Roulette is a casino classic. It’s slow-paced, elegant, and has a huge history. People have been playing roulette since the 17th century, even though it didn’t become hugely popular until the 18the century, when it became a common sight at casinos everywhere.
Roulette is more popular in Europe than it is in the United States, but it’s still a fixture in USA casinos. Blackjack and craps are the big draws in terms of U.S. casino table games. But when it comes to how easy it is to play, roulette trumps both of them.
A roulette wheel is three feet in diameter and weighs about 100 pounds. The wheel has 38 numbered pockets colored red, green, and black. The black and red pockets are numbered 1 through 36, and half of them are red. The other half are black. The other two numbers are 0 and 00, and they’re both colored green.
The dealer at the roulette table is called a “croupier”. This person spins the wheel (counterclockwise). At the same time, the croupier releases a ball around the track around the wheel (clockwise). Eventually the ball lands in one of the pockets.
The wheel isn’t the only significant thing to see on a roulette table. The surface itself is important, too. The layout is a grid of sorts with a space for each of the 38 numbers corresponding to the numbers on the wheel.
The table also has a sign indicating what the minimum bet at that table is. That minimum is the amount you must wager on any of the bets on the outside of the grid. If you’re placing bets inside the layout, you have to make wagers totaling at least the minimum wager. For example, if the table minimum is $20, you could place a $20 bet on one of the outside bets, but you couldn’t place a $5 bet there. But you could place $5 each on four different numbers and hit your $20 total.
The chips at the roulette table are different from the other chips in the casino. Players are assigned their own color chip at the roulette table, so that it’s easier to pay off the right bets. You cannot use these chips at any of the other casino table games in the casino. When you finish your roulette session, the croupier will exchange the roulette tips for regular casino chips for you.
When you buy in, the croupier asks what denomination you want your chips to be. There’s always a minimum. At a dollar table, the chip minimum will be 25 cents per chip. At a $5 table, the chip minimum will be $1 per chip. The croupier keeps track of he value of your chips with a marker.
Players place their bets on the layout. You can share positions with other players who want to make the same bet—the casino can distinguish your bets because of the different chip colors for each player. You can even put your chips on top of another player’s chips.
Eventually the ball will start to slow down, and the croupier will announce, “No more bets.” At that point, you can’t place a bet.
The ball comes to rest in one of the pockets in the wheel. The dealer calls out the winning number. She also places a marker on that number’s spot on the layout. The losing chips are cleared off the table. Then the winners are paid off. Outside bets are paid first, then inside bets.
Players aren’t allowed to touch the table or the chips until the dealer removes the marker. When she does this, she’ll also announce, “Place your bets”. If you don’t pick up your chips at this point, they become live wagers.
A multitude of bets are available on the wheel. Some of these pay out at even odds. Others pay out as much as 35 to 1. They’re all based on where the roulette ball lands. You can find descriptions of the payouts for each bet on this page of our site.
Roulette isn’t the best bet in the casino. On most roulette games in the United States, the house edge is 5.26%, which is higher than that of most other games in the casino. One bet offers even worse odds. That’s the five-number bet, which has a house edge of 7.89%. Avoid that bet at all costs.
If you can find a casino that offers a rules option called “surrender”, you can reduce the house edge to 2.63% on the even-money bets. These are common in Atlantic City casinos and in some online casinos.
European style roulette wheels have a single zero instead of a 0 and a 00. This lowers the house edge to 2.70%. If you can find a European roulette game with “en prison” rules, you can face a house edge of only 1.35% on even-money bets, but that variant is rare in the United States. (It’s not uncommon in European casinos, though.)
Roulette is one of those casino games that can’t be played with an advantage. There’s no such thing as a pro roulette player. Ignore any advice about betting systems and just accept the mathematical edge that the casino has. You’ll have more fun and be less frustrated if you accept the fact that roulette is a losing proposition in the long run.
Just be happy in the short term when you have the occasional lucky win.