Follow the bouncing ball

Europe’s most popular game, roulette, must be played precisely to provide a chance of winning. Despite a hefty house advantage, players can find games that will be more favourable and, by using simple betting systems, can beat the game.

Roulette players are often the most studious of all gamblers. You’ll find them at the oblong roulette table hunched over a pad, carefully distributing their chips in a predetermined pattern only they understand. As the dealer spins the ball around the wheel, they stare at it as if their hopes and dreams can influence where the ball falls. When their bets are swept away, they turn again to the pad that only records where they’ve been, not where they’re going.

The roots of roulette can be traced back to prehistoric China and the French monks. In the 17th century, a French scientist, Blaise Pascal, who invented the first calculator, introduced a primitive version of roulette.

It wasn’t until 1842 that Francois and Louis Blanc invented the single “0” roulette game. Ironically, the French brothers were forced to offer the game in Hamburg, Germany, since gambling was illegal in France at the time. The new game decimated the competition, which was offering an earlier version that featured higher odds. After Louis died, Francois was invited by the Prince of Monaco, Charles, after whom Monte Carlo is named, to bring his game to the principality in southern France. Francois and his son Camille developed Monte Carlo into the world-famous resort we know today.

When roulette came to the US in the early 1800s, the Blancs’ improvements were removed, and a double “00” returned. For a while, in fact, slick American operators added a triple “000”, tripling the house advantage and virtually ensuring that Americans would never warm to the game. The European game is today played in the great gambling palaces of Europe by tuxedoed men and elegant women in flowing gowns. It is especially popular with female players who enjoy the glamour of the game.
Europe’s most popular game neyer really caught on in the US, perhaps because of the changes that the American casinos made to this glamorous game. While no longer having three zeros, with the extra “0”, American roulette carries one of the heaviest casino advantages in the house, thereby discouraging the popularity it enjoys in Europe. With 38 numbers, players haye to overcome a 5.26 per cent house advantage because whenever “0” and “00” are hit, all bets lose. This is over five times worse than playing the most favourable bets on the craps table, or utilizing blackjack basic strategy.

In Europe, roulette uses only 37 numbers – 36 numbers and one “0”. Even-money bets are placed en prison when “0” is hit. This is an option in which the player loses half the bet, or is permitted to let the bet remain in action, with the results to be determined on the next spin. Because the European version utilizes the en prison rule and a single “0”, the house advantage is a comfortable 1.35 per cent. The only American jurisdiction that offers en prison is Atlantic City, but because casinos there use “0” and “00” the house advantage is halved to 2.7 per cent. (En prison, or surrender, means that if the player has bets on the “outside” – odd/even, high/low, black/red, the dozens or the columns bets – he only loses half his bet when “0” or “00” hits.)
Nonetheless, roulette remains an exciting game, mainly because of the variety of bets available. The 38 numbers in the American game are grouped into colours, columns and sections. The layout looks complicated, but is actually rather simple, once a map is provided.