Learning roulette isn't that hard. In fact, that's one of the reasons it's still such a popular casino game.
But if you're new to the game and want to get started, it's a good idea to study a tutorial before jumping in.
Roulette was the first casino game I ever played. Like many novices, I didn't understand how the house edge worked. I though a bet on red or black (two of the most popular even-money bets) was a 50/50 proposition.
A friend of mine never figured it out. I remember watching him map out multiple elaborate betting systems that he thought would help him be more likely to win. He still doesn't understand how the math behind the game works.
Understanding how a game works is important. In fact, I'd advise against playing any casino game you don't understand.
Roulette is the original spinning wheel game. Any other game you see with a spinning wheel is, in a sense, a descendant of roulette.
A roulette game has the following components:
A Wheel - This might be the most important component. The wheel sits in a bowl at the table on an axis. The roulette wheel has 37 or 38 pockets in it. These are numbered from 0 to 36. The 0 (and the 00, if there is one), are green. Half the other numbers are red, and half are black.
A Ball - When the wheel is spinning, the croupier (the roulette dealer), spins a ball around the lip of the bowl with the wheel in it. It rides around the wheel in the opposite direction that the wheel is spinning. You bet on which pocket the ball will land.
A Table - The roulette table is where you place your bets. There are numbered spots on the table, so you can bet on specific numbers. Based on where you place your chips, you can also bet on any two, any three, any four, any five, or any six numbers. Around the edges of the table are the bets which cover more bets than that. You can bet on odd or even, either of which covers almost half the numbers on the table. You can even bet on 12 numbers at a time.
Based on how likely it is to win, the bets pay off at different amounts. For example, a single number bet usually pays off at 35 to 1. A bet on two numbers pays off at 17 to 1 and wins if either of the numbers come up.
The Chips - At most of the table games in the casino, you can use the same kinds of chips from one table to another. The chips for the blackjack table work fine at the craps table.
But the roulette table has different colored chips that are assigned to each player. Since so many players sit at a roulette table at a time, this is a necessary step for the croupier to determine who to pay when a bet wins.
That's about it. Most people can walk up to a roulette table and ask the croupier how to play and get the basics down quickly.
You can divide most roulette games into one of two categories: American and European. The crucial difference is the number of 0s in play. An American wheel has two green 0s, a 0 and a 00. A European wheel only has a single 0.
This makes a huge difference in the house edge for the two games. I'll explain how to calculate the house edge for each version below. (The house edge is an average of how much you can expect to lose per bet-on average-over a long period of time. It's expressed as a percentage.)
I'll use the most basic of bets as an example-black or red. Assume you have $100 on each bet, and further assume that you place 38 bets on an American roulette wheel.
You'll win a bet on black 18 times. You'll lose a bet on black 20 times. (I'm assuming a statistically perfect set, because that's what you do when you calculate a house edge.)
You'll win $1800, but you'll lose $2000. That's a net loss of $200. Average that by the 38 spins, and you've lost an average of $5.26 for every bet. The house edge is therefore 5.26%.
Let's do the same calculation for a European wheel. Now you have 18 winning bets and 19 losing bets. You still have the win of $1800, but you have a loss of $1900. The net loss is $100. Average that over 37 spins, and you've lost an average of $2.70 per bet. The house edge for European roulette is therefore 2.70%.
You can further use this information to calculate how much money you can expect to lose per hour. You multiply the amount you're betting by the number of bets you're making per hour. When you multiply that by the house edge, you get the projected hourly loss.
Of course, the number of bets per hour depends on the speed of the croupier and the number of players at the table. If she's only having to pay out a single player, she can obviously pay off bets much faster than if eight people are sitting at the table.
A good average is 60 bets per hour. Assuming you're a low roller like me, you might be betting $10 per wager. That's $600 per hour in action.
At an American roulette game, you can expect to lose $31.56 per hour.
But at a European roulette game, you can expect to lose only $16.20 per hour.
That's a difference of about $15 per hour, and that's for a low roller. If you're a bigger player making $100 or $500 bets, you can multiply those amounts by 10 or 50.
The difference is dramatic.
Here's a list of the available roulette bets and how much they pay out:
Straight Bet - This is also called a "single bet". It's a bet that a single number will come up, and it pays off at 35 to 1.
Split Bet - This is a bet on two numbers. If either of those numbers come up, the split bet pays off at 17 to 1.
Street Bet - This is a bet on three numbers. It wins if any of the three numbers come up, and it pays off at 11 to 1.
Corner Bets - These are also called "square bets". This is a bet on four numbers, and it pays off at 8 to 1.
Six Line Bets - These are also sometimes called "double street bets". It's a bet on six numbers, and it pays off at 5 to 1.
There's also a bet available on an American roulette game called a Top Line or Five Number bet. It's a bet on 0, 00, 1, 2, or 3. The payoff on this bet is 6 to 1.
All the above bets are "inside bets"-they're placed on the numbers in the middle of the table. All of them share the same house edge-5.26% on an American roulette wheel and 2.70% on a European roulette wheel.
The top line bet is an exception. It has a higher house edge than any other bet on the table at 7.89%.
You might be wondering how the house edge on these bets could all be the same. It's because the payout odds are set up in such a way as to ignore the existence of the 0s. You can calculate the house edge for any of these bets using the same method we used on the even money bets in our other example.
Here's an example:
A corner bet is a bet on four numbers. You'll win this bet an average of 4 times out of 38 spins, and you'll lose 34 times. Assuming you're betting $100 each time, you'll lose $3400 on the losing spins. But since this bet pays off at 8 to 1, you'll win $3200 on your 4 winnings spins. (4 X $800 = $3200).
The difference between $3400 and $3200 is still $200, which still averages out to 5.26%.
Just for fun, let's calculate the house edge for the exceptional top line bet. You'll win this bet 5 times out of 38 and lose 33 times out of 38. That's $3300 in losses and $3000 in winnings (5 wins X $600 per win).
That's a net of $300 in losses. Averaged over 38 spins, that's 7.89%.
You should never place that bet.
Those are just the inside bets. You also have bets available closer to the perimeter of the table. These are called "outside bets":
Low and High - These are bets that the number will land between 1 and 18 or between 19 and 36, respectively. If the ball lands on 0 or 00, neither pays off. The payout on this bet is even money.
Red and black - This is just a bet that the number landed on will be red or black. It pays off at even money if you win. If the ball lands on a 0 or a 00, that slot is colored green, so both red and black bets lose.
Even or odd - You can probably figure this one out by now, but just in case... It's a bet that the number landed on will be even or odd. 0 and 00 are neither even nor odd.
Dozen bets - These are bets on which of 3 sets of numbers are landed on: 1-12, 13-24, or 25-36. This bet pays off at 2 to 1.
Column bets - The bets on the table are laid out in 3 rows with 12 numbers in each. You can bet on any of these rows, and if the number you picked comes up in that row, you get a 2 to 1 payoff.
Snake bets - A snake bet is a bet on 12 numbers that zig-zag down the table. It includes the same numbers every time (1, 5, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 23, 27, 30, 32, and 34). It pays off at 2 to 1.
Other rules and variations can affect the odds where you're playing.
Here's a simple example:
In the United Kingdom, outside bets (high or low, red or black, or even or odd) only lose half as much money when the ball lands on a 0. This is called the "la partage" rule.
This obviously improves the odds for the player, but by how much?
Let's suppose you're betting $100 per spin on red. You win even money on 18 bets, or $1800. You lose even money on 18 bets, for another $1800 in losses. On the one bet that lands on the 0, you lose $50. Your net loss is $50.
$50 averaged out over 37 bets is 1.35%, which means the house edge in this variation is half of what you'd see in a European roulette game elsewhere.
Another optional rule you'll sometimes see at casinos with European roulette tables is called the "en prison" rule. When this option is in effect, a player has the option of placing his losing wager "in prison" until the next spin. If that bet wins on the next spin, the player gets paid off. If it loses, then it's lost.
This further reduces the odds for the casino. These rules are rarely found in United States casinos, even when those casinos offer European roulette.
On the other side of the coin, some casinos offer short pays (reduced payouts on bets).
Here's an example:
You might find a casino which pays off 34 to 1 on a single number bet instead of 35 to 1.
What does that do to the house edge?
Again, it's easy to calculate. You'll win once out of 38 spins, and you'll win $3400 on that $100 bet. But you'll lose $3700, which is a net loss of $300. Averaged out over those 38 bets, and the average loss per bet is $7.89. That casino has basically created a house edge that's the same on the awful five number bet I warned you to stay away from earlier.
If you know nothing about roulette, then you won't know to avoid games with these kinds of rules. That's why I mentioned at the beginning of this post that even though roulette's a simple game that you can pick up fast, you should still use this tutorial to figure out the game before playing.
Roulette can also be played online. Most casinos offer an animated version that looks like a video game. It's powered by a random number generator program which duplicates the odds you'd see at a real roulette wheel. But one thing to keep in mind is that online games play at a rate of probably twice what you'd see at a real casino, even if you're the only player at the table.
That difference doubles your expected loss per hour.
Also, most online casinos offer both European roulette and American roulette. No one with any knowledge of how to play roulette would ever choose the American game over the European game, but most online casinos bank on at least a percentage of their players being uneducated enough to occasionally play the American version.
Since you're learning roulette from me in my tutorial, you don't have to worry about being taken advantage of in that way.
But some online casinos offer roulette as a live dealer game. This is a game that's played on an actual roulette wheel via Webcam. Some players prefer this because of the increased realism. It's a good option because the number of bets per hour you're making is reduced.
Another thing to keep in mind with online casinos is that they usually don't consider wagers on roulette toward the fulfilment of your wagering requirements on your bonus.
If that's Greek to you, let me explain:
Online casinos incentivize signups by offering free money to new players. This free money usually takes the form of a matching amount. For example, you deposit $2000 and get $2000 free as a bonus (100% matching the amount of your deposit.)
To avoid being taken advantage of by clever mathematical players, casinos institute wagering requirements to avoid losing money on a regular basis.
They usually require you to wager your bonus + your deposit a certain number of times (50, for example) before you're allowed to cash out any winnings.
In the above example, you'd have to make $4000 X 50, or $200,000 in wagers before being allowed to cash out. You'll win some of these wagers, and you'll lose others.
But the more wagers you make, the more likely it becomes that you'll see results that mirror the mathematical expectation.
If you were playing European roulette in the above example, you'd expect to lose 2.70% of $200,000, or $5400. Since your starting bankroll is $4000, you're expected to lose everything before achieving your wagering requirements and cashing out.
But casinos also get nervous about players who want to use the Martingale System to improve their chances of generating a profit. This seems foolish to anyone who understands that the Martingale System doesn't work, but it's still the case.
Learning roulette is fun and doesn't take long.
But you should take advantage of this tutorial and try some of the free online versions of the game to get a feel for how it works before playing in a live casino.
Some casinos offer classes in various casino table games, too. They won't go into the same detail about the odds as I did in this post, though. They'll cover the different types of bets and their payoffs, but they won't explain where the house gets its edge.
Roulette's a great, relaxing game with a relatively slow pace. It requires little or no thought from the player, either. The only strategy that works is finding the game with the most generous rules and sticking with it.
And avoid that 5-number bet on the American wheel at all costs.