Putting the Wheels in Motion – A Brief History of Roulette

In 2020, the game of Roulette will celebrate its 300 years. Iconic, exciting and often the centerpiece of the casino, roulette is the ultimate casino table game; a mechanical wheel, a bouncing ball, a range of betting options. The wheel turns, a silence descends, your number hits, the room explodes.

Roulette embodies the casino gaming experience. There is a range of varied betting options. You can play it safe and simply bet odds, pairs and flushes; or you can live dangerously and play just one number. You have the excitement of the spinning wheel and the thrill as the ball makes its way to its final destination. Finally, you can see the house edge. The green zero is one of the clearest representations of how a casino makes its money. When zero lands, the house wins.

A roulette wheel to rule them all

Culturally, roulette is strictly A-list. Katy Perry, Rihanna, System of a Down and Bruce Springsteen have written songs about it and the game has featured in several films including: Diamonds Are Forever, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Indecent Proposal and – most famous – Casablanca.

Perry spins the wheel

After three centuries of watching the ball bounce back into grief and fortune, we take the chips off the table and step back in time. Here is a brief history of roulette – no more bets, please …

Without the laws of thermodynamics, the game of roulette would probably not exist. The original roulette wheel evolved from the challenge of building a perpetual motion machine; a device that completely eliminates friction and will maintain movement forever. Although impossible, it is a challenge that has long captured the imagination of inventors.

A happy accident

One of these inventors was Frenchman Blaise Pascal. Born in 1623, Pascal was a child prodigy, inventor, mathematician and engineer. He built his first mechanical calculating machines when he was still a teenager. Later in his life, Pascal decided to take on the challenge of perpetual motion. In 1655, he created a roulette machine. The name derived from French for “small wheel”.

Perpetual motion – the scientific challenge that led to roulette

At the start of the 18th century, there were several iterations of mechanical – roller – betting games in Europe. In London, a game called roly poly had a vertical wheel with black and white slots. Players could bet on either color. In Italy, the first roulette betting format took shape with the game biribi; here players could bet columns, singles and adjacent numbers.

Other games included the ace of hearts, EO (even odd), and hoca. Roly poly or roulet was eventually exported to Paris where it became known as Roulette. It was first mentioned in 1788 and was still just a 50/50 betting game.

The roulette revolution

By 1796, roulette had metamorphosed into the game we know today. We know this thanks to the French writer Jacques Labele who wrote a book called “The roulette or the story of a player”. The book is a collection of letters from the player to his wife and perfectly describes all basic roulette bets including red, black, even, odd, past (higher numbers) and missed (low numbers) bets.

By 1843, roulette was popular in both Europe and the United States, quickly becoming one of the most popular casino games. In Bad Homburg, the French brothers François and Louis Blanc introduced the simple green zero. The standard was both a black zero and a red zero. The single zero gave the house a smaller edge.

Roulette with Rick – yes, please …

In the United States, double zero roulette has remained dominant. Even today, casino players – online and offline – can choose to play American Roulette, knowing that their chances of winning are slightly less than if they were playing European games. This is the price of patriotism.

Today, roulette remains as popular as ever. Still at the heart of a casino, the game takes seconds to understand, the mechanics are straightforward, the odds are easy to grasp, and the bouncing ball adds real excitement to the action. From a simple science experiment to every casino on the planet, whether real or online, roulette is the wheel that keeps turning.

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About Douglas Moser


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