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The History of the Roulette Wheel

Author: Sylvia Garcia

This game of chance is pretty popular in casinos in spite of the fact that the house edge can be quite high. The fact is that the zeroes play an important role in the game of roulette. If the zeroes were eliminated altogether, and only the numbers from 1 to 36 remained on the wheel, the average return to the player would be around 100%. In this scenario, the casino would not make any money in the long run. As you can imagine, this is not a viable proposition and explains the necessity of the zeroes, at least where the sponsoring casinos are concerned.

The earliest description of roulette is in a French novel published in 1801 and set in Paris in 1796. The novel is La Roulette, ou le Jour by Jaques Lablee and it describes the roulette wheel of the Palais Royal Casino. The description reads, “There are exactly two slots reserved for the bank, whence it derives its sole mathematical advantage.” It goes on to add that these two slots contained “the bank’s two numbers, zero and double zero.” (Zeroes and Roulette History, Joe Valentino, November 12, 2010.

What this boils down to is that if the ball falls into either of these two pockets, then all bets are lost except for the ones placed specifically on zero or double zero. This gives the house an edge of about 5.5%.

In 1843 two French brothers, Francois and Louis Blanc, operated a roulette wheel in the German spa town of Homburg. In an effort to compete against the traditional casinos, they introduced a roulette wheel that only had one zero. While this reduced the casino’s advantage by half to about 2.7%, and made the game more advantageous to players, the attraction to the larger casinos was so strong that their single-zero roulette wheel did not catch on.

In 1854 gambling was legalized in Monaco, and they began construction on the now famous Monte Carlo casino in 1858. In 1861 Francois Blanc received a 50-year contract to operate the casino and in 1863 the casino opened its doors to the public. In keeping with tradition the roulette wheels had both zero and double zeroes. However, Blanc realized he was not generating enough business to pay his fee to the Monte Carlo. That’s when he switched to the single-zero wheel and immediately drew crowds of fascinated players. After that all casinos in Europe switched to single zero wheels.

Things were progressing differently in America. Hoyle, who is the best know chronicler of gambling in America in the 19th century, wrote in 1886 that the American roulette wheels had the numbers 1 to 28, a single zero, a double zero and an American Eagle. The Eagle slot, which is a symbol of American liberty, was a house slot just like the zeroes. With less numbers and three slots that offered an advantage to the casino, this format did not sustain. Ultimately American roulette was switched to 36 numbers, a zero and a double zero.

In the early 20th century there were two main destinations where casinos were concerned, Monte Carlo in Europe and Las Vegas in America. Fortunately today, casino gambling is global. The American version of the wheel is prevalent in the U.S.A., South America and the Caribbean, while the European version is prevalent elsewhere. With the single zero, the European version of roulette is the optimal choice. We recommend you seek out casinos that offer this version if you are looking to improve your odds of winning.