Roulette is a simple game, and in the long term, there isn’t a great deal you can do to transform your chances of winning. Perhaps the most crucial factor, though, is whether you play a French-style (or European-style) wheel, or an American-style one. The main difference is in the number of zero squares. A ‘zero’ square is one where the bettor can never win – whether red or black, odd or even, one or 36, they’ll lose if the ball lands on a green zero or double-zero square. It’s this square that effectively gives the casino its profits.
European- and French-style table with one zero square
The French/European tables have a single zero square, which means the casino wins 2.7% of the time. The American tables, however, have not just a single zero, but also a double-zero square. This almost doubles their edge, and gives American casinos a win 5.26% of the time. So, if you want to have the best chance of winning, you need to sit down at a French or European-style table, where you’ll only have one zero square to contend with. It’s often assumed that European tables have always had the single zero, and that the double zero was later introduced by American casinos in order to make more money. But while there’s a degree of truth in that theory, it seems that the double zero was built into roulette wheels right from the beginning.
Blaise of Glory
The origins of roulette are slightly obscure. We know that the idea of an automatically spinning wheel was inadvertently created by mathematician Blaise Pascal, while he was trying to design a perpetual motion machine. However, his creation was rather primitive, and while we’ve retained the name – ‘roulette’ means ‘little wheel’ – the modern device has less to do with Pascal’s invention, and more to do with various other games that developed over the next century. Its biggest influences were probably the English ‘E-O’ and Italian ‘Hoca’ games, both of which used a rotating wheel. E-O’s wheel had forty-two different sections, two of which counted as ‘casino’ wins. Hoca was even more heavily skewed in the house’s favour, with three of its forty sections marked as casino wins.
The modern roulette wheel seems to have been developed from these two games, so it’s perhaps no surprise that early casinos retained the idea of having two ‘zero’ squares.
Enter the Single Zero
In fact, it wasn’t until the 1840s that we got the single zero. Many of the early casinos were based around spas, with games like roulette seen as enjoyable pursuits for the monied classes to engage in while recovering from an illness. Francois and Louis Blanc, in charge of the casino at Bad-Homburg, were tasked with the job of making it more popular than its competitors. So they introduced a table with a single zero, and in one fell swoop halved the casino’s ‘take’. This may have seemed like an expensive move, but since it brought in huge numbers of extra customers, many of whom were intent on taking advantage of the more profitable gaming conditions, the drop to the single zero proved a very smart move for Bad-Homburg.
Unfortunately, in the 1860s gambling was banned in many parts of Germany, and the Blanc Brothers were out of a job. However, Maria Caroline, consort of the Prince of Monaco, was looking to revitalise the Monte Carlo casino and bring in extra funds. She employed Louis Blanc, and he instantly repeated his earlier trick, bringing in a single zero to make his casino more distinctive. Again, crowds poured in, attracted by the apparently higher takings. With huge amounts of money available to make Monte Carlo as decadent and inviting as possible, Blanc soon made his casino synonymous with roulette. Given the popularity, casinos across Europe started copying the single zero, and that’s why it has become a fixture across European casinos today.
Of Eagles and Double-Zeroes
The independence and growing success of America fitted in nicely with the terror of the French Revolution, and the end of the 18th century saw huge numbers of the French sweeping across the USA. One of the things they brought with them was a love of roulette, and the game quickly became a big financial success. However, without the tactics of the Blancs to contend with, the US houses were content to stick with the original double-zero design. In fact, American casinos in pursuit of riches went one further, introducing an ‘Eagle’ square that would increase the house edge further still. This idea was later dropped as casinos looked to attract more customers, but the idea of single-zero roulette has rarely been attempted by US casinos.
The Green Revolution
Nowadays, the zero squares are easily distinguishable through their ‘green’ colour – setting them in contrast to the otherwise red and black squares. But it wasn’t always thus. The Zero and Double-Zero squares on those very first European tables were actually given names like Pair/Impaire or Manque/Passe, and were coloured red or black, just like the other squares. These squares often confused players, though. So, to avoid angry players claiming they had been cheated, the ‘house’ squares started to be coloured in a light green. This made it immediately obvious that the ball had landed on one of the house squares. This move towards green is mostly attributed to American casinos, although there are a few early wheels in Europe that also seem to use green