Roulette, or little wheel in French, grew popular in late-18th century France. However, it was over a century earlier when Blaise Pascal developed a primitive form of the game in his quest for a perpetual motion machine when roulette was truly born.

Though the laws of physics got in Pascal’s way, the failed experiment served as a template for one of the best-known casino games of the last 200 years.

Big money, no whammy

A popular game in the full scope of casino gaming, roulette offers one of the higher hold percentages for casinos.  

Research from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) records how more money is held on roulette tables in Nevada than any of the other popular table games. This includes games like 21, craps, or baccarat. It’s by a clear margin of several percentage points to boot.  

One might propose a couple reasons why this is the case. The first explanation is that roulette has an inherently higher house advantage, 5.26 percent, than blackjack or craps. (House advantage is a concept that will be discussed further in this game review.)

Second, in a more abstract sense, roulette highlights a significant concept, one that permeates every casino in the world, the gambler’s fallacy. Defined as a logical fallacy that is the root of many common (illogical) gambling practices, roulette is the perfect game to demonstrate why casinos are profitable ventures. Lose a $5 bet on RED last spin? Why not bet $10 on RED next spin?

Basic roulette gameplay

Roulette’s lasting popularity likely stems from its simplicity.  

Though there are a few different kinds of bets with different payouts, roulette is ultimately a game where a ball spins around a wheel and lands on a number. Players place wagers on a roulette layout, usually felt, where their wagers (in chips or chip-like markers) are paid or taken based on where the ball lands on the wheel.  

The game is generally a hands-on experience for players. They are the ones responsible for marking the felt with their chips or markers. The phrase “chips or markers” is used because casino patrons are welcome to place a casino chip with a cash value directly on the felt. Alternately, they can ask the casino to provide markers, or lammers as they are commonly called. (These look very similar to chips.)  

Roulette lammers are colorful to differentiate the wagers. A player might pass the croupier (game operator) a $20 bill in exchange for 10 $2 lammers or ask for five lammers, assigning a value of $4 each. Within certain limits, players may ask to assign any value to their lammers. Don’t be afraid to communicate with the croupier when first buying into the game.

Players get paid with their color lammer on winning wagers. When it’s time to cash out, the croupier will be happy to exchange lammers for larger denomination chips with cash value. For reference, a few of the most common bets and their payouts are:

  • Exact number: 35-1
  • Color (red or black): 1-1
  • Even or Odd: 1-1
  • Thirds / column: 2-1

The truth in numbers

Roulette has an inherent house advantage of 5.26 percent. This means that if one bets $100 anywhere on the felt, the player’s expected return is $94.74.

Hold percentage is naturally higher than house advantage. This is because players do not have the bankroll or time to beat the casino in the long run. 

Furthermore, roulette affords opportunities to win many multiples of one’s wager, like three, eight, or up to 35 times one’s initial wager. But players can also lose those profits quickly. While other table games have specific wagers manufactured within them that are (in terms of expected value) worse for the player, roulette is generally known by the gambling community to be one of the less friendly games to a player’s gambling bankroll.  

A very key point is that every possible wager is equally disadvantageous to the player. A $10 bet on 00 or RED or EVEN would carry the same negative expected value of -$0.526 (fifty-two point six cents).

Prevalence and fun

But let’s face it: roulette just looks fun. Gamblers are willing to trade some house advantage for the long, historic tradition of placing wagers on the classic felt and watching that unmistakable white ball spin around the wheel.  

Players experience the excitement of placing their last-second wagers after the ball has been released and begins to spin. Croupiers announce the timeless phrase “no more bets” while making a waving gesture. Then players eagerly await the ball to fall off the track and land in a compartment on which a unique number (and color) is printed.

The game, however, cannot be found in every casino. Often, roulette is nowhere to be found in jurisdictions that don’t support full Class III Las Vegas-style gambling.  

Certainly, roulette is a staple in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and in casinos all across Europe. But what about in Native American casinos? Or state-sponsored card rooms in places like California or Florida?  

Neither the Golden State nor the Sunshine State offer the classic casino game. Governing regulations can be cited for why roulette isn’t offered in certain jurisdictions, yet a gambling establishment’s ability to operate profitably without the game is also of note.

Times they are a changin’

Casino managers and corporate employees are always reviewing ways to make profitable adjustments to existing casino games. Until recently, many assumed that roulette was not a game casinos would alter to be more advantageous to the house and disadvantageous to the player — and most importantly while not adding anything unique, enterprising, or substantial of value for the player.

Even Dylan could not have harmonized the recent Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS) move to add a third zero to roulette tables at the Venetian. The gaming giant tries to spin the monstrosity as a fun, new game — Sands Roulette. In reality, it’s the timeless classic with a 7.7 percent house advantage.

Gaining an edge at roulette

Before jumping into the concepts of the gambler’s fallacy, independent events, and mutual exclusivity, it helps to establish a clear thesis that the only way to (legally) affect the casino’s advantage is to play only old-fashioned European roulette. (It has only one green zero on the felt.)  

A fair motto might be: the fewer zeros, the better. The standard roulette wheel today, sometimes differentiated as American Roulette, has a zero and double zero. If there are 38 numbers on the felt, but a wager on exactly the correct number pays 35-1, the casino has a 5.26 percent house advantage on the game.

A little simple math — don’t be alarmed:

  • Odds of 35-1 means there are 36 total parts.
  • 36/38 = .9474
  • 1 – .9474 = .0526
  • = 5.26 percent.

So, one can see how on a single roulette wheel, the house advantage is 2.7 percent. On the unfortunate Sands Roulette it’s 7.7 percent. Conclusion: don’t play triple zero roulette.

It’s important for gamblers to understand that each roulette spin is an independent event.  

That means previous spins do not impact the odds or probability going forward. There are 38 possible outcomes on a typical double zero roulette game. Eighteen are red, 18 black, and 2 are green.

There is an 18/38, or about a 47.4 percent, chance that the ball will land on a red or black number. What is the probability that the ball will land on a red number if the past 10 spins landed on red? What if the last 12 spins were black? It’s always 47.4 percent, independent from any past or future spins.

Wheel bias

This author, his host, and sponsors clearly and absolutely decry any form of cheating. That said, it would be unfair to ignore in a historical context how players have gained an edge by recording wheel bias. Ultimately, roulette wheels are man made. While today’s wheels are manufactured with computer precision, in a past era, the most astute gambler may have been able to record and exploit some of the smallest biases in wheel imperfections.

Keep an eye on things

In addition to playing the best version of the game one can find, there are a few basic things to remember when playing.  

It is the croupier’s job to keep an eye on things. However, it always helps to pay attention to one’s own action. Even though roulette is a game with a lot of movement and excitement, don’t hesitate to speak up and ask the croupier for assistance or clarification. They’re there to help.

Keep your chips (roulette lammers) stacked neatly. There is no reason to have chips or lammers in a messy pile sprawled everywhere. Maintaining neat stacks in your personal space allows everyone involved — the croupier, pit boss, and surveillance alike — to ensure all patrons are having the best experience possible.  

Lammers are generally a good idea. Every roulette player receives uniquely colored lammers. They must only touch his or her own color. Though casinos allow chips with cash value to play, it doesn’t hurt to accept lammers anyway. (Even for high rollers wagering black $100 chips on single numbers.)

As an aside, often two or more players make the same wager by placing their respective lammers on the same spot on the felt. When they do so, they stack their lammers vertically. With multiple players betting on the same outcome(s), colorful assortments of lammers begin to stack up on one another.

The online and mobile experiences

Roulette has been a big part of the online gaming experience for decades now. In fact, it was an easy-to-implement game for online casinos. This is due to the limited player decision-making and absence of player involvement in the outcome.

The online gaming experience has come a long way since the first online gaming platforms 20 years ago. Roulette as a game, however, is still as recognizable as it was generations before.

On the mobile casino front, roulette is certainly a game casinos want to have. Mobile software has many more intricacies, though.  

How do players navigate whole layouts on four-inch screens? Tablet versions won’t have this problem, but one might expect mobile versions to offer a zoom feature. From there, a change in camera view reveals the satisfying experience of the ball’s journey around the wheel.  

Software gives the user the option to speed up the event of spinning. They can go straight to the announcement of the number or provide a more natural experience that takes several seconds. Whatever your pleasure, today’s digital casino experience is ready for roulette. You’ll find the timeless classic casino game molds well into the modern gameplay environment.