American Roulette

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Published: 08/04/2012

The Roulette wheel invented by the French in the 18th century made its way to North America just as the 19th century got underway. The game followed trade routes across the Atlantic Ocean and up the Gulf of Mexico to the city of New Orleans, where it was almost immediately embraced by the local French population.

At the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, all Roulette wheels in the world featured 38 numbered pockets. Their alternating Red and Black numbers circled between a green-coloured slot marked Zero on one side of the wheel and a similar slot for Double Zero diagonally opposite it.

It was not until four decades later that a 37-number version of the game would be developed in Europe to become the norm for casinos there. By that time, however, the original wheel was already well entrenched aboard paddle-wheelers, in gambling halls and at saloons of the Old West in America, and that has remained the case, unchanged into the 21st century.

The wheels installed on riverboats that traveled the Mississippi River more than two hundred years ago were identical to the “American” Roulette wheels seen in today’s casinos, featuring exactly the same table layouts as well. On the American wheel, the numbers circle clockwise from the Single Zero in an apparently random sequence: 0-28-9-26-30-11-7-20-32-17-5-22-34-15-3-24-36-13-1-00-27-10 -25-29-12-8-19-31-18-6-21-33-16-4-23-35-14-2.

If one examines the pattern a bit more closely, it can be seen that every odd number appearing on the wheel face is located immediately across from the next even number in sequence. The colors also alternate Red and Black.

On the surface of the Roulette table, the American layout is almost identical to its European counterpart. Red numbers slalom along the length of the field like a downhill ski run from 1 to 36. Black numbers seem to congregate around the 5 and 29, while 17 and 20 appear rather alone in the center of the table.

What truly separates the American pattern from the European one, of course, is the Double Zero. It is positioned right next to the Single Zero at the head of the three columns of numbers. This layout creates a unique betting opportunity in American Roulette that does not exist on Europe’s 37-number table. A single chip can be bet on a group of five numbers (0-00-1-2-3) for a potential of 6-to-1. However, the true odds of winning on this wager are 33:5 against—much worse than the implied odds of 30:5—so it is not a particularly good bet.

The existence of the Double Zero on the wheel also changes the game’s odds for other wagers. Any selection on a 37-slot European Roulette wheel has a 1/37 chance of coming up, for probability of about 2.70%. On the American Roulette wheel, the odds are 1/38, or 2.63%. Even though the difference appears to be quite small, it can have a huge effect over time because it increases the House edge.

When just one Zero is featured on the wheel, the House advantage over the player is 1/37 or 2.70%. When both the Single Zero and Double Zero are working for the House, the edge jumps up to 2/38 or 5.26%—almost double. Casinos that offer American Roulette expects to take in a bit more than £1 out of every £20 wagered versus just 54p at the European Roulette tables.

Obviously, if a choice is available between the two types of Roulette games, playing the European version makes mathematical sense. On the other hand, casinos are aware of this, so they may vary the stakes at the tables, making it cost-prohibitive to play the European game. American Roulette can typically be played for as little as 10p, 25p, or £1 per chip staked. European Roulette play may cost at £2, £5, or more per chip. Whatever amounts the casino might give up in a lower House advantage, it will recover in betting volume over the long haul.

Published on: 08/04/2012

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