On the grand scale of American casino games, roulette has one of the smallest followings, with nowhere near the popularity of slot machines, video poker, blackjack, or craps. It draws more players than baccarat, mostly because the baccarat pits have traditionally been closed to low-budget players. But roulette is in danger of being passed in popularity by newer games such as Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride. In Europe, on the other hand, roulette draws big crowds. It is one of the mainstays of Monte Carlo and other European resorts.
The difference is the 00 featured on the American wheel, which is not placed on the French wheel in use at European casinos. The French wheel has 36 numbers plus a single 0; the American wheel has 36 numbers plus 0 and 00. All bets at both wheels are paid at odds that would be true if only the 36 numbers existed. The house advantage in roulette comes from the 0 on the French wheel and the 0 and 00 on the American wheel.
The bottom line is that American roulette players buck a house edge of 5.26 percent on all bets but one, which carries a 7.89 percent house edge. European players face only a 2.7 percent edge, and that is lowered to 1.4 percent on even-money bets by a rule called en prison, which is described later in this article. At 1.4 percent, roulette becomes competitive with other casino games; at 5.26 percent, it's a very difficult game to beat.
A few French wheels are in use in the United States mostly in high-limit rooms. They usually carry larger minimum bets than American wheels -- but a player in these areas who plans to make larger bets and wants to play roulette should seek out a French wheel.
Even at the higher house advantage on an American wheel, most casino-goers sit in for a few spins sooner or later. It can be an entertaining, relaxing way to spend some time. The dealer -- the French may call them croupiers, but in the United States they're dealers -- gives players plenty of time to choose among the dozens of available betting combinations; then it takes time to spin the wheel and the ball before a winner is determined.
So while craps moves at 100 or so rolls per hour and blackjack about 60 hands per hour, roulette moves at a more stately pace -- roughly 45 spins per hour. Facing fewer decisions per hour, the roulette player who bets $5 per spin faces an expected loss per hour only slightly higher than that of an average blackjack player who has not learned basic strategy. In this article, you will learn the basics of roulette, as well as how and when to bet, to increase your odds of winning. Let's begin by getting you familiar with the equipment and rules of the game.
Equipment and Table Personnel
Roulette is played at an elongated table. At one end is a wheel, with a notch in the table where the dealer stands. The table is covered with a felt layout with boxes for the numbers 1 through 36 arranged in three columns and 12 rows. At the end of the portion of the layout closest to the dealer, above the numbers 1, 2, and 3, are boxes for 0 and 00. Each of the numbers 1 through 36 is surrounded by either a red or black oval or rectangle. The 0 and 00 have green backgrounds. This rectangular grid, with a box for each number, is used for wagers called "inside bets."
Outside the numbered boxes are several other boxes for "outside bets," encompassing up to 18 numbers at a time. Most of the areas for outside bets are on the long side of the table across from the dealer. However, at the end of the rectangle away from the dealer are boxes for bets on each 12-number column.
The wheel itself has 38 numbered slots, each with the same colored background as the corresponding number on the table layout. The small, hard ball used to be made of ivory; now it is usually plastic. The dealer spins the wheel in one direction, then spins the ball in the opposite direction around a track on the bowl-shaped recess that holds the wheel. When the speed of the ball decreases, it falls off the track toward the wheel itself, and bounces around until it settles in a numbered slot.
Regular casino chips are not usually used at a roulette table. Instead, when the player places money on the layout and asks for chips, the dealer will give out special roulette chips. Each player gets a different color of chips so the dealer can keep track of which chips belong to which player. Because the house does not want to get in a dispute over what chips belong to whom, couples or friends playing together may not share chips. Even husbands and wives playing together are required to play separate colors.
The dealer also will ask the player what denomination to designate the chips. At a $5 minimum table, for example, the player usually may designate each chip to be worth $1, but has the option of making them worth $5, $10, or any other denomination. Once the designation has been made, the dealer will place a chip atop a rail near the wheel, then place a marker atop it to indicate the value of that color chip for that session.
Because the next player to use the same color chips may designate a different value, roulette chips have no value away from the roulette wheel. The cashier's cage will not accept them. When ready to leave the table, place all remaining roulette chips on the layout and ask the dealer to cash out. The dealer will exchange them for the equivalent amount of regular casino chips.
Seats at the roulette table are for players only. Even if a nonplayer sits down when only one player is at the table, the dealer will ask the nonplayer to move.
Play begins after the dealer has cleared off all losing bets and paid all winners from the previous spin. Players are given time to put down bets by placing chips on the layout before the dealer starts the spin. After the spin has begun, players may keep betting until the ball is about to drop from the track at the top of the wheel down toward the numbered slots. Then the dealer will call, "No more bets."
The ball will bounce around, then finally settle in one slot. Next the dealer will place a marker on the layout on the corresponding number -- or on top of any chips that have been bet on that number. The dealer will then clear away all losing bets and pay off all those who have bet on the winning number or on combinations including the winning number. When all that is done, the dealer will lift the marker off the number on the layout, and betting may begin again.
Deciding how many chips to place where on the roulette table depends on what type of bet you want to make. In the next section, we'll review the difference between inside and outside bets, and some betting systems used by experienced players.
Roulette Betting Tips
Knowing which type of bet to make is important for players who want to hodl their own at the roulette table.
Each table will carry a placard describing the minimum and maximum bets at the table. For example, it might read, "Roulette. $5 minimum inside bets, $5 minimum outside bets. $1,000 maximum outside, $100 maximum inside." Table maximums usually are lower on inside bets because of the higher payoffs offered. The odds are exactly the same as on outside bets, but most casinos are loath to risk losing $35,000 at one shot on a $1,000 bet on one number.
Though the listed minimums for inside and outside bets are likely to be the same, they don't mean the same thing. A player betting the $5 minimum on inside bets is allowed to spread five $1 chips around on different bets on the inside. However, the minimum for outside bets means the player must wager the entire $5 on each outside bet. Betting $1 on evens, $1 on red, $1 on the first 12, $1 on the first 18, and $1 on the first column doesn't satisfy the minimum.
The player may make any of the bets by placing a chip or chips on the appropriate spot. However, the size of the table may make it difficult to reach some betting areas. To place a bet you can't reach, put the chips on the table and ask the dealer to put them on the desired bet for you. If you aren't sure how to make outside or inside bets, check the information below.
Red or black: There are 18 numbers with red backgrounds and 18 with black backgrounds. A bet on red pays off if the ball stops in the slot by any of the 18 red numbers; a bet on black pays off if the ball lands on any of the black numbers. A winning red or black bet pays even money -- the player keeps the original bet and gets an equal amount in winnings.
Odd or even: Another even-money bet. The player is betting that either one of the 18 odd numbers (1, 3, 5, and so forth) or one of the 18 even numbers (2, 4, 6, and so forth) will be chosen.
1 through 18, 19 through 36: Also for even money, a bet on whether the ball will stop on any of the first 18 numbers or any of the last 18 numbers.
The house gets its edge from 0 and 00 -- they are neither red nor black, neither odd nor even, neither part of the first 18 nor the last 18. If the ball lands on 0 or 00, all even-money bets -- in fact, all outside bets -- lose.
In casinos offering a French wheel with the en prison rule, the player does not lose an even money bet when the 0 comes up. Instead, the bet is "in prison" -- the player does not lose the wager, but it remains in effect for the next spin. If the bet wins on the next spin, it is released, and the player may pull it back. The bet may not remain in prison on consecutive spins -- a second consecutive 0 makes the bet a loser. This is a very favorable rule for the player, and one that is rare in the United States.
Dozens: Wagers on the first 12 numbers, second 12, or third 12 pay 2-1.
Columns: Wagers on any of the three columns on the grid pay 2-1. Because the grid is arranged in 12 rows of three consecutive numbers (1-2-3 is the first row, 4-5-6 the second, and so on), each number in a column is three higher than the one before.
Single number: Bets on individual numbers, including 0 and 00, are placed by putting a chip or chips fully inside a numbered box. If a single-number bet hits, it pays 35-1. (Remember, however, that the true odds are 37-1.)
Split: This is a wager on two numbers, and it pays 17-1. Make a split bet by placing a chip so that it straddles the line between two numbers.
Street: A three-number bet, paying 11-1, is made by placing a chip on the line separating outside bets from the inside, indicating a row of three consecutive numbers.
Corner: A chip is placed at the intersection of a horizontal line with a vertical line inside the layout. This indicates a bet on the four adjacent numbers, and it pays 8-1.
Five-number: For the worst bet on the table, place a chip so that it lies on the line separating the inside from the outside, while straddling the horizontal line between 0-00 and 1-2-3. This bet pays 6-1 and carries a 7.89 percent house edge. The five-number bet does not exist on the French wheel because of the absence of 00.
Double street: Just as on the street bet, place a chip on the line separating the outside from the inside, but let it straddle the horizontal line between two rows. That gives you six numbers in two consecutive three-number rows, and the bet pays 5-1.
Special note: Watch for your payoffs. On winning inside bets, most dealers will push the winnings to you but leave the original bet in place. After the dealer has finished payoffs and is ready for the next round of bets, it is up to you to move the original bet if you do not want to make the same wager. Some dealers will leave the winnings on the layout, and if you do not wish to bet it all on the next spin, you must remove it. It is common for the dealer to leave the winnings on outside bets next to the original bet. It is up to you to move the chips when the dealer is ready.
Roulette Betting Strategy
Roulette is a game of pure chance, and barring exceptional circumstances, no strategy can overcome the built-in house percentage. Play your birthday, your anniversary, last week's winning lottery numbers -- in the long run, it makes no difference. Either you get lucky or you don't. For most players, roulette has no element of skill.
That being said, rare exceptions do exist. Sometimes a bored longtime dealer gets in a groove and releases the ball at exactly the same angle and velocity nearly every time. A very small number of players can spot what numbers are passing as the dealer releases the ball. With that knowledge, they can predict at a better-than-chance rate approximately where the ball will fall. The player then either bets or signals a partner to bet accordingly.
The second exception comes when the wheel itself shows a bias. Perhaps the wheel is off balance, or a slight track has been worn on the wood leading down to the numbers, or the metallic walls, or frets, between numbers are of slightly different heights or tensions. This is rare, for most casinos check the wheel carefully on a regular basis. And spotting a truly biased wheel means tracking play for thousands of spins -- the same number showing up three times in half a dozen spins does not mean the wheel is biased.
Many casinos now have an electronic display at roulette wheels showing the last 12 or 18 numbers. Some players like to play any number that shows up twice or more in that span -- or to bet the last several numbers that have come up -- in hopes that the wheel is biased. Others like to match the bets of any other player at the table who has been winning, hoping the other player has discovered a bias. Neither system is likely to pay off, but they're as good as any other system.
Perhaps because roulette moves more slowly than other casino games, players seem more inclined to use betting systems, especially on even-money bets. In the long run, none of them helps. No betting system can change the game's percentages, and some systems can be financial disasters for the player. Here are a few that have persisted for decades.
Martingale: The player doubles his bet after each loss. When a win eventually comes, it leaves the player with a profit equal to his original bet. That is, if the player bets $5 on black and loses, he then bets $10; if that loses, he bets $20, and so on. A win at the $20 level overcomes the $5 and $10 losses and leaves the player with a $5 profit. The player then goes back to the original bet level.
This sounds good in theory -- keep betting until you win once, and you have a profit. In practice, you run into very large numbers very quickly, and run up against maximum bet limits. Staying with the $5 starting point, the fourth bet is $40, then $80, $160, $320. If the table maximum is $500, you're past it on the next bet -- after seven losses, you cannot bet the $640 necessary to wipe out the $635 in previous losses and start a new sequence.
Streaks of seven or more losses do happen about once in every 121 sequences, and you have no way to tell when a streak is going to happen. And on that eighth bet, the house still has a 5.26 percent edge, as it does on every spin. The wheel has no memory -- it does not know that seven consecutive red numbers have come up -- and the streak does not change the odds on the next spin. Besides that, having lost $635, do you really want to risk $640 more for a $5 profit?
Grand martingale: This is an even worse, even faster way to lose money. Instead of merely doubling the bet, after a loss the player doubles the bet and adds another unit. So if the starting unit is $5, the next bet is $15 ($5 doubled, plus another $5 unit), followed by $35, then $75, $155, and so on. The Grand Martingale player runs up against a $500 limit after only six losses, by which time he will have lost $600.
Cancellation: Not as dangerous as the Martingales, but no solution, either. The player starts with a number or series of numbers and bets the total on either end. If he wins, he crosses off -- cancels -- the numbers just played. If he loses, he adds the total just played to the end of the series. When all numbers have been canceled, the result is a profit equal to the sum of the original numbers.
For example, let's say our $5 bettor starts with the series 2-3 for the $5 starting point. If he wins, he has a $5 profit and starts a new series. If he loses, the series becomes 2-3-5, and the next bet is $7 -- the sum of the numbers on either end. A win at $7 would cancel the 2 and the 5, leaving $3 as the next bet. A win at $3 completes the $5 profit.
All very tidy, but a perfectly ordinary sequence such as a loss, a win, two losses, a win, three losses brings the sequence to 3-3-6-9, with a $12 bet on the line and two wins needed to close out the sequence. The cancellation player doesn't run into the huge sums of money a Martingale player must bet, but can wind up making bets considerably larger than the starting point and running up losses.
Roulette looks like an easy game to try because it relies solely on chance. But the real skill comes in knowing how to bet before the wheel stops.
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