Setting the Wheels in Motion – A Brief History of Roulette


In 2020 the game of roulette will celebrate its 300th birthday. Legendary, exciting and often the heart of the casino, roulette is the definitive casino table game; a mechanical wheel, a bouncing ball, a range of betting options. The wheel turns, a silence falls, your number strikes, space explodes.

Roulette embodies the casino gaming experience. There are different betting options. You can play it safe and only bet on odds, lines and colors; or you can live dangerously and play a single number. You have the excitement of the spinning wheel and the thrill of seeing the ball clatter its way to its final destination. Finally, you can see the house edge. The green zero is one of the clearest representations of how a casino makes its money. If the zero lands, the house wins.

A roulette to rule them all

Culturally, roulette is strictly A-list. Katy Perry, Rihanna, System of a Down, and Bruce Springsteen have written songs about it, and the game has featured in several films including: Diamonds Are Forever, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Indecent Proposal, and best known, Casablanca.

Perry turns the wheel

After watching the ball bounce its way to heartbreak and happiness for three centuries, we clear the chips off the table and turn back the clock. Here is a brief history of roulette – no more bets please …

Without the laws of thermodynamics, roulette probably wouldn’t exist. The original roulette wheel arose from the challenge of building a perpetual motion machine; a device that completely eliminates friction and keeps motion forever. While impossible, it’s a challenge that has long fueled inventors’ imaginations.

A happy accident

One of these inventors was the French Blaise Pascal. Pascal was born in 1623 and was a child prodigy, inventor, mathematician, and engineer. As a teenager, he built his first mechanical calculating machines. In later life, Pascal decided to take up the challenge of perpetual motion. In 1655 he created a roulette machine. The name is derived from the French for “small wheel”.

Perpetual motion machine – the scientific challenge that led to roulette

At the beginning of the 18th century there were several iterations of mechanical – wheel-based – betting games across Europe. In London, a game called Roly Poly had a vertical wheel with black and white slots. Players could bet on either color. In Italy, the early roulette betting format took shape with the game biribi; Here the players could bet on columns, singles and neighboring numbers.

Other games included ace of hearts, EO (odd even) and hoca. Roly Poly or Roulette was eventually exported to Paris, where it became known as Roulette. It was first mentioned in a document in 1788 and was still only a 50/50 game.

The roulette revolution

By 1796, roulette had morphed into the game we know today. We know that thanks to the French writer Jacques Lablee, who wrote a book called “Roulette or the Story of a Gambler”. The book is a collection of letters from the player to his wife and perfectly describes all basic roulette bets, including red, black, even, odd, passé (upper numbers) and manqué (lower numbers).

By 1843, roulette was enjoyed in both Europe and the United States and quickly became one of the most popular casino games. In Bad Homburg, the French brothers Francois and Louis Blanc introduced the green single Zero. The standard was both a black and a red zero. The single zero gave the house a minor edge.

Roulette with Rick – yes, please …

In the United States, double zero roulette remained dominant. Even today, casino players can play American Roulette, both online and offline, knowing that their chances of winning are slightly less than playing European games. That is the price of patriotism.

Today roulette is as popular as ever. Always at the heart of a casino, it takes seconds to understand the game, the mechanics are simple, the odds are easy to understand and the bouncing ball adds real tension. From a simple science experiment to every casino on the planet – both real and online – roulette is the wheel that keeps turning.

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