Roulette is one of those classic casino games that most people are familiar with even if they've never gambled. You probably know about roulette's big spinning wheel, even though you're not exactly a casino person. Roulette is fun. It can be loud. It's a social game that allows big wagers and some long odds. But roulette is also a deeply-misunderstood game that comes in a lot of varieties and (if played right) offers some of the best odds on the casino floor.
If you've never set foot in a casino or played roulette, and you want to learn how to play, you've come to the right place. This page is designed to turn you from a rank amateur to an old hand over the course of a few thousand words. This page contains an FAQ, notes on the game's history, thoughts on odds and bets, a step-by-step guide to playing the game, and plenty more inside information, all compiled in such a way as to turn you into a seasoned roulette player in half an hour.
Let's start with a useful introduction to the game in the form of a short FAQ:
What is roulette?
Roulette is a French word meaning "little wheel." The name is a reference to the game's main prop – a spinning wheel marked with red and black numbers. A dealer launches a silver ball into this spinning wheel. Wherever the ball lands is the winning number for that round. Roulette is something like a lottery game with a single number drawing, or a game of bingo in which every number called represents a possible win.
Roulette players can gamble on the outcome of each round with a surprising variety of wager types. Some bets ask you only to guess some small aspect of the winning number, such as its number, for a payout of 1:1. Other roulette bets pay larger prizes in exchange for longer odds. The game's largest payout comes from a single-number wager. Guess the specific winning number correctly and you'll win a payout of 35:1.
Roulette requires more than just a spinning wheel and silver ball. The game requires a specific betting surface, marked with a dozen specific types of bets as well as the full field of available numbers, for single-number wagers. Roulette is also a genteel game, slow-paced, operated by a single dealer. If you find yourself at a roulette table in a Vegas casino, you'll probably see 40-60 spins per hour, depending on how many players are at the table. How slow is that? It's about 1/10th the pace of a slot machine, and one of the slowest games on the casino floor.
Why is roulette so popular?
It's hard to imagine a casino without a roulette wheel. The game's trademark table, with its spinning wheel and complex betting surface, is as closely identified with gambling as the lever of a slot machine or the tumbling of craps dice. We dig deep into the history of the game towards the end of the page, but for now, just know that roulette's roots lie in the 18th century in France. How is it that an obscure gambling wheel game took hold in America to the point that we can't imagine a casino without it?
We think roulette's popularity is due to the fact that the game is so adaptable. Bettors can gamble on longshot odds or place safer wagers that are more likely to maintain a steady bankroll. A bet on a single number gives you about a 1 in 38 chance of winning, while a wager on red or black gives you about an 18 in 38 chance of winning. That means bettors of all stripes can step up and play, those who like to take risks, and those who like short odds wagers.
Another big reason for the game's popularity – its unique gameplay. No other game uses a spinning wheel and bouncing ball. The game's props have a magnetic appeal. It's tough to not get excited watching the ball bounce around, hoping for your bet to pay off. So, to put it another way, roulette is popular because it's fun.
Isn't roulette a huge waste of money?
We get this question about every gambling game in existence. The answer is easy – if you don't enjoy roulette, or if you don't enjoy gambling, then it probably is a waste of money. If, on the other hand, you don't mind paying for a little entertainment, just like we do for everything else in our lives, then roulette isn't a waste of money at all.
First of all, there's always the possibility of a big win. If you walk up to a roulette table, put $5 on number 14, and then that number comes up, you'll be $175 richer. You've just "wasted" a minute of your time in exchange for $175. Not such a waste anymore, is it? The odds of a single number bet paying off are long – so let's say you walk up and bet that same $5 on black. If black comes up, you've now got $10 in your hand. Is $10 a minute really a waste of money?
There's no way to convince people who hate gambling that roulette isn't a waste of time. But for gamblers, or people who play the lottery, roulette is easy to explain. The fun is in the tense moments waiting for the ball to finally stop on a number. Payouts, rare as they can be, are just the icing on the cake.
Let's say you're playing roulette for $10 a bet in Las Vegas. You're a conservative player, so you're sticking to even-money bets, like red/black or odd/even. By standard Vegas rules, you're playing against a house edge of 5.26%. At 50 hands per hour, your expected losses are just $26.30 each hour. It's cheaper than taking your family to dinner and a movie. If $27 an hour is a waste of money to you, gambling is probably never going to be appealing.
Let's start with a general note about European and American roulette.
Two basic types of roulette game exist. One version comes from the European tradition; the other is a purely-American game. Most European casinos host Euro-style games, and most American casinos host American-style games. There is some overlap, but for the most part, if you gamble in the US, you're going to play with American rules, and vice versa.
Some cosmetic differences exist, but the main difference between the two styles is that the American game has 38 possible spaces for the ball to land in while the European game has just 37. The American game adds a single space (a green space marked "00") to the European game's compliment of the numbers 1 – 36 and a single green space marked "0". The American game, by adding a single green space, gives the house a much larger edge against the player compared to the European game. Standard European roulette games give the house an edge of 2.7%. The addition of the "00" space on the American wheel nearly doubles that edge to 5.26%.
In live casinos in America, you'll occasionally find a European-rules game. We discuss why you should always choose this version of the game if it is available later, in the strategy section. For now, just know playing roulette on either American or European tables is pretty much identical, and is very simple. Each game has three basic phases that it passes through. First, players place their bets. Second, the wheel is spun and the ball is tossed in. In the final phase, a marker is placed on the betting surface indicating the winning number, and all bets are settled.
Players place their bets on a trademark grid of betting spaces. We explain the various bets available in a section below. Bets are placed on the board in the space provided, ranging from single-number wagers to bets on various collections of numbers and number features.
When the dealer is ready, he'll spin the wheel, then toss a ball bearing in the opposite direction of the wheel's spin. He'll announce "No more bets!" as the ball begins its spin. Once the ball has settled into a colored slot, the dealer places a marker on that space's corresponding spot on the betting layout. All losing bets are cleared away, into the table's coffer, and winners are paid out based on their winning bet and bet amount. A single dealer controls the entire table, the wheel, the ball, and payouts. That contributes to the game's slow pace. A full table may see as few as 40 decisions per hour.
The first thing you need to learn to become a roulette player is what types of bets are available. The section below will bring you up to speed on the various roulette bets available, their probability, and their payout.
What we refer to in this section as "roulette bets" are just spots on the roulette table where you can place wagers. While many roulette wheels offer specialty bets or bets based on house rules, we're positive that memorizing the following eleven will prepare you to step up to any roulette table in the world with confidence:
1. Straight-Up Bet
A straight-up (or "single number") bet is a wager placed on one number (one betting space) in hopes that that specific number will come up on the next spin. This bet has the game's largest payout at 35:1.
2. Split Bet
A split bet is a wager placed on any two adjacent numbers (across two betting spaces) in hopes that one of those two numbers will come up on the next spin. This bet has a payout of 17:1.
3. Corner Bet
A corner bet is a wager placed on any set of four numbers that share an intersection on the betting surfaces, across four betting spaces. The game includes 22 of these four-number sets. Corner bets have a payout of 8:1.
4. Line Bet
Sometimes called a street bet, a line bet is a wager placed on any set of three numbers on a line on the betting surface. These sets of numbers are called streets, for their horizontal shape. Line bets pay out at a rate of 11:1.
5. Column Bet
A column bet is a wager placed on twelve numbers at once. These numbers exist on three columns at the end of the single-number section of the roulette layout. Column bets pay out at a rate of 2:1.
6. Six Numbers Bet
A six numbers bet is a wager placed on any set of six neighboring numbers on the betting surface. It's basically equal to a double line bet, as described above. The payout for this bet is 5:1.
7. Dozens Bet
Similar to a column bet, a dozen bet is a wager placed on any of a set of twelve numbers on the betting surface. The twelve numbers covered by the three Dozens bets are different from the sets covered in the column bet.
8. High/Low Bet
A high/low bet is a wager placed on one of two large sections of numbers – 1 through 18, or 19 through 36. It's one of three "even-money" bets in roulette, paying out at a rate of 1:1.
9. Even/Odd Bet
An even/odd bet is a wager placed on one of two sections of numbers, either the entire set of even numbers or the entire set of odd numbers. It pays out at a rate of 1:1.
10. Color Bet
A color bet is a wager placed on either all of the red numbers or all of the black numbers. If the result is a green 0 or 00 space, both color bets lose. The payout is 1:1.
To some people, the idea of "roulette strategy" is an oxymoron.
After all, the game is designed so that the house always wins in the long-run. The American version of the game takes an average of 5.26% of your money. Even the better-odds Euro game saps your bankroll at an average rate of 2.7% - and those numbers are assuming you're not making long-odds wagers.
How is it possible to follow a strategy when playing a game that's designed to beat you?
Start by remembering that the purpose of roulette is to entertain you. The game's purpose isn't to make you rich. The casino is in the entertainment business. To that end, anything that helps you enjoy the game more is good strategy. That might mean spending less – we have some tips to offer in that direction. But it might also mean having a better time and avoiding frustration.
The four tips below are the best crash course in roulette strategy we could cover in about 1,000 words:
1. Play the Right Game
Roulette is a guessing game, a luck-based contest in which you bet against the house on the action of a tiny ball bearing. It's one of the simplest games on the casino floor. It can also be one of the most frustrating or the most enjoyable, depending on how you play.
If you want to win more often at roulette, you need to start by selecting the right game. That means hunting down European-style roulette wheels wherever you go. In America, you'll find far more American-style wheels, but since the US version of the game includes that pesky additional 00 slot on the wheel, the casino makes money on you hand over fist. The Euro game, by virtue of its lack of the extra green space, is a much friendlier game to your bankroll.
Finding European rules games in America isn't easy, but it is rewarding. If you remember, earlier on this page we estimated hourly losses of about $27 for someone placing even-money bets at $10 a pop on a US rules version of the game. If that same played were playing on a Euro-style wheel, their hourly losses would be just $13.50. If you put in eight hours of roulette over the course of your next gambling trip, the difference between a US and European-style wheel could be $100 a day.
Ultimately, your choice of game is a personal thing. You might enjoy the American game more. You might not have access to a European wheel. For whatever reason, it's fine if you want to play an American rules version of roulette, so long as it doesn't make you enjoy the game less.
2. Place the Right Bets
We identified ten standard roulette bets, but house rules and local variations mean that most roulette games offer a couple of dozen bets on each spin. If you're playing roulette to win, you have to understand how likely the game's various bets are to pay off.
Our second strategy tip for roulette is - stick to the bets that are most likely to pay off, and avoid the long-odds bets designed to fill the casino's pockets even faster than usual. Remember that the more a bet pays out, the less likely it is to occur. A winning bet placed on a single number pays $35 for each $1 wagered. It's not exactly a safe wager, since its odds of occurring (about 1 in 39) are longer than the payout you receive (35:1). The difference between those two numbers is where the casino gets rich.
Instead, we recommend you only place bets as close to even money as possible. That means your safest bets are high/low, red/black, or even/odd. These bets pay 1:1 (even money), and they each cover 18 spots out of a possible 38. The odds of this bet winning are 1 in 2.1, making it one of the safest wagers on the casino floor. The downside? Safe bets are less exotic, less tense, and maybe a bit less "fun." Then again, going home broke, having gambled the rent money on long-odds single number wagers isn't much fun, either.
3. Join the Loyalty Club
If you're going to do your gambling in a live casino, you simply have to join the casino's loyalty club. Call it a slot club, a player's club, or whatever you want – it's the same thing. You get a little card to swipe before you play so the house can track your action. These clubs are free. They take about a minute to join. And, here's the best part, they're the only way to earn freebies.
Joining a loyalty club doesn't automatically pump cash into your pocket. The idea is to cut into the casino's edge by earning a free drink or a free meal every now and then. Remember that every free item you earn is tiny slice into the casino's built-in advantage. A free $20 buffet meal isn't just two free $10 roulette bets, it's also $20 off whatever amount the house took from you at the table.
The casino can't track your play if you don't join. The rebates, freebies, giveaways, and attention you earn by swiping and tracking your play are impossible to beat with any other tip or special method, especially since you'll only be out a minute of your time, and not one cent of your bankroll.
4. Increase Your Luck
This might sound crazy, but play along for a minute.
If you want to win more at roulette, a game based entirely on luck, you're going to need to get luckier.
Some writers have spent years studying dealers and trying to work out patterns to the way a dealer tosses the ball and the resulting space the ball lands in. We think this is ridiculous. The amount of time and energy you'd have to expend to study this supposed phenomenon would be better spent learning to count cards like an expert and start beating blackjack tables. Besides, each dealer is a bit different.
Making yourself luckier would certainly help overcome the house edge. Even the best roulette tables give the casino a 2.7% edge against you. That means you're playing a game that's designed to your money and only give you back 97.3% of it. Luck is the only weapon we can come up with to aid you in this fight.
How can you improve your luck? You're going to need to follow some kind of tradition, be it spiritual or something else entirely. Try putting lucky things in your pocket when you play – slide a lucky pink rabbit's foot onto your keychain or something. If it works, don't question it, just make it part of your routine. Some people will pray or ask their god for assistance. Still others will wear a lucky shirt, or avoid specific colors or gambling on specific days.
Your personal luck ritual doesn't matter anymore than you let it. The purpose of performing these rituals is to increase your confidence at the roulette table. Our advice here is for you to find some kind of ritual that makes you feel more confident at the table. That will lead to you having more fun. When you have more fun, you're beating the house, regardless of how you're doing at the table. At that point, our work offering roulette strategy tips is done.
The first game we can call "roulette" was invented in 18th century France. The true inventor of the game is a controversial topic. In the 17th century, a philosopher, polymath, and part-time spiritualist named Blaise Pascal created what we know now as the roulette wheel as part of his quest for a perpetual motion machine. Others say he invented it for a lark while working out the basic design of his adding machine, the first of its kind in the world. Whatever the truth, we know that French gamblers took Pascal's little wheel and turned it into a gambling game after playing the popular English wheel game Roly-Poly. There may have also been an Italian influence, since some Italian gambling games of the time (with names like Hoca, Rou, and Biribi) used wheels and number systems.
It's likely that a game like roulette was played in the mid-1th century, since a set of municipal laws from France in 1758 banned the games of "dice, hoca, faro, and roulette". However, it doesn't seem like that game looks much like modern roulette. The game as it is played today has existed since at least 1796, based on documents discovered in Paris. The earliest description of game comes from a minor French novel by an otherwise forgotten writer named Jaques Lablee. Lablee described a roulette wheel being used at the Palais Royal in 1796. Lablee's description shows some familiar features – "There are exactly two slots reserved for the bank, whence it derives its sole mathematical advantage." Lablee was way ahead of its time in figuring that one out. The book wasn't published until 1801, and if not for its reference to roulette would be entirely forgotten by today's readers.
The first mention of the game in America comes from Hoyle in 1886. According to Hoyle's reports, the earliest forms of the American game had just 31 spaces – the numbers 1 through 28, a green zero, a green double zero, and an American Eagle slot. The Eagle space played the part of an extra green 0 space, and on some boards was even marked 000.
The 19th century was a great time for the game of roulette, as it spread eastward from France all the way to Asia, and westward across the Atlantic into the casinos of frontier America. It became the darling game of visitors to Monte Carlo, already a popular destination for the wealthy elite of all of Europe. The game's popularity there gave it a viral quality. When the operators of the game created the first single-zero roulette wheel (which we now call a European-style wheel), gamblers became obsessed with its mix of long and short odds.
Why did double-zero remain popular in the US? Americans had already become enchanted with the double-zero game, as it arrived in New Orleans and moved gracefully up the Mississippi River. Its westward movement (due to the frontier push to Manifest Destiny) cemented its popularity, but also froze the game in time. American game operators were simply not going to order new boards and teach their patrons new rules. In their minds, they already had a profitable and popular game of chance that couldn't be easily beat by their guests – why would they change it out for something less profitable?
The modern gambling industry is growing in some new and interesting ways. Roulette is nothing if not an old-fashioned game, stately and slow, requiring some specific props and a range of very specific bets. However, the game has translated well into new formats. Electronic roulette removes the need for a dealer and physical wheel. It also allows far more players to participate at the same time, increasing casino profits considerably. Online roulette games, while a bit unwieldy in terms of graphics, are just as popular as online versions of blackjack or other table games. In short, roulette has managed to survive a transition from the smoky halls of Monte Carlo to the portability of smart phones and tablets. That's a testament to the game's popularity.
Roulette gets a bad rap in some circles as a bad bet. As we've shown, some wagers on roulette boards make a lot of financial sense, if you're any kind of advantage gambler. But for those who want to take big risks on single rounds of gambling, roulette offers that, as well.
Roulette has always had a mysterious reputation. The Devil's Wheel is still one of America's favorite table games, though its lack of a skill element means it will constantly be relegated to second-place status behind games like blackjack and poker. The spread of roulette at online casinos, tablet apps, and smart phone games means that this old French distraction may one day have a renaissance of its own. We hope that this page has prepared you to take advantage of that rebirth, should it ever arrive.