The History of Roulette

Published on: June 10, 2010 

The invention of roulette is attributed to Blaise Pascal in the 17th century. Pascal is said to have devised this game while developing a perpetual motion machine. He drew upon a number of English wheel games and French and Italian board games. In fact the word roulette means “little wheel” in French.

The earliest reference to the roulette game as we know it today was found in 1796 in Paris. A French novel “La Roulette, ou le Jour” by Jaques Lablee describes a roulette wheel in the Palais Royal. The description says “There are exactly two slots reserved for the bank, whence it derives its sole mathematical advantage.” The description goes on to say that these slots are called zero and double zero.

The roulette wheel with the single zero, which is today known as the European wheel, was introduced in 1843 in the spa casino town of Homburg in Germany. This innovation has been attributed to the Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc. They did this to offer a lower house edge and hence make their casinos more competitive. When the grand Monte Carlo Casino opened in 1863, the contract to operate it was given to Francois Blanc. Initially Blanc started with the standard double zero wheel, but was unable to draw sufficient traffic and was therefore unable to recover the amounts he had to pay under the contract. He was forced to convert to the single zero wheel. Thereafter his fortunes changed but soon all the wheels in Europe were forced to convert to single zero. Hence this wheel has come to known as the European wheel.

The early roulette wheels in America were somewhat different. They had only 28 numbers instead of the 36 numbers prevalent in Europe. Also they had three slots for the bank, a single zero, a double zero, and an American Eagle. This wheel has been described by the gambling expert Hoyle in 1886. Hoyle writes, “… the single 0, the double 0, and eagle are never bars; but when the ball falls into either of them, the banker sweeps every thing upon the table, except what may happen to be bet on either one of them …”

In the United States roulette was first established in New Orleans and then moved up the Mississippi and finally across the Wild West. Eventually the standard American format became the one with 36 numbers plus single zero and double zero. Certain other changes were made in America that were later adopted in Europe. The wheel was placed above the table so as to ensure transparency of operations. Also the betting layout was simplified.

One final development in roulette took place in France in the mid-1900s after gambling was legalized again. The French casinos adopted the European version of the wheel but felt that it still gave too much advantage to the house. Therefore they introduced a rule known as La Partage. For all even money wagers when 0 is called players are returned half their bets.

When online casinos were established in the mid-1990s roulette became an integral part of Internet gambling. Most online casinos offer the European and the American versions of roulette, but some of them offer the French version as well. Over time Internet casinos began to offer roulette games with progressive jackpots and other side bets so that players could get large payouts that they were accustomed to in online slot games.

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