A Guide to the Game of Roulette

Roulette, along with blackjack and poker, is one of the classic casino table games, and millions of people have played it over the years.

The spinning of the wheel, the clink of the ball, the spotless white glove of the croupier - there's no doubt that the game has a certain glamor to it. However, like with all betting games, it's important not get lured in by its appeal and to keep your head while staking money.

This guide will give you a comprehensive overview of the game that is synonymous with casinos. You'll read about how roulette came to be so popular, the different types you can play, and which rules you need to follow once you've started.

While it won't necessarily give you the smooth confidence of James Bond, you should at least have a good idea of what to expect from roulette once you're finished reading this guide.

How did roulette become so popular?

The first roulette games appeared in France in the 18th century — hence its name which is French for 'little wheel' — but the game's true origin is clouded in mystery. Some researchers believe inventor Blaise Pascal created it in his pursuit of a 'perpetual motion machine', while others think the old English game 'Roly-Poly' inspired it.

What we do know is that French casinos quickly adopted the game as it spread across the country, yet it was in Bad Homburg, Germany, where the roulette we know today was born. Two French brothers, François and Luis Blanc, devised the famous single-zero wheel and introduced it to the town. When Germany banned gambling in the 1860s, the brothers exported the game back over the border, to a sleepy seaside town called Monte Carlo. Little did the people there know that it would soon help make the town famous around the world.

Monte Carlo's mix of beaches and casinos meant it exploded in popularity and roulette's success moved abroad. The United States saw its first wheels in New Orleans, where the 'double zero' version appeared and spread across the country: this was simply a wheel with an extra '00' slot.

The game's reputation for wealth and glamour saw it appear in many 20th century books and movies, most notably in Casablanca and the James Bond series — Bond even had his own 'two dozen' strategy based on the roulette table's columns — which, in turn, boosted the appeal of the game further. It became a symbol of Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, and it was here that the 'double zero' version became world-famous.

The birth of the internet at the end of the century opened up a new dimension for the game. Internet roulette came to people's houses, first as free-to-play games, and then as part of the growth of online casinos the early 2000s. By 2010, there were hundreds of sites that offered roulette as part of its game selection, with several different versions available. The game's fans had more choice than ever, and the number of roulette casinos has continued to rise until today.

What types of roulette can I play?

There are three types of roulette that you're likely to come across: these are American, European and French roulette. While the objectives of each version are the same, there are some subtle differences that you should be aware of.

American roulette

When you're kissing your chips and hoping for the best in Las Vegas, this is the game you'll be playing. American roulette contains an extra '00' slot, which reduces your chances of winning and ensures a higher profit for the casino.

European and French roulette

The house edge, and therefore your chances of losing, is lower in European roulette thanks to the absence of the 'double 0' slot. Many players prefer to play this version for that reason.

French roulette is a variation on the European version, with the same rules except for the 'La Partage' rule (or sometimes 'En Prison') which boosts the return to player (RTP) further – more on this rule later.

The layout for the French version is also different: the words and numbers are in French, and it has even-chance squares (such as black and red) on opposite sides of the table. It also has the Dozen Bets squares – where you can bet on the first, second, or third set of 12 numbers – at the top and bottom right of the board.

In-person vs online roulette

The world's move towards a more digital society means that online gambling is growing at a rapid rate, and roulette is a big part of that. The reasons are clear: you can play from the comfort of your own home and there are many more types of roulette to choose from than in real life. Internet players are also more likely to benefit from perks such as loyalty programs and bonuses that give them extra credit to stake on the spinning wheel.

Some people voice suspicion over online roulette, saying that games are rigged to rob you of your money, but, in fact, all reputable games are obliged to deliver totally random results as their developers are committed to international law and gaming licences. Of course, there are unscrupulous sites and games around, which is why it's always crucial to choose a reliable casino. In reality, playing online is just as safe as playing in person, but making sure it's a safe site is essential.

One thing that online roulette cannot replicate completely, however, is the buzz of being at a live casino and experiencing the sights and sounds that come with it. It's why millions of people a year still visit places like Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, after all.

Live-dealer games are the closest thing we have to breaching this gap. These are games hosted by human dealers in real casinos and studios that are streamed to players at home who place their bets in real-time. Like in a real casino, you can see the chips placed on the table and the wheel spin in a live setting, and even chat with the dealer in some versions.

As technology develops, live-dealer games are likely to improve, possibly with Augmented Reality (AR) features that make you feel like you're sitting in the casino itself. In fact, there won't be much to choose from between these games and the real thing in the near future.

What rules do I need to look out for in roulette?

Roulette is popular because it's so easy to play. You just choose the number (or groups of numbers) and/or color that you think the white ball is going to land on, and place your chips accordingly, before the croupier closes the betting – any bets after this point are void. You then either lose or win. Simple.

Should you win, then the pay-out depends on where you put the chips – we'll go into this more later. The croupier pays you the relevant amount immediately and collects all losing bets at the same time.

Yet despite this simplicity, there are some special rules worth knowing about as they may influence the way you play.

La Partage, or En Prison

La Partage translates to 'the sharing' and involves any 'even-chance bet' on the table, that is red/black, 1-18/19-36, or odd/even. The rule comes into effect whenever the ball lands on zero: anyone with an 'even-chance bet' receives half of their money back.

EXAMPLE

An example would be as follows: A player puts down $20 on red and the ball lands on zero: $10 is returned to the player.

En Prison is a twist on this in that, instead of returning half the wager to player, the bet 'goes to prison' and stays on the table for the next spin. If the player wins that spin, they get their stake back with their winnings. If not, they lose it.

The 'Surrender' rule

In keeping with the drama of Hollywood movies, many American roulette games like to employ a 'Surrender' rule which is much less dramatic than it sounds. Like 'La Partage', players get half of their even-chance bets back but when the ball lands on the '00' slot, as well as '0', thus doubling the chance of happening.

California roulette

In California, casino games that decide outcomes with balls or dice are against the law, making standard roulette illegal.

'No problem', say Californian casinos, 'we'll just play with cards instead'. The game works in exactly the same way when placing the bet but the croupier uses an automatic card shuffler instead of a ball and wheel. A card is chosen randomly, which represents the result.

While not so much a rule as a variation of the game, it's still worth bearing this in mind in case you come across a California roulette game one day!

Which roulette bets are the most common?

The layout of the roulette table means there are hundreds of types of bets that you could put down, but if you're a newcomer, then there are two types of bets that you should be familiar with: inside and outside bets.

Inside bets

An inside bet is simply when you put your chip on any of the numbers 1-36 in the centre, or inside, of the board. This can be solely on one number or split between more than one number in a variety of ways, ranging from odds of 6/1 to 36/1.

Here are the possible inside bets that you can play on all types of roulette (unless stated otherwise):

Bet name How you make it What you get if you win
Straight-up A bet on a single number 36x bet
Split A bet split between two adjoining numbers 18x bet
Street Three numbers in a horizontal line 12x bet
Six-line Six numbers in two adjoining horizontal lines 6x bet
Corner The corner of a block of four numbers 9x bet
Trio A bet on 0,1 & 2 or 0,2 & 3
(Single-zero roulette only)
12x bet
Basket A bet on 0,1,2 & 3
(Single-zero roulette only)
9x bet
Top line A bet on 0,00, 1, 2 & 3
(Double-zero roulette only)
7x bet

Outside bets

As their name suggests, you make an outside bet when you place your chip on the table sections outside of the number grid I.e. black/red or odd/even. The odds are 2/1 or 3/1 as a result and are less volatile than inside bets.

Bet name How you make it What you get if you win
Red/black Bet on red or black 2x bet
Odd/even Bet on odd or even 2x bet
High/low Bet on 1-18 or 19-36 2x bet
Dozen Bet on 1-12, 13-24 or 25-36 3x bet
Column Bet on any vertical column 3x bet
The Snake* Bet on 1, 5, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 23, 27, 30, 32 and 34 to form a snake pattern 3x bet

*Some casinos allow you to make this bet by placing your chip on the lower corner of the number 34 that borders the 25-36 column.

Announced bets

Sometimes, roulette players like to stake money on several areas of the wheel, not just on adjoining or related numbers.

To do this, they inform the dealer directly who then marks down the bet as there isn't enough time for the player to place all the chips down.

You may hear them referred to as 'call bets' but there's a key difference. Call bets are bets placed on credit by the dealer, which the player settles after they have finished – something that is now illegal in many countries – whereas announced bets are formed from the player's existing chips.

We can summarize some important announced bets as follows:

  • Clusters around the zero square: Neighbours of zero (9-17 chips on numbers next to zero) and zero game (the six numbers closest to zero)
  • Third of the wheel: Minimum of six chips on the final third (27-36)
  • Final bet: bets on three or four numbers ending in a certain digit.
  • Complete (maximum) bet: the most complex of all involves at least 17 chips (up to a maximum of 40) clustered around certain numbers and might land the highest possible return on a roulette table.

How likely am I to make a profit from roulette?

There's a very easy answer to this question: not likely. Even with the bets that give you the best chance of winning – so-called even-chance bets —you have a less than 50% chance of success, thanks to the zero squares.

To make it worse, the longer you play, the less chance you have of making profit. Like with all casino games, roulette comes with a house edge that guarantees that the casino makes profit in the long run.

The house edge is simply the stake minus the game's return to player (RTP).

EXAMPLE

Let's use a $100 straight-up bet American roulette as an example:

  • Possible win x the chance of winning = RTP
  • $3600 x 1/38 = RTP
  • $3600/38 = $94.74 = RTP of 94.74%

This same percentage applies to all bets on this version, including even-chance and column bets.

European roulette has a better RTP (of 97.3%) because of it having only a 'single 0' square, and in versions with the La Partage and En Prison rules this is even better still, but only for certain bets.

Whichever version you play, it's important to remember these safe gambling principles:

  • Gambling is not a way to make money (due to the house edge).
  • Keep track of the time and money you spend while gambling.
  • Only gamble with money you can afford to lose.
  • Never chase losses.

By keeping these in mind and treating it as a form of entertainment, we can enjoy roulette for what it is: a fun way to pass the time and hopefully make some money as a bonus!

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