Roulette Guide

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Roulette is not a big draw in American casinos because the game, as offered here, varies quite a bit from the European version and the difference can be summed up in one word:


American casinos just expect to make too much money from Roulette for it to ever become very popular here. The game came from Europe, but somewhere along the line, some casino operator added a “00” to the wheel, thus giving it 38 ‘numbers’, as opposed to the 37 found on the original wheel.

Because of that, the percentage against the player was doubled and, by eliminating the ‘en prison’ rule, the game of Roulette became one of a HUGE disadvantage to the player. Let me explain all this to those of you who maybe haven’t played the game before.

Some Mathematics of the Game

The mathematics of Roulette are really simple, especially if you have a calculator handy. 

If there are 38 ‘numbers’ on the wheel and only one wins on each spin, the odds of choosing the winning number are 1 in 38 or 37 to 1. But, a player isn’t paid 38 for 1 the bet; s/he is paid only 36 for one (Yes, I know; you’re really paid 35 to 1, but it’s the same thing and it will help you understand the math).

Thus, the player is ‘shorted’ 2 of 38 and if you divide 2 by 38, you get 5.26%, which is the house edge in the game.

Ah, but you say, there are other bets, like high/low, black/red and odd/even and all those ‘street’ bets, column bets, dozens, etc. Yes, those bets exist, but except for one weird bet which you can make, the house has an edge of 5.26% on all of them.

The ‘weird’ bet is a bet on the 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3. That five-way bet has a house edge of 7.9%, so forget about it.

As for those other bets I mentioned, the payoff on each is such that the house edge doesn’t change.

But in the European version of Roulette, there’s a nice little feature on the so-called ‘even-money’ bets: the high/low, red/black, and odd/even bets which reduces the house edge even further.

Now remember that a ‘European’ wheel has only one zero, so the edge is already cut to 1 of 37 or 2.70% on all bets (except that weird one), and then they have what’s called the ‘en prison’ rule.

If a player has bet on the ‘even-money’ spots and the zero comes up, the bet remains untouched, but it may not be removed; thus it’s ‘in prison’. On the next spin, the fate of the bet is decided: if it’s on black and black comes up, the bet is returned, if red comes up, the bet is lost.

This procedure effectively cuts the house edge in half on those bets, so the casino’s advantage is 1.35%. That’s about the same as a pass line bet at craps or the edge on a bet at Baccarat. It’s also why Roulette is so popular in Europe. If the casino operators here would change their rules, they would see a lot more action at their tables and would probably make just as much money, though it would be a smaller percentage of a lot more bets.

Roulette Systems: Do Any Work?

First and foremost, let me state that there is no betting system which can overcome the house edge at Roulette on a long term basis. 

It’s impossible because your bets aren’t paid off at ‘true’ odds.

Let’s say you and I were flipping a coin. In the long run, we’d expect heads to come up half the time and tails to come up the other half. Now, if I bet heads and you pay me $1 each time it shows, but I have to pay you only 95 cents when tails shows, I’d soon have all your $$$. That’s how the house wins at Roulette (and a lot of other games, for that matter).

But a lot of very smart people have, over the centuries, invested a lot of time in trying to beat the Roulette wheel. Stay with me here as I punch holes in all but one of their theories.

Ever hear the term, “Law of Averages”? I don’t know if there’s such a law in the world of mathematics or not, but it sure seems to make sense. 

If an event (like flipping a coin) should result in a 50-50 probability, when one ‘side’ gets ahead of another, the lagging side should, at some point, catch up. Well, yes and no. What actually happens is that as the sample size increases (the number of times the coin is flipped), the percentage difference between the two becomes smaller and smaller, but the actual number difference gets bigger.

For example, if we flip a coin 100 times, the result may be 49 heads and 51 tails. The percentage difference is 2% and the actual number difference is 2. If we flipped a coin 1000 times, the result could easily be 495 and 505. The percentage difference is 1%, which is less than our 100-flip trial, but the actual difference is 10, which is 5 times the difference!

Now, do you bet on percentages in Roulette, or actual numbers? Obviously it’s actual numbers and there’s no law in mathematics which says one side MUST catch up with the other. They’ll be close from a percentage point of view, but you may be betting in vain, in trying to play catch-up.

Yet, a lot of people see one color or another show up in a series of spins and think the other one should now appear. “It’s the Law of Averages”, they say. But look at it another way: What if the color which is showing up the most had been a ‘lagger’ for the past day, before you showed up?

Now it’s gotten ‘even’, but you think the other color is behind and start betting it. Make any sense?

Ever hear of the “Law of Independent Trials”? This one is real and it simply says that each spin of the Roulette wheel is independent of the others. If there are 18 red numbers and 38 total numbers, the odds of red coming up is 18 of 38 (47.36%), each and every spin.

The wheel doesn’t know it just came up red, or that it just came up red for the last 5 spins. At each round, the odds are the same. “But”, you may argue, “there’s no way red is going to come up all night, or even 10 times in a row”.

Well, it CAN come up 10 times in a row, but it is, admittedly, a rare event. In fact, the probability of 10 reds in a row is .0005676 or 1 in 1762. Interesting fact, but it won’t help you a bit, because it’s what we call a priori. That’s Latin for ‘before the fact’, and you’re not allowed to play Roulette that way.

When your $$$ are on the table, you’re in the game and at that point, anything can happen; it just might be the time when red comes up 12 times in a row.

But one guy thought about the little scenario above and stated, correctly, that red wasn’t going to show up forever. His name, evidently, was Martingale and he invented a betting system called, appropriately enough, the Martingale system.

His idea was to bet on a color (or odd or high, etc.) and if that bet lost, double the bet and put it on red again. By progressing the bets in this manner, eventually one would win and he’d get all his $$$ back. If Mr. Rogers was writing this, he’d say right here: “Can you say ‘house limit'”? Yes, that’s why the casinos have a maximum bet – to defeat Martingale system players.

A continued doubling of the bet will eventually run into the house limit where the bet cannot be placed. If a Roulette game has a $500 limit on the even-money bets, a $5 bet can be doubled just 6 times before another doubled bet will put it over the limit.

And the sad fact is that, with the Martingale, even when you do win the doubled bet, your profit is only what the original bet was. Start with $5, go to $10, then to $20, up to $40, $80 and $160 and if the $320 bet hits, you’ve made $5. Risk $320 to make $5? Thank you, no.

And that’s how it goes at Roulette, you think up a bunch of fancy schemes and none of them work. Remember, it’s all because you’re not being paid off at true odds. The house has an edge which can be overcome for a little while, but in the long run, forget it.

However, it you want to play, look around for casinos which have single-zero wheels and use the ‘en prison’ rule. (Sorry, I don’t know of any, but then again, I’m not out there looking for them). There is one other way, though……

‘Biased’ Wheels

Roulette wheels are mechanical devices and, like all machines, they sometimes break. It’s very possible for a Roulette wheel to get out of balance and to begin favoring certain numbers.

Not very likely, but possible. I’m sure that in the past, people have run across a so-called ‘biased’ wheel and have made some serious $$$, but the possibility of finding one today is pretty slim.

But keep your eyes open and remember that just because 8 has come up twice in the last 4 spins doesn’t mean the wheel has a bias. Most likely a bias will show up with the numbers from one quarter of the wheel being favored and, unless you’re able to stand there and record a ton of data, it’s difficult to see.

As always, I wish you luck.