Here we explain the basics of how to play roulette and strategies you can employ. You will learn about roulette wheels, tables, chips, the game process, and betting. Depending on whether you want to win small pots more frequently or maximize your possible jackpot, we suggest different types of bets you can make. Furthermore, we will explain the different types of roulette systems and how to get the best edge against the casino. Lastly, we compare and contrast roulette with other popular casino games such as blackjack.
Any discussion of roulette strategy must begin with some observations about the mathematics behind the game. And the math behind roulette is straightforward. I’ll explain why later on this page, but the least you need to know is that roulette can’t be beaten in the long run with any kind of strategy.
All of the bets on an American roulette game offer the same house edge (5.26%) except for one, and that bet (the five-number bet), is even worse. It offers a house edge of 7.29%.
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The House Edge
The house edge is a percentage that predicts how much of each bet the casino expects to win over the long run. The formula is based on calculating the expected value of each bet.
To calculate the expectation, you look at the probability of winning versus the probability of winning, multiplied by the amounts won or lost.
For example, on a standard even or odd bet, you have a 18/38 chance of winning and a 20/38 chance of losing. If you’re betting a dollar, you’ll win $1 less than half the time and lose a dollar more than half the time. You have a 47.37% chance of winning a dollar, which equates to + $0.47, and a 52.63% chance of losing a dollar, which equates to -$0.53. When you add those together, you get an expected value of -$0.05, or 5.26%.
In Atlantic City and some other areas, a rule for “surrendering” is in place. This rule reduces the house edge, but it doesn’t eliminate it. It also only applies to the outside bets that pay even money. These bets include:
- Red or black.
- Odd or even.
- High or low.
With the surrender rule in place, you only lose half your bet if the ball lands on 0 or 00. This reduces the house edge to 2.63%.
The European roulette table has a major difference from the American roulette table. The European version of the wheel only has a single zero, instead of 0 and 00. That’s why European roulette is also often called “single zero roulette”. This variation almost cuts the house edge in half again, to 2.7%.
Mathematically speaking, you’re still almost guaranteed to lose money, but you’ll lose it more slowly.
In Europe, they not only offer a single zero roulette wheel, but they also offer a rules variation called “en prison”, which is similar to the “surrender” rule in Atlantic City. If you make an even-money bet and the ball lands on 0, your money is “imprisoned” instead of being lost.
On the next spin, if your original bet is good, then you get your original wager back. On the other hand, if your original bet loses, you lose your original wager.
This further cuts the house edge in half, to 1.35%, which makes single zero roulette with the en prison roulette a bet on par (almost) with blackjack and video poker.
Multiple con-men and voodoo priests are eager to sell you roulette betting systems. These are all equally worthless, so you should never pay money for a “winning roulette system”. After all, since it won’t work, you might as well use one of the many free systems that are available.
These betting systems all involve variations of raising and/or lowering your wagers based on what happened on your previous bet. For example, when you’re using the Martingale System (one of the most popular roulette systems), you will double your bet after every loss until you get ahead.
Here’s how the Martingale works in actual play. You bet $5 on black. You lose. You bet $10 on black again, and you lose again. So now you bet $20 on black. This time you win. You gain back the $15 you lost on the two previous bets, and you’re $5 ahead for the session.
At first glance, this seems like a “can’t-lose” system, but that’s not how it works in reality. Two things prevent the Martingale from being a winning system:
- Betting limits
- Limited bankrolls
If you keep doubling your bets, you’ll hit the table limits faster than you might think. Look at the progression below:
$5 – $10 – $20 – $40 – $80 – $160 – $320 – $640
Most roulette tables accepting a $5 bet have a maximum bet of $500. Once you’ve lost seven times in a row, you’re unable to continue your progression because of the betting limits.
Even if you could continue, this still wouldn’t be a workable system, because eventually you’d go on a losing streak that requires bets beyond what your bankroll could cover. In the progression above, you will have lost $1275, so your next bet will have to be $1280. Even if you win at that point, you’re only ahead by $5.
And your chances of winning on that ninth spin are still only 47.37%. Each spin of the roulette wheel has the same odds of winning or losing as every other. The table has no memory of what happened on previous bets.
You’ll occasionally see people talk about exploiting biased wheels. The idea is that a roulette wheel is an object, and it’s not perfectly made, so some numbers will come up more often than others.
If you can “clock” the wheel and figure out which numbers come up more often, you supposedly can get an edge over the casino. There are a couple of problems with this “strategy”.
The first is that if you’re going to have any kind of statistical accuracy, you’ll have to record the results of at least 2000 spins. Most roulette tables only make 40 spins an hour, so you’d have to track results for at least 50 hours. Even after doing all that work, you might discover that the wheel isn’t actually biased, so you have to start all over again.
Even if the wheel does display a bias, it might not be significant enough to account for the house edge. Systems sellers will tell you that you can get meaningful information from 100 spins or fewer, but that’s mathematical nonsense.
Tracking the Dealer
Some people think that the dealer will consistently release the ball into the wheel at the same speed every time, out of habit. They then think they can predict where the ball will land, at least within a few numbers.
But this isn’t practical. Not only do you have to estimate how fast the dealer spins the ball, you also have to estimate how fast the dealer spins the wheel. Accounting for the bouncing of the ball caused by the dividers, you’re going to be facing a lot of randomness. Thinking that this is a winning roulette strategy is flat-out wishful thinking.
The best strategy for roulette is to expect to lose. Enjoy the relaxing and social nature of the game, and be sure to get a free drink from the cocktail waitress. Have fun betting on numbers that are significant to you, like your date-of-birth, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that those “lucky numbers” will help you win in the long run, because they won’t. But you’ll have fun.
Roulette Systems – Most Popular Roulette Betting Systems to Win
Roulette betting systems are always worthless. Don’t bother with them. If you’re going to play roulette, the best approach is to accept that it’s a mathematically losing proposition if you play long enough. As long as you’re getting your money’s worth in terms of entertainment, you’re doing fine.
Why don’t roulette betting systems work? It’s all in the math.
How Casinos Stay in Business
Casinos are some of the most profitable businesses you’ll ever find. That’s because the games are all set up in a way which guarantees the casino a mathematical certainty of winning over time.
They do this by offering payouts that are slightly less than the odds of winning. In roulette, for example, a straight-up bet pays off at 35 to 1. The odds of winning, though, are 37 to 1. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to understand why this results in sure winnings for the casino over the long run, but here’s a clarification.
Assume that you play exactly 38 spins on a roulette wheel, and you see mathematically perfect results. You’ve bet on the same number for all 38 spins. In a mathematically perfect example, you’ll have won once, and you’ll have lost 37 times.
If you’re wagering $100 per spin in that situation, you’ll have won $3500 on the hand which you won. But you’ll have lost $3700 on the other losing spins. Your net loss for this hypothetical situation is $200.
Of course, in reality, you don’t see mathematically perfect sessions like this. The rule of thumb is that over time, the more results you see, the closer they get to mathematically perfect. That’s why a player who spends an hour or two at the table might walk away a winner, but the casino still makes a profit over the long term.
A small casino might have four roulette tables with an average of four players at each table per hour. That’s 16 players per hour placing an average of 40 bets per hour, or 640 bets per hour. Over 24 hours, that casino has taken 15,000+ bets. Over the course of a month, that’s about half a million bets. And over the course of a year, that’s six million wagers.
The casino will see close to mathematically true results over that volume of bets. A single player won’t even come close to that kind of long-run expectation.
How to Get an Edge over the Casino in Roulette
You can win at roulette. You just have to get lucky. But nothing you can do will affect your chances of getting lucky. The math stays the same no matter what you do.
That’s why roulette systems are nonsense. They’re unable to change the math of the situation.
Progressive Betting Systems
Most roulette systems are variations of progressive betting systems. The most famous of these is the Martingale System, in which you double your bet after every loss. At first glance, the Martingale System sounds like a sure thing. But it falls apart under closer examination.
A Martingale player will make a $10 bet on an even money bet on the table and hope for a win. But if she loses, she’ll double the size of her next bet in order to recoup her losses and still wind up a single betting unit ahead. If she loses twice in a row, she’ll double up again. This betting progression, if you’re on a losing streak, might look like this:
$10 – $20 – $40 – $80 -$160 -$320 – $640 – $1280
And so on.
The flaw in this betting system is that you’ll see losing streaks more often than you think you will, and when you do hit a bad losing streak, you’ll have lost a massive amount of money.
Another flaw is that eventually you’ll wind up needing to place a bet that’s either more than you can afford or that’s over the table maximum at the casino. In that case, the system breaks.
In the example above, if you’ve lost that many bets in a row, your next bet would be $2560. You’ve already lost $2550, so if you win after placing this massive wager, you’ll still only be up by $10.
And what are your chances of winning on this large $2560 bet? About 47.3%.
The odds of each roulette spin are independent of each other spin. You’re not more likely to win after losing 8 spins in a row.
Other progressive betting systems involve other, more complicated, methods of raising and lowering your bets depending on what’s happened on previous spins. But at the end of the day, math will win out.
You might be able to grind out a few small wins using one of these systems, but if you play long enough, you’ll eventually lose all of those and then some when you come upon the inevitable losing streak.
Michael Shackleford runs a website about gambling math called The Wizard of Odds. At one time he offered to bet $20,000 versus $2000 that any betting system would lose over a billion wagers. Daniel Rainsong contacted him via email and agreed to take him up on the challenge.
This simulation used blackjack rules rather than roulette rules, and the house edge on the game variation used was 0.26%. That’s 5% better than you’ll find on a roulette game, so the chances of his betting system working should have been significantly better than if he’d used roulette.
It would have taken 14 hours to run through a billion blackjack hands via the simulator, so they did a test run of just 10 million hands. The system showed a profit of and on for the first 168,000 or so hands, but after that, the losses piled up, and the simulated player was never ahead again.
This is as good a real life demonstration as you’ll probably ever see of why betting systems don’t work on games with a negative expectation.
Roulette 666 System by John Ager
“666” is the number of the beast, at least according to Revelations and a few horror movies (mainly The Omen and its sequels). Fans of roulette (which is also sometimes called “the Devil’s wheel”) probably also know that if you add up all the numbers found on the roulette wheel, the total is 666.
But the number has additional significance for roulette players. It’s also the name of a popular gambling strategy/betting system for roulette. This page looks at how the 666 system works. It also analyzes the pros and cons of using this system.
The roulette 666 system covers all of the numbers on the table except for four. You need at least $66 per spin to use this system, but you could use multiples of $66 instead (like $132 or $198, etc.). If you did that, you’d simply multiply the betting amounts in the example below by whatever factor you’re using.
Here’s how the system works:
- You bet $36 on red.
- You bet another $24 on the following numbers: $4 on each of the following two-number bets: 0/2, 8/11, 10/13, 17/20, 26/29, 28/31.
- You place $2 bets on any 3 single numbers that you choose from the following: 4, 6, 15, 22, 24, 33, 35.
This will leave only four numbers on the table that you haven’t bet on. What kind of results can you expect to see using this system?
If one of the four numbers you didn’t bet on comes up, then you lose your $66.
In all other case, you’ll see a net win of $6.
Is the 666 System a Good System?
The 666 strategy is no better and no worse than any other roulette strategy on the market. What the system-sellers don’t tell their customers is that no system can affect the odds of winning at roulette. Every spin of the wheel is an independent event, and the house edge on every bet is the same. (Well, almost—on an American wheel, there is a single bet that has a higher house edge than the others.)
No amount of clever betting can eliminate that house edge. The house edge is a percentage of each wager that the casino mathematically expects to keep over the long run. In American roulette games, the house edge on almost every bet is 5.26%. In European roulette games, the house edge on almost every bet is 2.70%.
Risking $66 to get a net win of $6 requires quite a bit of certainty that you’re going to win most of the time, but the numbers and payouts are set up so that you’re going to lose more often than you think. Here’s how the math works out.
You have four numbers that will lose your entire bet. The odds of hitting each one of those numbers is 1/38, and the odds of any one of those numbers coming up is 4/38, or 2/19. That’s close to 10% of the time, but it’s actually 10.5% of the time.
Over 100 spins, you’ll lose all $66 an average of 10.5 times, for a net loss of $693. You’ll see a net win of $6 on all of the other results, or 89.5 times. That’s an expected win of $537.
If you win $537 and lose $693, did you walk away a winner?
System fans will argue that mathematically perfect results are rare, and that in the short run anything can happen. That’s true.
But results that deviate from the mean will favor the house as often as they will favor the player, so you’ll be unlucky and lose extra just as often as you get lucky and win extra. In other words, if you play long enough, you’ll inevitably face a losing streak as bad as your recent winning streak was good.
This betting system does nothing to change the odds of the game. It might be a fun way to manage your money, but it’s as useless as a winning strategy as any other strategy for beating roulette is.
What’s a Better Strategy for Roulette?
The best strategy for roulette is to understand going in that it’s a negative expectation game. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s like the first of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths—life is suffering. Roulette is losing.
But just as in Buddhism, which offers a solution to the suffering problem, good gambling strategy offers a solution to the losing problem. In Buddhism, the trick is to eliminate desire, since that’s where all suffering stems from. In good gambling strategy, the trick is to eliminate wishful thinking, since that’s where all the losing stems from.
When you play roulette, you accept that the odds are against you, and you play anyway for the entertainment value. Nothing is wrong with that unless you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that you’re somehow going to be special and beat the odds consistently.
If accepting a negative expectation game is beyond your psychological abilities, then learning how to play a game where you can achieve a positive expectation is a potential solution. You can get an edge at blackjack by counting cards. You can learn perfect strategy for certain video poker games that can give you an edge. You can learn to play poker at an expert level. Or you can become a really smart, savvy sports bettor.
Other gambling games, including roulette, have the odds stacked so high in the favor that it’s extremely unrealistic to expect to find a way to win at them consistently.
Roulette vs. Blackjack – Which Game is Better?
What are the pros and cons of roulette versus the pros and cons of blackjack? How do these games differ, and how are they the same? Like all casino games, they have certain characteristics that hold true for every game you’ll play in a casino. But they also have significant differences, which I’ll analyze for you on this page.
Independent Events versus Deck Composition Strategies
The odds in roulette never change, no matter what happens on previous bets. If you bet on black, the odds are always either 18/38 or 18/37 that you’ll win. That’s because every spin of a roulette wheel is an independent event. Previous results don’t affect the odds on subsequent results.
This doesn’t mean that roulette gamblers understand this. Many of them stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the simple fact that it’s impossible to get an edge on roulette based on studying the results of previous spins. Martingale players take this to a systematic extreme by lowering and raising their wagers based on what happened on the last spin.
Imagine though a new roulette wheel, one in which certain numbers got filled in once they’d been hit. The odds would change with every spin of the wheel, right? For example, there are 18 black numbers, so the odds of winning a bet on black are 18/38. If you removed one of the black numbers after black hit, the odds of winning the same bet would be reduced to 17/38.
It doesn’t take a math genius to understand how you could use this information to your advantage.
But that’s exactly what happens with a blackjack deck. Once a card is dealt, it’s gone, and the composition of the deck has changed. This is how card counters make money. They use a heuristic system to estimate how favorable the deck is to the player.
Some might have trouble getting their head around this idea, but it becomes simpler if you think of it this way. You get paid out 3 to 2 if you hit a natural “21” right? All other bets pay out at even money, so getting a natural blackjack is where a blackjack player makes his money.
But what are your odds of being dealt a blackjack if all four of the aces in the deck have already been dealt? They become 0, right? If the deck has 0 aces in it, and you need an ace and a face or ten to get the 3 to 2 payout, then the house edge increases considerably.
The same holds true for the tens, but there are more of them in a deck. And the reverse of this is true. As the lower cards are dealt, the ratio of tens and aces becomes more favorable. So the card counter raises his bet sizes to take advantage of the higher chance of getting a bigger payout.
Strategy versus Pure Chance
Another aspect of blackjack that’s different from roulette is the ability for the player to affect the house edge by making smart decisions. (The house edge is the percentage of each wager that the casino expects to win over the long run.)
In roulette, the house edge is fixed, regardless of what decisions you make. On an American wheel, you face a house edge of 5.26%. On a European wheel, you face a house edge of 2.70%. No decisions that you make can change this number.
On the other hand, there are multiple decision points in a blackjack hand. You could increase the house edge to 100% by hitting every hand until you bust, for example. (Most players are smarter than that, though.)
Smart blackjack players use something called “basic strategy” to make their decisions. Basic strategy provides the mathematically best play in every situation that might come up. It’s generally easy to memorize.
The difference between using basic strategy and just playing your hunches is significant. Game conditions vary, but generally speaking, if you use correct basic strategy, you can reduce the house edge to between 0.5% and 1%. Players who don’t know basic strategy face a house edge of 4% to 5%.
If you like making decisions that affect your outcome, and you want to play a game where you can get edge by an advantage maneuver like counting cards, skip the roulette table. Play blackjack instead.
On the other hand, if that sounds like too much trouble, roulette can be a lot of fun. It’s not a sucker bet, no matter what anyone tells you–unless you buy into some loony roulette system or superstition.
Wagers per Hour
Another difference that has a practical effect on a player is how many wagers per hour happen at the table in the two games. You can estimate how much money you’ll expect to lose per hour if you multiply the size of your wager by the house edge and multiplying that by the number of wagers you make per hour.
Roulette is a relatively leisurely game. If you’re playing at a table with five other players, you’re only going to be seeing 35 spins per hour. If you only place a single wager per spin, you can easily estimate your average hourly loss.
Suppose you’re betting $5 a spin. The house edge is 5.26%. So you can expect to lose about 26.3 cents per spin. You can expect to lose a little over $9 per hour at that rate.
Of course, with fewer players at the roulette table, you can expect to see more wagers per hour. If it’s just you and the dealer, for example, you can expect to see 100 or so spins per hour, which will triple your expected hourly loss.
Blackjack is a faster-paced game. If you’re playing blackjack at a table with 5 other players, you can expect to see 60 hands per hour. If you’re playing with perfect basic strategy (1% house edge) at $5 per hand, you can expect to lose a nickel per hand. That’s just $3 per hour. Even though you’re putting almost twice the money into action per hour, your entertainment is costing you even less.
Does that make blackjack better than roulette? That depends on your personality. Do you like a leisurely, elegant game? Do you prefer not to have to think too much when gambling? Then roulette is better than roulette—for you.
On the other hand, if you like card games and enjoy the challenge of making correct decisions, blackjack is more likely to be suited to your personality.
The pros and cons of each game are all based on what you prefer as a gambler.