The name roulette is French meaning little wheel. There are a few theories about the origin of the game. The most common of these is that roulette began in 1657, when it was invented by the French scientist Blaise Pascal during a monastic retreat. Roulette was said to be a by-product of Pascal’s perpetual motion devices. Another theory claims that a French monk created the game in order to break some of the monotony of life in the monastery.
Theories of Origins
A less plausible theory traces the history of roulette to a Chinese game. The object of this game was to arrange 37 statuettes of animals in a “magic square” of 666. The game was played in Tibet and was later supposedly played by French Dominican monks. The monks are said to have transposed the statuettes into numbers, which where then arranged along the rim of a revolving wheel. Monks seem to be involved in roulette’s beginnings somewhere along the way regardless of the theory. There are even some that trace roulette back to accounts of Romans tipping their chariots on their sides to spin one of the wheels for entertainment.
Several early versions of the roulette wheel appeared in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. The first account of a spinning ball and rotating horizontal wheel being used as a gaming device was in a game called roly-poly, in 1720. This and many other games of chance where banned in England by Gaming Acts of 1739 and 1740. An innovator named Beau Nash evaded the ban by introducing a version called EO, or Even-Odd. This simplified version was later outlawed in 1745.
Evolution of Roulette
The modern version of the roulette wheel appeared in Paris casinos around 1795. These roulette games contained the familiar elements we know today. The single zero was originally colored red and the double zero was black, although a bet on either red or black did not include the zero pockets. The zeros were later colored green to avoid confusion over this exclusion.
The game made it’s way to America in the early 1800’s by way of Europeans in New Orleans. Some American proprietors experimented with a 31-pocket wheel containing the numbers 1 through 28 with 0, 00 and an Eagle pocket. The payout for these wheels was only 26 to 1 for a single number win translating into an awful 12.09% house edge. People soon stopped playing these wheels.
Things went the opposite way in France, where Francois and Louis Blanc introduced the first single zero wheel in 1842. Gambling was illegal in France but the single zero wheel found a home in Hamburg, Bavaria. Bavaria became Germany and eventually gambling was outlawed there as well. Louis, the surviving Blanc, then accepted an invitation from the Prince of Monaco, Charles III. For a cost of 2 million francs, Louis was allowed to establish a casino, which set the new standard in Europe.
Both modern versions of the roulette wheel originated in France. The double zero wheel has become know as the American Wheel because it survived in the United States. The single zero wheel became the standard for European gaming and has been dubbed the French Wheel or European Wheel. Because of the single zero wheel and En Prison rule in Europe the house edge is only 1.35% compared to 5.26% in most U.S. casinos.
In European casinos roulette accounts for over 50% of revenues versus only about 5% in U.S. casinos. Roulette was a popular game in the United States until around World War II. At this time blackjack and craps began to gain popularity but roulette has survived to remain a standard at most casinos in the United States and around the world. Many online casinos offer both the American Wheel and European Wheel.