The History & Origins of Roulette

Tuesday, 19th September 2017

Roulette is one of the oldest and most popular games in the casino. It’s especially popular among women. The history of the game is fascinating in itself.

Some historians say that Blaise Pascal invented roulette in 1655, and players first got to enjoy the game at a makeshift Parisian casino.

Others say a now-nameless French monk invented the game because of the ennui inherent in the monastic lifestyle.

And still more historians claim that roulette is based on an ancient Chinese game where players tried to arrange 37 animal statuettes into a magic square of 666. (These historians don’t have details of how this game was supposed to have been played, though.) According to this latter theory, the game moved from China to Tibet to France via Dominican monks. One of these monks changed the statues to numbers and arranged them on a wheel from 0 to 36. But even the earliest French roulette wheels had both a 0 and a 00, so that latter theory might be unlikely.

The History of Roulette Wheels

According to some game historians, the first roulette wheels in French casinos were identical to the wheels used in today’s casinos. This is incorrect. The American Hoyle, which was published in the mid 19th century, contains detailed rules, including the design of the wheel and layouts as used in both France and the United States at the time. Both American and French roulette at the time differed significantly from the modern versions.

The Historical American Roulette Wheel

Until the latter part of the 19th century (around 1890), American roulette wheels used a design different from that of the European wheels. These early American roulette wheels used 31 numbers and symbols. The numbers were from 1 to 28, 0 and 00, and a picture of an American eagle. (The picture of the eagle was, in effect, a “000”.)

The casino won all bets on the layout except for a bet on the winning symbol. These winning single number bets paid off at 27 to 1. Bets were also available on red or black, both of which paid off at even money. The game also had four “columns” bets, each of which consisted of a bet on 7 numbers and which paid off at 3 to 1.

The casino had a larger house edge on this early version of the game. Here is the house edge for each of those wagers:

  • Single number bet: 12.9%
  • Red of black bet: 9.68%
  • The columns bet: 9.68%

Roulette was not especially popular in the United States at the time, and given the high house edge, it’s not hard to understand why.

Early French Roulette Wheels

French roulette wheels at that time resembled modern American roulette wheels. They had a 0 and 00, but they only had 36 numbers total instead of 38. The casino paid off at 34 to 1 on a single number bet.

Another difference in these wheels is the colors on the 0 and the 00. The 0 was black, while the 00 was red. All color bets on the 0 or 00 were considered “bars”. Those bets were neither won nor lost.

Modern Roulette Wheels

Modern American roulette wheels have 38 numbers from 1-36, a 0, and a 00. Half the numbers are black. The other half are red. The exceptions are the 0 and the 00, which are green. On a modern American roulette table, the green bets are lost on all even money bets.

Modern French/European wheels have 37 numbers. They’ve eliminated the 00, but other than that, the wheels are much the same as modern American roulette wheels. This cuts the house edge in half, just by virtue of having fewer zeros.

Why Has Roulette Changed So Much?

The changes to roulette represent the growing frustration of gamblers who sustain big losses at the roulette tables. Eventually anyone will begin to realize how bad the odds are stacked against them, and casinos make adjustments to their games to find a balance between a house edge that’s high enough to make the game profitable while also being low enough to attract lots of players.

In America, we’ve seen the table eliminate the eagle, so that there are only the 0 and the 00. The next step in that progression will be to eliminate the 00, too, which has already happened at some live casinos. And almost all online casinos offer a single zero version of roulette.

Roulette Anecdotes

Roulette players have won and lost fortunes on the so-called Devil’s Wheel. A Mexican businessman is said to have won $67,500 at Caesars Palace. The casino allowed him to wager $500 on straight, split, corner, street, and line bets. He wagered $500 on the 4, and he also made four $500 split bets and four $500 corner bets. When the ball landed on the 4, he won $67,500.

I read about a woman who lost over $3 million over the course of five years playing roulette at various casinos. (Her husband was quite wealthy.)

The Popularity of Roulette

Roulette has historically always been more popular in European and Latin American casinos. The game is found in most legal and regulated brick and mortar casinos in the United States, and it’s also a popular game on the Internet. Women are particularly attracted to roulette because of its air of glamour and sophistication. It is a beautiful and colorful game. It’s also easy to play.

Newer versions of roulette include electronic versions and games with multiple spinning balls. The future probably holds additional innovations for the game, but only time will tell

Craps History Through the Ages

Tuesday, 22nd August 2017

The history of craps might date back to the time of the Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries. The French knights who went to the Holy Land to fight Islam brought back many influences, including algebra, new poetic styles, and lost Greco-Roman writings. Apparently, gambling on dice games might have been one influence. The French quickly added their own complicated rules to the game, making it their own.

The game received its name from the French word “crapaud”, which means “toad”. Early dice shooters are thought to have crouched like a toad when playing the game, much like they do in television and movie depictions of back-alley craps games. The tales of the game’s origin in the Crusades could be apocryphal, though, because craps might have come from other antecedents.

History of Dice Games

Dice games have existed for thousands of years. For instance, a form of backgammon is thought to have been played in the Burnt City of Iran as early as 3000 B.C. While the Hebrew practice of casting lots was not (normally) a form of gambling, the Biblical depiction of Roman soldiers casting lots for the dead Jesus’s clothes certainly reminds one of gambling.

Hazard and Craps

The English dice game “Hazard” might well be the progenitor of craps. Hazard is mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was written in the 1370s or 1380s. The English and the French were locked in the Hundred Years War at the time, as the English kings sought to control half (or more) of the Kingdom of France. Americans forget how close England and France are, and therefore how much influence each has had on the culture of the other. Paris and London are a little over 200 miles apart.

With the intricate diplomacy of the times and soldiers frequently changing sides in the conflicts, in the earlier days, Hazard might well have influenced the French to create their own dice game. Later in its history, Hazard certainly played a key role in the development of craps.

Craps Comes to America

In England in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, Hazard became a popular game with the English-speaking peoples. Bernard de Marigny, a French-Creole nobleman living in the French-controlled Mississippi River Valley, visited England and learned to play Hazard.

De Marigny, whose full name was Jean-Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, borrowed a number of ideas from the English dice game and simplified those concepts into modern craps. He brought the game to New Orleans, where it first gained the name “crapaud”.

World War II

During World War II, a street-version of craps became a popular game among American soldiers. The G.I.s often did not have a proper surface to shoot their dice on, so they used Army blankets for their rolls.

Dice Control Methods

Players often did not have a solid back wall for bouncing the dice as is proper in casinos versions, so this is when the first dice control methods are known to have been used. The first of these was called the “army blanket roll”. To this day, dice control methods in craps are controversial. Some respected experts say they are real, while others remain skeptical.

Casino Craps

After the war, craps became a casino game in destination spots like Las Vegas and Monte Carlo. Soldiers were familiar with the game, in an era of affluence, Americans began to take their vacations in Sin City. By the 1950s, all Las Vegas casinos had their own craps tables. Over the course of the next generation, the traditional craps bets were added to the game.

Craps became popular, because it encouraged camaraderie among gamblers. Also, dice shooting is a naturally exciting form of gambling, due to the wild swings and quick game resolution. Even better, among the games with no distinguishable mathematical strategies to learn, craps has some of the best odds from a player’s perspective. Only the need to provide four staff members to a craps table kept the game from being featured more often in casinos across the United States–and around the globe.

Online Craps

When Internet gambling began to develop, online craps was one of the first games offered. With a random number generator and basic computer graphics, designers could simulate the roll of the dice. One big problem existed with online casino craps, though.

Craps is best enjoyed as a community game. Playing alongside a number of other colorful characters, sharing the ups and downs of gambling, is how dice is meant to be enjoyed. Online craps simply could not reproduce that experience in the early stages of development. As graphics, gameplay, and online interfaces have improved, the ability to have conversations though instant messages developed. Some players still wanted the old game played on the Internet, though.

Live dealer craps finally restored the game to its original look and feel. These days, players can enjoy real craps streamed live from a gambling studio via the same live streaming technology used for Netflix and Hulu videos.

Mobile Craps

Also, mobile craps applications exist which allow players to gamble using their Android smartphones, iPhones, and iPad tablet computers. Simply go to a mobile casino and click on the appropriate craps apps link. This takes you to Android Marketplace or iTunes or some other appropriate downloadable apps page.