A Brief Beginners Guide to Roulette

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Image of a Roulette Table

Roulette (literally “little wheel” in French) is one of the most popular games in many casinos all around the world. Roulette is also easy to understand, making it ideal for those who don’t gamble very often. The pace is relatively slow, so if you manage your bankroll well you can expect to enjoy a long time at the table for a comparatively low cost. The downside is that the house edge is very high for a table game. In the best casino scenario, a “single-zero” wheel as is common in Europe, the house edge is still 2.7% – that’s roughly five times the casino advantage at most blackjack tables, and around three times worse than Baccarat.

Roulette Table Design

The iconic design of the Roulette table is instantly recognizable, and has barely changed since it first appeared in 18th century France. The original French design featured 36 numbered pockets, just like the modern-day table, but also had two zeroes, a design which is now known as “American Roulette”. The two zeroes were described as “house pockets” in the first written description of the game. This was found in the French novel “La Roulette, ou le Jour” and went on to explain that these two pockets, reserved for the bank, are where the casino derives its sole mathematical advantage of 5.4%.

It seems that Roulette must have been an instant hit because it spread around the world quickly during the early 19th century – no mean feat at the time. A period of gambling prohibition began throughout Europe during the 1860s, leaving Monte Carlo as the only place where Roulette could still be played.  This city-state, located in the Principality of Monaco at the south-east tip of France, has remained a gambling-mecca until this day.

Roulette Trivia

An interesting piece of trivia regarding the game is the fact that all the numbers on a traditional wheel – zero through thirty-six – add up to a total of 666. This number is famous for having been described as the “number (or mark) of the beast” in the Book of Revelation, one of the most well-known chapters within the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It is unknown if this number was intentionally incorporated into the game, although there is some evidence that points to this being a deliberate design decision.

An ancient legend describes a monk who was challenged by the devil to play him on a wheel which incorporated numbers which added up to a total of 666. Unfortunately, however, there is no way to know for sure when this story was first written – either way, it is undeniably a fascinating co-incidence!

Roulette Rules & Variations

Unlike some casino games, the rules of Roulette are largely intuitive, and are often mostly deduced by players simply by watching a couple of rounds. Players place bets on one or more numbers between 0 and 36, a wheel is spun causing a metal ball to land in a numbered pocket, and wagers are settled according to the result.

Online Roulette

Roulette is a game which benefits greatly from its translation to the on-line casino. The fastest variant you can play is the computerized version, where the result is determined by a random number generator. Alternatively, many on-line casinos also offer a “Live Dealer” version of the game, where a human dealer is shown via video using a real ball and wheel to determine each result.

Zero & Double Zero

Playing on-line greatly simplifies the process of placing and settling bets, so you can always be sure of receiving the correct return for any wagers placed. The live dealer variant of the game is quite profitable for the casino compared to other table games played in this manner, as an unlimited number of people can play at just one table. From the player’s perspective this makes no difference, and some people enjoy the ability to engage in conversation with these other players via the live chat feature.

Should the ball land in one of the green “zero” pockets, all bets not specifically placed on that number are lost. This includes bets placed on red or black, odd or even etc. It is this possibility which gives the house their edge, as bets are otherwise resolved fairly at 35-1.

Two Main Roulette Variants

There are two main variants of Roulette currently played on-line. These are “American Roulette” and “European Roulette”. The only real difference between these games is the fact that the American version has two green coloured zero pockets, whereas the European wheel has just one. Put simply, the American game has double the house edge of its European counterpart, so there is no reason to choose to play it if the casino also offers the version with better odds.

French Roulette

A few on-line casinos do offer “French Roulette”, which is much the same as the European game however the house edge is reduced still further as the player only loses half of their bet when the ball lands on the single zero. It is relatively rare to find this type of roulette on-line, but is the ideal option when you can find it.

The order of the numbers on the wheel does differ between the different games, however, and there are some superstitious players who will swear they have better luck when playing the American game. The reality is, as long as the game is fair, you will always have better results over the long-term when playing European or French roulette.

Ways to Bet

What makes Roulette more interesting than a simple single number lottery is the large number of different ways to place your bets. The standard layout is always present and features the numbers laid out in order, along with several “outside” bets off to the left. An alternate “racetrack” layout is often selectable as well, which shows the numbers in the same order they appear on the wheel.

Placing of Chips

When placing bets on either layout, you do not have to place your chips on a single number only. It is allowed to place chips on the lines in-between two or more numbers as well, which splits your wager across each of the intersected numbers. On the standard layout, you may also place chips on the right-hand edge as well, allowing you to bet on groups of three or six numbers at once.

Outside Bets

The outside bets provide yet more variety. The numbers on the wheel alternate between red and black, allowing bets to be placed on either colour as well as even or odd, high or low numbers. You can also bet on any of the three dozens (1-12, 13-24, and 25-36).

Call Bets

Another alternative to placing your chips on a regular layout are the “call” bets, which cover seemingly unusual sets of numbers. In fact, these bets work in much the same way as the racetrack layout and are simply based on the physical order of the numbers on the wheel. These bets, including “Orphelins/Orphans”, “Voisins du Zero/Neighbours of Zero”, and “Tiers du Cylindre/Third of the Wheel” are not always available in on-line games, except where a specific French Roulette game is offered.

There are yet more possibilities such as the so-called “Final bets” and “Full Maximums”, but I have never seen these offered directly as an option within any on-line roulette game, or even used on the casino floor.

Players enjoying the game of roulette

Betting Strategies & The Gamblers Fallacy

Like all casino games, there have been numerous attempts to find a system or strategy which can make a profit reliably for the player. In the early days, this often came down to simply trying to find an unbalanced wheel – not difficult at the time. Some casinos no doubt even rigged their wheels, but this could be a risky proposition if a clever player could find a way to take advantage. For this reason, the roulette wheels found on casino floors and on-line live dealer games today are checked regularly to ensure the results are truly random and no bias exists.

Betting systems were the next big trend, which promise to overcome the house edge by using specific patterns or orders of bets. Many of these betting systems were based on the often-believed fallacy that future events can be predicted based on the order or frequency of previous ones. This is, of course, untrue – the likelihood of the next number being red or black does not change no matter what the previous result may have been.

Monte Carlo Fallacy

This is most often called the Gamblers Fallacy, but is also sometimes referred to as the Monte Carlo fallacy, after a famous example of players falling foul of this belief which occurred in the city in 1913. On that day, the ball landed in a black-coloured pocket 26 times in a row, causing players to lose millions betting on red. These players incorrectly assumed that the next result “must” be a red over and over, many running out of money before the outcome finally did switch to the opposite colour.

Martingale Betting System

The most well known betting system which is often applied to Roulette (as well as Blackjack, Baccarat and other casino table games) is the Martingale system. To play using the Martingale you simply double your bet every time you lose, resetting back to your initial starting bet each time you win. If you start off betting $5, you will eventually find yourself $5 up when you finally win, even if you lose several times beforehand. The trouble is, the size of your wager grows quickly using this method. If you don’t run out of money due to a long string of losses, you’ll certainly hit the maximum limit of the table at some point instead.

Take for example the previously mentioned example at Monte Carlo; If you lose 26 times in a row betting on red, you’ll need $671,088,640 to place your next wager, assuming you started off betting $5. Of course, you could easily lose that bet too, and you’d need to be a multi-billionaire to place your next bet – assuming the casino would even accept it.

House Edge

Unfortunately, there is no way to overcome the house edge provided by the zero (or zeroes) that have been placed on the wheel. Anyone who tries to tell you different is lying to you, or probably trying to sell you their useless book!

Where To Play

The on-line casino industry has become highly regulated in recent years, making it much easier to find a reputable place to play. Unscrupulous casinos and games do still exist of course, but as long as you do a little research before depositing your money, you can be fairly sure of finding a fair game.

When choosing an on-line casino, pay careful attention to who they are licensed by. This is a great way of quickly determining how trustworthy the particular site is. Authorities such as the MGA (Malta Gaming Authority) and UKGC (United Kingdom Gambling Commission) do not give out their licenses easily, and monitor the sites they do license on a constant basis.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the less trustworthy licensing bodies, such as the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and Costa Rica Gaming Authority. These regulatory authorities effectively provide nothing more than a “rubber-stamp” license. As long as they continue to receive their license fees, these institutions have little to no concern for the players who are gaming with the casinos they “regulate”.

Whilst not every site operating under one of these licenses is untrustworthy, there is simply very little reason to choose such a casino when so many better options are available. Ironically, one of the worst places in the world to find a trustworthy on-line game is the United States, as on-line gaming transactions are prohibited by law in many states. For this reason, the more trustworthy regulators will not provide a license to any operator taking on-line bets within the United States.

Once you have chosen a reputable casino, it is reasonably fair to assume that the games they offer can be trusted as well. Whilst many software providers offer roulette games, the rules remain identical between all versions of American, European and French roulette.

As discussed in the “Rules & Variation” section above, the house edge for these three different versions of the game is set at 5.4%, 2.7% and 1.35% accordingly. Therefore, ideally you should try and find a casino offering French roulette, but if that is not available, the much more common European variant surely will be. Only play on-line American roulette as a last resort.

Playing Roulette in Person

If you don’t trust the computerized versions of the game (which you should, by the way – as long as you are playing at a trustworthy on-line casino) then the live dealer games are extremely similar to playing in person. If you have never played roulette in person before, it might be worth spending a little time playing a live dealer version of the game before visiting the casino. In truth though, you are very unlikely to find yourself confused or stuck playing roulette.

The Colour of Chips

One key difference between roulette and other table games is that, generally speaking, roulette will usually be played with chips which do not have a designated value. When you approach the table, you will be offered the chance to buy your colour of chips using a valued casino chip. For example, you might buy in with a $100 black chip, and receive fifty red coloured chips in return. Your black chip will replace the red chips in the dealers rack, indicating the value assigned to that colour of chip. This makes it much easier for the dealer to resolve wagers, as they only need to apply the correct ratio to whatever winning chips are on the layout regardless of colour.

Cashing Out

When you leave the table, your chips will be counted – most likely by an automated counting device – and you will be handed the correct value in real casino chips in return for the number of coloured roulette chips you are currently holding.

Roulette Etiquette

There isn’t too much etiquette surrounding roulette, but you should pay particular attention of when the dealer prohibits placing bets on the layout. Before the dealer spins the wheel, they will announce “no more bets”, and touching your chips after this is forbidden. After each spin, the dealer will place a small marker or “dolly” on the winning number (or any chips currently occupying the number), before clearing all losing bets from the table. They will then resolve all the winning bets, before waiting for players to collect their winnings from the layout. After this the dealer will ask players to “place their bets”, and the next round begins.

If you are unsure of anything, feel free to ask the dealer or your fellow players, but never touch anybody else’s chips – this may be interpreted as an attempt to cheat.

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