of the game.

Later the 38-pocket double-zero wheel obtained the status of the typical roulette wheel in the United States.

Black and white illustration of cowboys playing roulette in old american casino

Roulette – a winnable game for knowledgeable players

Since the modern form of roulette has been around for over 200 years, this period of time has allowed gambling hall operators to come up with a variety of ways to rig roulette wheels in order to boost their gains. Meanwhile, cunning casino players have used this time frame to devise a number of strategies, techniques and devices in order to gain the upper hand in the ”player-versus-the house” struggle for dominance.

The majority of gambling experts consider the game of roulette as extremely difficult to beat. We cannot deny that the whole roulette scene has a vast history of successful scams and cheating methods, but, at the same time, practice has shown a number of legitimate ways, allowing players to overpower the house. People, who had the will to invest some time and effort, have come to realize that the game of roulette can be a source of profit.

Manufacturing of rigged roulette wheels has always been a profitable business, because of the incessant demand. Unaware players have been in the past and still are ripped off by a number of illegal gambling halls around the globe. We shall take our time to discuss the most common ways casinos rig their wheels at a later time. This may turn out to be valuable information, because once the cautious and vigilant player identifies the characteristics of a rigged wheel, he/she could either leave the table, or come up with a strategy how to overcome such an obstacle.

There have been a lot of cases, when cunning players managed to neutralize the advantage of the house by using a number of mechanical, magnetic, or sleight-of-hand techniques. In time casinos became aware of such methods and, as a response, they began installing plastic security shields and using magnetic-field detectors.

Dealer spinning roulette wheelhead

The majority of older techniques have already been countered by casinos. But this does not mean that players have run out of resourcefulness. One of the later methods includes the use of a computer in order to project the spot where the ball may land. We cannot say, however, that the technique is that contemporary, because there has probably been at least one attempt to program the movement of the ball in the past more than two decades. It may have been quite a bold move, especially if taking into consideration how formidable and heavy computers were at the time. As technology developed, players eventually found themselves in possession of the pocket computer, which cleared the way for an array of opportunities.

Let us not forget that there are also legitimate ways players can turn the odds in their favor. For instance, the application of mathematical betting systems and the exploitation of biased wheels. We shall discuss the methodical ways of finding biased wheels and the reasons why most of them are not abandoned by casinos.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that casino owners tend to be quite fond of system players, as the majority of these individuals lose their stake eventually. However, there is a smaller group of players, who systematically register gains. It is the group of players, which we are interested in.

People around casino roulette table

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