- Written by Doris Montag Doris Montag
The roulette wheel is a spinning horizontal wheel divided into 38 or 39 numbered and colored slots.
The bowl, traditionally made of mahogany, is a fixed part of the roulette wheel. It is carefully polished to ensure smooth movement. In the center, a spindle supports the rotating wheel head. A turret above the spindle holds an extra ball on its top, mostly for decorative effect.
Modern roulette wheels have eight deflectors. These metal pieces make the movement of the ball more unpredictable.
The invisible lower part of the bowl is made of several layers of wood. This ensures the wood will not warp under the influence of moisture or temperature changes. A rotor attaches to the spindle with a bearing, which allows the bowl to rotate freely and for a long time with considerable speed.
The roulette ball, weighing 6 grams, was traditionally made of ivory. Today, plastic or Teflon balls are used. They move more unpredictably and don’t wear out the roulette wheel as quickly.
To play the game of roulette, the dealer spins the wheel in one direction and rolls the ball in the opposite direction. Eventually, the ball slows down until it drops into one of the wheel’s numbered pockets. Anyone who has placed a bet on that number wins.
Roulette is a French word meaning “little wheel.” Historians believe Blaise Pascal, a mathematician, inventor, and confirmed gambler, introduced a primitive form of roulette in 1650 during his unsuccessful search for a perpetual-motion machine.
During this time, gambling was illegal throughout Europe, but not across the Mediterranean Sea. Facing financial difficulties in his country, Prince Charles of Monaco opened gambling houses where roulette was prominently featured. The game became popular among aristocrats and royalty.
The roulette in these gambling houses was almost identical to that of today. The numbers went from 1-36 with one zero and one double-zero pocket. The colors were red and black.
In 1842, two Frenchmen, Francois and Louis Blanc, removed the double-zero pocket, creating what we know today as European Roulette. With only one zero slot, the house edge (chance to win) dropped to 2.7%, but it enticed more players. In comparison, roulette with two zero slots has an average house edge of 5.26%.
The house edge refers to the percentage of money that the casino keeps from each bet. It supports the operation of the casino, pays the staff and security, and drives the casino’s profits.
Roulette arrived in Louisiana with early settlers in the 1800s. U.S. casinos wanted the higher house edge (5.26%) and reintroduced the double-zero version known today as American Roulette.
The arrangement of numbers on the wheel is based on a complex system that ensures a random distribution of all numbers. The purpose of the sequence is to place black and red colors as well as even and odd numbers equally.
Roulette rules are simple, but it is a game of pure chance. Each spin is independent. It is not subject to any strategy other than luck and a prayer. Apparently, it is a thrilling way to lose money quickly.
Doris Montag is a homespun historian and an exhibit curator who researches and displays historical collections of ordinary things, such as can openers, crochet, toy sewing machines, hand corn planters, powder compacts, egg cartons, and more. Contact or follow her on Facebook, HistoryofOrdinaryThings.