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The History and Evolution of Roulette

Mathematician Blaise Pascal is credited with inventing the game of roulette back in the 17th century. After working on a perpetual motion machine, Pascal’s wheel formed the basis for a new game that would incorporate elements of numerous ancient pastimes. Most notable was the French lottery-style game Birbi where players placed counters on the numbers they wanted to back. However, when you delve deeper into the history books, today’s live and online roulette boards appear to have taken inspiration from a variety of additional sources.

For example, in Ancient China, a board game involving 37 animal figurines was popular. As we’ll explain later, the idea of having 37 numbers is one that was later adopted by modern roulette practitioners. Fast-forward to the Roman Empire and stories of soldiers spinning their shields in the hope of landing on a specific point also appear to have influenced today’s game. Naturally, like many things, the end product is always a combination of ideas that come from a variety of ambiguous sources.

However, what we do know is that Pascal’s early gaming wheel has since become one of the most popular casino games in the world. Indeed, regardless of whether you play live or online, roulette will always be part of the mix. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the game has evolved over the last few centuries and, in turn, what modern roulette looks like.


Roulette Wheel and Table

As we’ve said, Pascal’s perpetual motion machine formed the basis for early roulette wheels. By 1720, the Birbi hybrid was live and this introduced the idea of betting on certain points marked on a spinning wheel. The very first incarnation of a roulette board, E(ven) and O(dd) were the two main symbols. These early wheels featured 40 pockets (20 marked E, 20 marked O) and a section blacked out for house wins. As the popularity of E O roulette increased, players started to demand a greater amount of choice. From here, different countries in Europe started to introduce additional numbers.

For example, in 1796, the Palais Royal in Paris featured a numbered wheel containing two house pockets, 0 and 00. By 1843, casinos in Germany had removed the 00 option and used the numbers from 0 to 36 on the advice of Francois and Louis Blanc. This small but significant change reduced the house edge which, in turn, made the game more appealing to players. The single zero format soon became popular in Europe, but casino owners in the US decided to take a slightly different route and reintroduce the double zero option. In fact, there are examples of early American roulette tables featuring numbers 1 to 28, 0, 00 and an Eagle symbol (this additional symbol has since come back into fashion in Las Vegas).


Roulette Wheel and Numbers

By the mid-nineteenth century, the Blanc brother’s format had become a standard. In practice, this meant that all roulette wheels and tables had numbers running from 1 to 36. In addition to the main numbers, boards also featured a single zero or a double zero. Although most casinos now offer both variants, it’s generally the case that the single zero roulette layout is dominant in Europe and double zero is a standard in the US.






European Wheel

On a basic level, a European roulette wheel has 37 numbers ranging from 0 to 36. This set-up is reflected on the accompanying betting board. However, in the spirit of linking back to the original E O roulette games, there are extra options. So, in addition to betting on single numbers (or splitting numbers), which are known as “inside” bets, you can speculate on “outside” bets.

On a European roulette board, you’ll find the following outside bets:

  • Odd/Even
  • Red/Black
  • 1-18/19-36

A successful bet on any of the above pays out at even money (1:1). In addition to these outside bets, you’ll find 2:1 bets. These essentially cover 1/3 of the board with a single chip and are labelled in the following ways:

  • 1st 12
  • 2nd 12
  • 3rd 12
  • Column 1
  • Column 2
  • Column 3


American Wheel

The above format is also used for American roulette wheels. However, there is one seemingly minor difference. Instead of 37 numbers, there are 38. The extra number is the double zero (00) we referenced earlier. So, when you play, the board will have inside numbers that run from 0 and 00 to 36. Other than the additional number, everything else looks and feels the same in terms and outside bets.

However, the most important difference between European and American roulette is the odds. Although one extra number might not seem like a big deal, it actually doubles the house edge. In real terms, the casino has a 2.7% advantage on a European roulette board and a 5.2% advantage on an American roulette board. Therefore, even though the latter has more drama (i.e. you have more possibilities), the odds of winning are lower.


How to Play Roulette

Now we’ve given you the basics of how a roulette board looks in various parts of the world, let’s talk about the way you play. As you’ll have probably guessed by now, roulette is a game that requires you to guess which number/collection of numbers will appear on the roulette wheel. To decide which number/s appear, the wheel spins in one direction and a small ball is spun in the other direction by a croupier.

This combination of opposing spins ensures that the croupier has no control over the outcome. Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to predict where the ball is going to stop because the speed and force of each spin will always be slightly different.

Once the ball comes to a stop, the number it lands on will determine whether you’re a winner or not. To show you want we mean, let’s run through a quick scenario:

You walk up to a European roulette table and place three chips on the following: 12, Red and 3rd 12.

At this point, your bets will have covered the following number of options 12 = one number, Red = 18 numbers, 3rd 12 = 12 numbers.

The wheel is spun, and the croupier calls time. This means the ball is about to be spun and your bets are locked on the roulette board.

Eventually, the ball stops on the number 34.

Because 34 is a red number located in the 3rd 12 section of the board, two of your bets have won.

If we take the same scenario but the ball stops on 13, you’d lose because this number isn’t 12, is black and is in the 2nd 12 section of the roulette table.

That, in a nutshell, is how roulette works. The reason it’s become popular with players of all skill levels is because you can be as general or specific as you like. For those that want high returns, you can bet on individual numbers. For those that prefer to win more frequently, outside bets are better. For more on roulette rules and payouts, check out the next section.


Roulette Rules


All forms of roulette will have a general set of rules that include:

  • Bet amounts must be equal to or greater than the table minimum and not more than the table maximum.
  • Betting limits will vary. Limits are typically lower for inside bets than outside bets.
  • You have to make your bet before the croupier calls time.
  • Once you’ve made a bet, you have to wait until the croupier clears the table before collecting your winnings (only matters live).

In practice, the rules of roulette are fairly simple. As long as you stick to the right limits and get your bets down on time, that’s it. In terms of what you can win, payouts for each betting option are as follows:


Inside Bets

  • Straight Up/Single Number: This is a bet on just one number. Get this right and you’ll receive a 35:1 payout. 
  • Split: This is a bet on two adjacent numbers i.e. you’re splitting the two. The payout on a split bet is 17:1. 
  • Street: A street bet covers three numbers in row. When you place a chip on the end of a row and win, you’ll receive an 11:1 payout.
  • Quarter: To cover four numbers at once, you place a chip in the centre of an imaginary square. Doing this will split four numbers and earn you an 8:1 payout if successful.
  • Six-Line: This is two street bets rolled into one and is worth 5:1.
  • Top-Line Bet: This is a bet that’s exclusive to American roulette. To make this bet, place a chip on the line the runs through the middle of 0, 00 and 1, 2, 3. A successful top-line bet is worth 6:1.

Outside Bets

  • Dozen: Also referred to as 12s, cover 12 numbers and have payouts worth 2:1.
  • Column: Similar to dozen bets, columns payout at 2:1 and cover 12 numbers.
  • Red/Black: This bet allows you to speculate on whether the number that hits will be red or black. Wins are worth 1:1.
  • Odd/Even: By betting on the number being odd or even, you can win 1:1 on your bet.
  • High/Low: Also known as 1 to 18 and 19 to 36, these bets cover half the board and payout at 1:1.

Roulette Strategies and Tips

Okay, so now we’ve covered the basics, let’s think about the best way to play roulette. Although there are no guarantees when you play this or any other casino game, there are a few things you can do to improve your experience:

Bet what you can afford… The beauty of roulette is that you can be as general or specific as you like. Use this dynamic to your advantage and choose options that not only fit with your level of tolerance for risk but your budget.

Play in sessions… Staying focused for an extended period of time is tough. To ensure you don’t lose your concentration and make silly moves, split your playtime into sessions. As a general rule, bursts of 10/15 minutes should ensure you’re always on the ball.

Go for the double dozen… Perhaps the best way to play roulette is to bet on two 12s at the same time. Doing this allows you to cover 24 numbers with just two bets. What’s more, when you wager equal amounts, you can still make a profit if the right number comes in. In other words, if you bet £5 and £5, the potential return on either is £5. Therefore, you’ll make a £5 profit and have almost 66% of the roulette table covered.


Play Online Roulette

The final thing to look at when it comes to roulette is the evolution of the game online. Thanks to innovative software and some creative ideas, it’s now possible to play in a myriad of ways via your desktop or mobile. As a standard, European and American roulette are the most popular options inside any online casino. However, because virtual platforms don’t have the same space restrictions as live venues, new variants have emerged in recent years. A great example of this is multi-wheel roulette. Instead of betting on the outcome of a single wheel, you can speculate on as many as six.

Beyond the ability to try new variants, online roulette is great if you want to play for free. Using practice roulette tables, you can get a feel for the flow of a game, familiarise yourself with the general layout and try some betting techniques. More importantly, you can use practice roulette tables to have fun. Then, once you’re ready to win something tangible, you can play for real money by clicking a single button.

Okay, that’s great, but is online roulette fair? Absolutely. Just as the dealer has no control over the outcome in a live game, online casinos can’t influence the results in their own games. By using something known as a random number generator (RNG), casinos are able to offer games that are 100% fair. RNGs are audited and certified by third-party testing agencies and any operator without a fair system won’t be granted a gaming licence. Therefore, when you play roulette online for free or for real money, you can be confident the action is just as fair and entertaining as it was back in Pascal’s day.