Roulette - A Gaming History

As is typical of many games, competing theories shroud the origins of Roulette. First among these, for roulette, is that it was invented in 1655 by the renowned French scientist and mathematician, Blaise Pascal – purportedly during his monastic life – and first played formally at a casino in Paris. In fact, Pascal’s writings suggest that the game was effectively used as a tool in his wide ranging analytical studies into aspects of mathematics – specifically, probabilities.

Standard Roulette Wheel

Standard Roulette Wheel

An alternate theory cites French Dominican monks as the inventors, saying that the game was based on an ancient Tibetan plan, which utilized an arrangement of 37 animal statuettes, positioned within a magical numeric square totaling 666. That Tibetan game possibly originated in China, although the rules of play are now lost. The monks had purportedly created the game by transposing most of the 37 statuettes into the numbers 0 to 36, plus one, and arranged them randomly around the periphery of a revolving wheel.

Distilled to its essence, the current consensus is that France was most likely the place of origin for this game, whether it was created by Blaise Pascal, or a gathering of cloistered monks.
“Roulette” in French translates to “Small Wheel”, which itself again suggests a French origin for the game. With these understandings in mind, however, various web-sites have cited alternate “national origins” including England, with games like “Roly Poly”, “Ace of hearts” and “Even-Odd”. Italian candidates could include “Biribi” and “Hoca”. Yet while these noted games, in some writings, have claimed to be the ancestors of Roulette, none had employed a wheel that was rimmed with boxes to catch the random fall of a rim-skirting ball.

Owl Club 1931,the first licensed club in Nevada

Owl Club 1931,the first licensed club in Nevada

The Odds

The mathematics of the game is quite straight forward. A European layout exhibits a total of 36 potential numbers, evenly divided into black and red – and an added potential option – the “0″ – so that the chances are one in thirty-seven, for selecting any numeric result. In short, the odds against any single number is 36:1 – while the “table award” (payout) is 35:1. The difference is called the “House Take”, and amounts to a house advantage of 2.63%. But leave it to the Americans to “improve” on a good thing. When Roulette was first introduced into the United States – most likely for play on the legendary river boats of that age – a modest change was made – adding the “00″ to the field – which expanded the odds against any number, from 36:1 to 37:1. But whether it’s a European wheel or American, a win on any single-number bet pays 35:1. At the same time, a win on any joined pair, pays 17:1 – on any line of 3, pays 11:1 – on any block of 4, pays 8:1 – on any block of 6, pays 5:1, while bets on high, low, red, black, even or odd, each pay even money.

As noted, a European wheel, with only a single “0″ yields a house take of 2.63%, from any of these wagers. The addition of the “00″, raised that profit to 5.63%. The green “0″ and “00″, of course, are neither high nor low, red nor black, or even nor odd. This writer was once made witness to a very curious incident, as a fast- spinning wheel actually ejected the ball entirely clear of the table. The Croupier instantly threw up his hands and shouted – “Game called on account o’ we lost the ball!”
In the early twentieth century, it was reported that a player by the name Martingale, then at Monte Carlo, tried what he thought was a perfect scheme to beat the wheel. He’d bet on any 1:1 wager, and if he lost, he’d bet again – but double his wager. He followed this pattern – doubling after each loss – until he won, thereby recovering all that he’d lost, plus the amount of his initial bet. But unfortunately, at one point, after ten straight losses – – – he shot himself. Yet this strategy still bears his name, today.