Exploring the History and Origins of Roulette
Up until a last year I wasn't a fan of roulette, I preferred blackjack and slots. The game of roulette was too complicated. Then a friend (who happened to own a casino) showed me how to play. Since then, it's become one of my favorite games as despite the complexity it is really pretty fun and easy to play. This is why roulette is one of the most popular table games at both land-based and online casinos today. Simply put, it has an elegant pace and the anticipation of watching the ball skip by your numbers is almost mesmerizing. I also love the fact that there are so many ways to bet ... and despite the fact that everyone has their own methods ... there's really no "right" or "wrong" way to play roulette.
But did you know that roulette is hundreds of years old? In fact, you’d have a hard time finding a game with a richer history. So let’s go back a few centuries and see where this iconic wheel of luck got its start.
While it might be hard for some of you to believe that gambling existed before Las Vegas, this game has a very deep history. Unfortunately, the exact origins of the first roulette game are a bit of a mystery, but most historians think it originated in 1655. Blaise Pascal, one of the most influential French scientists, got the idea during a visit to a monastery on his quest for a perpetual motion machine. When the monks saw the game, they found it was a pretty fun way to pass the time.
These primitive versions of “roulette,” the little wheel, were surprisingly similar to today’s versions. They were based on the numbers 0 through 36, which were arranged on a revolving wheel.
But it would be more than 100 years before this kind of roulette entered the mainstream. During most of the 18th century, the only wheel game played in casinos was an English variant called E.O. The basics were the same: the croupier would toss a ball into a revolving wheel. But the wheel itself was only marked by E (even) and O (odd) slots, with a few blank spaces to give the house an edge.
When casinos throughout France finally adopted the modern version of roulette, they chose to include both a zero and double zero to boost their profits. This variant is known today as “American roulette”, but it’s really as French as a baguette.
The only difference? French casinos offered the en prison rule. If the ball landed on either of the zeroes, all even money bets would be “imprisoned”. If that bet won on the next spin, the player would get their bet back. This rule is still in effect in many casinos throughout Europe and even a few of the nicer establishments on the Las Vegas Strip.
As the world entered the 1800s, roulette spread like wildfire. It quickly became one of the favorite pastimes of players in France and throughout Europe. Competition was fierce and casinos were desperate to draw in punters.
So in 1843, Francois and Luis Blanc decided to try something new when they opened their first casino at a spa resort in Germany: they took the 00 space off their wheel. It didn’t take long for the people on holiday to see that their money lasted nearly twice as long on this single-zero game. Even though the game had a lower house edge, the popularity of the game more than made up for it.
Unfortunately for the Blancs, Germany banned gambling in 1860. But the men didn’t want to give up their cash cow. So they took their single-zero roulette game to Monte Carlo, where it is still enjoyed by thousands of vacationers every year.
It was during this same time that roulette fever came into the United States. Originally, casinos used two zero slots as well as an eagle slot, giving the games an American vibe. But when players saw how quickly they were losing their chips in this format, casinos had no choice but to switch back to the original double zero setup. To this day, double zero roulette is still the most common form of the game in the US.
The last major milestone for the game of roulette? Online gambling. When the first online casinos emerged in the late 1990's, roulette became one of the most popular games. And for the first time, casino owners were free to offer as many roulette games as they could come up with without having to worry about floor space. Today you can find everything from classic French roulette to multi-wheel variants at hundreds of different sites.
What’s next for the game of roulette? Who knows! But we have no doubt that this little wheel is here to stay.
- Written by James Hills
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