Is roulette a money sink or a treasure trove. The game is all red, black, green, metallic, and spinny. Some might even call it hypnotic.
Along with craps, blackjack, and baccarat, roulette is one of the most popular table games in the casino. This simple game of physics and chance has kept gamblers enthralled for over 200 years.
If you're a beginner to the game, we have some strategies to offer. Most of them are based having a better understanding of the game so that you'll enjoy it more. I firmly believe that understanding the game you're playing is the first step to enjoying it.
But before I get into the tips, let me remind you of the most important thing about roulette—and about all other casino games:
The house has a mathematical edge over the player.
This is called the house edge. Click on that link for a detailed explanation of what the house edge is and how it works to separate gamblers and their money.
The bottom line is that there is no betting system or strategy that will get you an edge over the house in roulette. You might get lucky and win in the short run, but that's an example of standard deviation. If you play a game with a house edge long enough, you'll eventually go broke. That's just how the math works.
All of that being said, here are the strategy tips for beginners that I promised you:
In the movies, in cartoons, in TV shows, where there's a guy on a table filled with numbers surrounded by people, and there's another man, the croupier at the end who places a tiny metal ball in the spinning red-and-black-and-sometimes-green wheel?
Here's how it works:
The spinning wheel has 37 or 38 pockets in it. The metal ball that is spun around the edge of the wheel lands in one of those pockets. You can bet on which pocket it lands in, and if you're right, you get paid off. If you're wrong, you lose your wager.
The wheel spins one direction. The ball travels in the other direction. 18 of the pockets are colored red. 18 are colored black. 1 or 2 are colored green, depending on whether you're playing a European style game or an American style game. Half the numbers are odd; half are even.
You can bet on a specific number and get paid off at 35 to 1 if you win. If you're paying close attention, you'll see that this isn't a break even bet. There are 37 or 38 pockets, so the bet would have to pay off at 36 to 1 or 37 to 1 to break even.
There's also a certain order of things involved so that you're not betting out of turn. For example, once the croupier announces "no more bets" then there are no more bets. And a play is only valid when the ball completes 3 revolutions around the spinning wheel.
Once the winning number and the winning colors are determined, the croupier places a dolly on the table. Once that's on the table, no player can place, collect, or remove bets. The croupier then sweeps away the losing bets and figure out the payouts to the winning bets remaining.
You can place any number of bets on the final outcome. I cover the options available and the house edge in the next tip.
An American roulette wheel has 38 slots: 1-36, and the numbers 0 and 00. Here's how the payouts work:
For straight-up bets, that is, picking one particular number, you win are 35 to 1. But the odds of winning are 37 to 1.
For column bets, (any number on the vertical column), you win 2 to 1. But your odds of winning are slightly more than that, because if the ball lands on the 0 or the 00, you'll lose. That's 12 numbers that could possibly win, and 26 that might lose. That's 13 to 6, or 2.17 to 1.
Betting on any dozen (1-12, 13-24, 25-36) pays out at 2 to 1 odds too. Your odds of winning this bet are also 2.17 to 1.
Betting on just red or black; 1-18 or 19-36; or even or odd allows you to win an even money payout. But the odds of winning that bet are 20 to 18, or 10 to 9. That's 1.11 to 1 odds.
In all those bets, the house edge can be expressed as a percentage. And it's the same for each of those bets—5.26%
If all the bets have the same house edge, how can some bets be more volatile than others?
That's because if you're willing to accept a lower payoff, you can win more often.
If you bet on a single number, you'll win, on average, once every 38 spins. But if you bet on blackjack, you'll win, on average, 18 times during every 38 spins. Either way, you'll lose in the long run. But you'll lose more slowly if you stick with the outside bets.
Here are the inside bets to avoid if you're wanting to last for a little while at the roulette table:
Straight/Single: Betting on a single number pays off at 35 to 1.
Split: Betting on two vertically or horizontally adjacent numbers, such as 14/17 and 8/9 pays off at 17 to 1.
Street: Betting on three consecutive numbers in a horizontal line, like, 7, 8, 9 pays off at 11 to 1.
Corner/Square: Betting on four numbers that meet at one corner. (i.e., 10-11-13-14) pays off at 8 to 1.
Six Line/Double Street: Betting on six consecutive numbers that form two horizontal lines. This one pays off at 5 to 1.
Trio: A three-number bet that involves at least one zero. This one pays off at 11 to 1.
Basket/First Four: Betting on 0-1-2-3 pays off at 8 to 1.
Top line: Bet on 0-00-1-2-3. This, by the way, is the only bet on the roulette table that doesn't have a house edge of 5.26%. The house edge on this bet is actually worse—7.89%. Never place this bet. This is one of only 2 real reasonable strategy tips on the page, actually. You should always place bets where you have the lowest house edge. Any bet on the table has a lower house edge than this one.
Although they have a smaller payout when you win, outside bets are easier to win.
But keep in mind that that all these bets lose if a zero pops up.
The outside bets include:
High (19-36) or Low (1-18) pays off at even money, but your odds of winning are 1.11 to 1.
Red or black offers the same payoff and odds.
Even or odd also offers the same payoffs and odds.
Dozens bet – This is a bet that the number will be in the chosen dozen (1-12, 13-24, or 25-36). This one pays off at 2 to 1, but the actual odds of winning are 2.17 to 1.
Columns bet – This is a bet that a number will be chosen in a particular vertical column of 12 numbers. The chip is placed on the space right below the final number in this sequence. It offers the same payoff and same odds of winning as the dozens bet.
Snake bet – This bet covers the following numbers: 1, 5, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 23, 27, 30, 32, 34. It has the same payoff as the dozen bet, but it’s called a snake because it zig-zags throughout those numbers. This one is not always available, so be mindful of the guidelines are the particular table.
Most roulette systems involve raising and lowering the size of your bets based on your previous results. The most popular of these systems is called The Martingale System. It requires you to double your bet after every loss.
Here's how that works:
You bet $5 on black. You lose. So on your next bet, you place a $10 wager on black. On your third bet, you bet $20. You win. You've won back the $15 you lost on the 2 previous bets, and you have a $5 profit to show for it.
This sounds good in theory, but there are 2 big problems:
Other betting systems work in a similar manner, but none of them eliminate the house edge in the long run.
Everything I've written so far applies to American roulette, only. A European roulette differs from an American wheel in one huge respect:
There's only one 0.
The 0 and the 00 are where the house gets its edge in roulette. If you get rid of one of those 2 numbers, you almost cut the house edge in half. The house edge on an American style table is 5.26% on almost all of the bets.
But the house edge on European roulette is 2.70%.
And some European tables have additional rules that cut the house edge even further. They allow you to put a bet "en prison" if you lose, and if you win the 2nd bet, you get your bet back. This cuts the house edge to 1.35%, making this game comparable to a lot of the other table games in the casino.
Playing European roulette instead of American roulette is the 2nd piece of real strategy advice on this page. I've said it before, but I'll say it again:
Always look for the bet with the lowest house edge, no matter what kind of gambling you're doing.
Casino gambling is, in the long run, a losing proposition. The house almost always has the edge. The only exceptions are for advantage gamblers who learn specific strategies to give them an edge over the house—people like card counters at the blackjack table, or video poker aficionados who have memorized the correct strategies and play only at the best machines.
Since you'll lose more often than not, you should only take the money to the casino with you that you can afford to lose. Think of that money as an entertainment expense. If you walk away a winner—and you will, sometimes—great. If not, you won't be disappointed.
If you find that you can't quit, and you start gambling with money you need for other uses (like rent), you might have some kind of impulse control problem. Gambling addiction is a serious condition. Treat it seriously and seek help if you need it.
There are no roulette strategies for beginners which can turn a negative expectation game like this one into a positive expectation game. In fact, there are no roulette strategies for veterans which can do that, either.
The best way to "win" at roulette is to accept that it's a long-term losing proposition and play accordingly. There's nothing wrong with playing a negative expectation game as long as you go into it with your eyes wide open.
Whatever you do, stay away from betting systems like the Martingale. Those are nothing more than a recipe for occasional small wins and rare huge losses.