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 Casino Knowledge - History of Games

 

All About the History of Roulette

  • The name itself, "Roulette" is a French word meaning "Small Wheel" which signifies that the game, as we know it today, originated somewhere within the French culture.

Sometimes there are stories heard that the game was created in China and brought to Europe by Dominican monks who were trading with the Chinese.  

There are accounts of ancient Romans tipping their chariot wheels on their sides and spinning one of the wheels for games of diversion.

Earlier versions of Roulette, like the carnival wheel game, were in use throughout Europe, as early as the mid-1500s.

A very primitive version of roulette was introduced in the 17th century by the famous French scientist, Blaise Pascal, who is also accredited with the probability theory. It is said that this was a by-product of his perpetual motion devices. Blaise Pascal's invention of the roulette is sometimes rather seen as a tale. 

The first account we have of a spinning ball and a rotating horizontal wheel being used as a gaming device was in a game called "roly-poly," in 1720. The Gaming Acts of 1739 and 1740 banned roly-poly, as well as many other games of chance, in England. An innovative Beau Nash, the Master of Ceremonies at Bath, England, evaded these laws by introducing "Even-Odd". EO was a simplified version of Roulette, but that too was outlawed in 1745. 

During the next 50 years (from 1745 onwards), the game evolved into the one that we can recognize today. The modern roulette wheel began appearing in Paris casinos around 1796. The familiar elements were already there –  the numbered layout of pockets 1–36 with alternating red and black colors, green 0, and green 00. The 0 was actually red in color and the 00 black, and the rules were the same. Eventually these colors would be changed to green to avoid further confusion on color bets.

Roulette was introduced to the United States of America in the 1800’s, by way of the many Europeans found in the Louisiana city of New Orleans. Due to the greed of certain gaming establishment proprietors, who were not content with a 5.26% edge, people soon stopped playing roulette, particularly those roulette wheels which these enterprising businesspersons had reduced to just 31 pockets in order to benefit a staggering 12.90% advantage. Of course, people ended up only playing the original double zero wheels. The game became popular in the old west of America during the California Gold Rush.

Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc (brothers) invented the single "0" roulette game in 1842. Roulette’s history changed dramatically at this point, particularly the House’s edge, which was now reduced from 5.26% to a 2.70%. The game became a smashing success. Because gambling was illegal in France during this time, the game was introduced in Hamburg (Bavaria), Germany where it became very popular and replaced an earlier version that featured higher odds. 

The option of "En Prison" was offered, further lowering the house edge, on even money wagers, down to 1.35%. No wonder the game accounts for over 50% of revenues in European casinos as compared to about 5% in U.S. casinos. Casinos today in Atlantic City, do offer En Prison for even money bets on their double zero wheels. This effectively reduces the casinos' edge from 5.26% to 2.63% for those bets.

When history led the Principality to financial problems toward the end of the 1800s, Prince Charles, ruler of Monaco at the time, decided to bring gambling to Monaco. Although he allowed the gambling venture to proceed, he was not sure how well it would do.

When gambling was eventually banned from Germany, Louis Blanc accepted an invitation from the Prince of Monaco, Charles III, to visit Monte Carlo to establish and operate the casino that today sets the casino standards for everyone across Europe. In 1863 Blanc signed a 50-year franchise contract and built the luxurious Monte Carlo casino in a manner to attract the richest members of society and hence brought the game of roulette back to France. Blanc persuaded French authorities to build a highway to Monte Carlo and to extend the railway from Nice, which opened Monte Carlo to the world.

Although over time gambling became legalized throughout nearby France, the game of Roulette remained exclusive to Monte Carlo until 1933, which kept not only the luxurious Monte Carlo Casino popular, but also the game of Roulette.

Roulette did enjoy popularity stateside around the turn of the century up until World War II. As Americans learned to lose less at craps and subsequently became interested in the notion that black jack was beatable, roulette declined in popularity. Roulette is the oldest casino game still in existence.

Although both the American (double zero) and the European (single zero) versions of the wheel were invented in France, the double zero wheel has come to be known as the American Wheel, since, contrary to its fate in Europe, it has survived in the United States.

The single zero version has maintained itself as the European favorite, and has come to be known as the French Wheel. Other European nations have adopted the single zero version as their own. For example, there is the “British Single” Roulette.

 

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