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The Secrets of Roulette

I like watching documentaries that reveal the “secrets” behind various things. Sometimes these are “secrets” from the past. Sometimes these are current or contemporary “secrets.” The key word is always “secret” or “secrets” because don’t we all love secrets? 

I am sure that these “secrets” are known to a lot of people but they aren’t known to me. I just found out how the Taj Mahal was built and why it might be sinking. Yikes! Also, why it was built, rather for whose burial. And who else ultimately was buried there. These were all secrets to me.

So, this article might contain “secrets” you know about roulette or “secrets” that are new to you. I hope at least some of them are indeed new for you. 

The Meaning of the Game

Roulette means “little wheel” and the game was often credited to Blaise Pascal, the great mathematician. It seems to be a borrowing of some type from the Italian game of Biribi which was a board game. I don’t exactly know how that was done but I can tell you this: California Roulette does not allow a ball or a spinning wheel as a part of their roulette game. It uses cards. 

The American game of roulette is believed to have started in the wild, wild West (guns blazing, players and the house cheating, a wild, wild time was had by all) but the European game started in the salons of the wealthy and the aristocrats. 

James Bond’s favorite game was roulette, which he often played in Monte Carlo. He’d introduce himself this way: “Bond, James Bond.” His favorite number was 17 and it is believed that 17 is the most selected number in the game. The truth of this you will discover later in this article.

[Please note: As a high school kid I loved the Bond books and the Bond movies. I would swagger and introduce myself as “Scoblete, Frank Scoblete.” I didn’t impress a single girl by doing that so I ultimately dropped it from my pick-up-line repertoire. The stuff I substituted didn’t work either.]

Russian Roulette is not a game you want to play. It first appears in the short story “The Fatalist” in 1840, which was in “A Hero of Our Time” by Mikhail Lermontov. Sad to say there are actually people who play the game in today’s world. Maybe these folks think other people will respect them for being so daring. What do you think?

Teaming Up with the Casino

The casino is your partner in roulette.  How can that be? It’s simple really. Instead of paying you the true value of a winning bet, the casino taxes you a percentage of your win for themselves. With 38 possible pockets for the ball to fall into, the odds of a hit are 37 to one. You win one, you lose 37.

But for the casinos to make a profit, they can’t do that. If they paid 37 to one, they would go out of business because they would just be breaking even. Therefore, they pay back 35 to one, which means they are keeping two units for themselves. Thus, that makes them the winning player’s partner. The casino uses this technique in other games as well, most notably craps.

To be precise: The American game of roulette has two green pockets (0, 00) and 36 numbers. It is often referred to as the “double-zero game.”

The European game has only one green pocket (0) and is often referred to as the single-zero game.

Here is the kicker: The American game was developed in Europe and the European game was developed in America. It’s a strange, strange world. Well, not as strange as someone who enjoys playing Russian Roulette.

roulette table

A Global Game

The 19th century saw roulette span the globe. It seems that players just loved the “little wheel” and couldn’t get enough of it. Today roulette is played all over the world except in countries dominated by religions that believe gambling is a dastardly sin. 

Some religions actually have casino nights or Las Vegas nights as fundraisers. The games offered are usually a far cry from the casino versions of those games. For example, in roulette they offer games that have three green zeros (0, 00, 000). These are awful games but I guess to support one’s religion that is okay.

Roulette is found on the Internet too. Players are often given the choice of playing the double-zero wheel or a single-zero wheel. What is the difference between them? The difference is BIG.

The single-zero wheel has a house edge of 2.7 percent. The double-zero wheel has a house edge of 5.26 percent. Let’s translate that into money. You lose $2.70 for every $100 you wager on the single-zero wheel. You lose $5.26 for every $100 you wager on the double-zero wheel. 

So, should you play the single-zero wheel if you get the chance? Yes … and no. If everything is the same in terms of betting levels, then yes. However, if you need to bet more to play single-zero, then you must see if your possible losses will be greater at that wheel than on the double-zero wheel.

Sometimes we have to do the math. Sometimes a better game is not always a better game if you have to increase how much you wager.

Devil Wheel

Uh-oh. Is the devil involved in roulette? Some alarmists think so. If you add up the actual numbers of 1 through 36 it comes to 666 which is the Biblical number of the beast. Do the churches that offer Vegas nights know this? If they do, why do they continue to offer the game? Does that scare you? I think this would make a good movie.

If you are looking for a biased wheel, meaning a wheel that is off and landing the same number or numbers out of all proportion to their probability, then settle down. In the good old days, the wheels were handcrafted and some of the pockets were deeper than others, allowing the ball to be captured more easily. This could cause a biased wheel to exist.

Are there biased wheels today? I doubt it. Today’s wheels are finely tuned. The pockets are shallow and the wheels are constantly being checked. Although many players hope for these wheels to exist and hope to find these wheels to take advantage of them, the probability is close to zero. Sorry.

[Please note: My wife the Beautiful AP and I actually did play a biased wheel in the early 1990’s in Las Vegas. It was totally by accident that we discovered it but it wasn’t by accident that we played it starting at $5 on each of three numbers and going up and up until the pit boss closed the table. The table was almost full and no one was betting the three biased numbers but us! That was a “wow!” moment in our gambling careers. It seems nobody noticed how often one of these three numbers came up. That’s the only time we ever experienced this.]

Multi Number Combined Bets

Cutting the House Edge

Can you reduce the house edge at all? The answer would usually be “no” for most casino games but there are two possible options available at some casinos; one at double-zero games and one at single-zero games. These options are absolutely terrific.

On the double-zero games the option is called surrender. On the even-money bets of red/black, odd/even or high/low, if the result is either 0 or 00, the casino will only take half your bet. That reduces the house edge in half to 2.63 percent. Not too bad.

On the single-zero wheel if those even-money wagers land, only one-half of the bet is taken by their option called en prison. The casino just let’s that bet ride for the next spin. That also reduces the house edge in half to 1.35 percent. Amazingly good for a casino wager!  One of the best in all of the casino.

Beating the game for life? Has that been done by anyone? Yes, maybe. That is certainly the dream of many roulette players, isn’t it?

There could be players who win on their first game, or their first bet, and quit forever. They will never play again. Would that count? I doubt it. I think we all think that the amount won should be somewhat substantial. Not a $10 even-money wager. But there is one big winner in the next paragraph who won big on one bet and retired!

Charles Wells won 2 million Francs in 1881 in Monte Carlo. Dr. Richard Jarecki won $1.25 million in various casinos. Chris Boyd won $440,000 in 1994 in Las Vegas. Ashley Revell won $270,000 in 2004 in Las Vegas on one bet and then he retired. Sir Philip Green won $2 million in 2004 in London. Pedro Bartelle won $3.5 million in 2017 in Rio de Janeiro. There have been a few others as well.

Going Streaking

Streaks happen in roulette as they happen in all casino games. The longest streak of one color was 32 reds coming up in a row. I can’t prove this happened but it makes for a good story nevertheless. Poor black, it only came up 17 times. True or false? I don’t really know for sure. I’d hate to be playing the Martingale if I was at the table when either of those two streaks occurred.

The zeroes were often colored blue at roulette and in some casinos they still might be. Why were most changed to green? Green seems to be a more pleasant color to designers who work for the casinos. If you look around your favorite casino you might very well see the hand and the artistry of the designers. They work in color while the bosses of the casinos work in math and money.

Those roulette zeroes used to be called “casino numbers” as some early games had the zeroes automatically beat all the other numbers. These zeroes were not numbers on which the players could bet. As time passed casinos allowed every number to be bet by reducing the payouts on winning wagers. Yes, that is why they are now the partners of the winners.

In 1963 James Bond, meaning the actor Sean Connery, actually won a load of money by betting on the number 17 and winning. Perhaps this is what started the number 17 craze that seems to still be with us today. He bet the number 17 three times in a row before it hit. This is a little-known fact and probably created the greatest roulette streak of all time – players betting 17. 

What is the most annoying thing to happen at a roulette table according to roulette players? Someone winning a lot of money? No. Someone not talking the proper language of the game? No. Someone moaning because they lost some money? No. It is this: Someone knocking over your chips when they are making their bets. This can enrage other players. Hey, it annoys me and I am very mellow when I gamble.

Roulette is tied for second place with craps as the players’ favorite casino table game. Can you guess the number one game? Yes, of course, it’s blackjack. That came about in the early 1960s with the publication of the book “Beat the Casino” by Ed Thorp. Players thought they could beat blackjack and they therefore played it. (Actually, some few could actually beat the game.)

How loyal are the players who follow roulette? When you go to a roulette table you often have new players but you more often have players who have played the game for years and perhaps decades. 

In many ways roulette seems to be the quintessential casino game. It is colorful. It offers many different bets. The payouts on some bets are large. The payouts on other bets make the game’s pattern a close contest between players and casinos. Yes, the house edge remains the same but the pattern of wins and losses changes with how the players choose to make their bets.

Oh, and don’t tell these secrets to anyone else. They are between us.

All the best in and out of the casinos!

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