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The Roulette Wheel and Table – How the Game Works

A Roulette WheelThe roulette wheel and table are two icons of casino gambling recognised even by those who have never set foot on a gaming floor. The table is made up of the betting surface (the layout on which bets are placed) as well as a spot for the large spinning wheel divided into numbered slots. A ball is tossed into the spinning wheel; the number and color of the slot where the ball lands determines which wagers win and which lose.

How the Game Works

As many as eight roulette players compete against the house at the same time. The game’s dealers are traditionally called croupiers, an old French nickname for casino employees. At most brick and mortar gambling spots, each game is run by a small group of employees; in that case, the croupier is generally the staff member that spins the roulette wheel, launches the ball, and determines the outcome of each round’s wagers.

Three standard sets of roulette rules exist in casinos around the world, referred to by the location where the rules were invented or by the number of zero slots on the wheel. The two most common variants are European (also known as single zero) and American (or double zero), but those names don’t mean the games are only available in Europe or the USA. The third and less common rule variation is called French roulette, played on a single zero wheel like the Euro version but with some differences in wager types and usually played using French nicknames for various bets.

Besides differences in the types of bets allowed, the big distinction between European and American games is the number of slots on the wheel and table. European games and wheels use 37 slots including 36 black and red numbers and a single green zero slot. American wheels have two green spots, 0 and 00, plus the usual lineup of the numbers one through thirty-six, for a total of thirty-eight single-number bets.

Another difference between games is the style of chips used for betting – most of the time, casinos have different chips for this table game, though the way these chips are used and assigned differs from one gambling spot to the next. For example, in Europe it’s common for players to have their own specific color of chips to simplify the payout system. In games that use chips distinct from other casino tokens, dealers trade your roulette chips for standard cash chips when you are finished playing – players then trade in those casino chips for cash as they would after any other game on the floor.

Roulette Rules & House Advantage

The house advantage in roulette varies depending on the style of wheel the game is played on. Single zero wheels give the casino an edge of 2.7%, while American-style games and their additional zero space give the house an advantage of 5.26% on all but one wager, the Five Numbers bet that increases the casino’s edge to more than 7%. Because of the larger edge on American wheels, single zero games tend to be more popular at betting venues where tables using both sets of rules are available.

A rule available on some European games and all French versions, “en prison” (literally French for “in prison”) alters the way even-money bets are handled. If a gambler loses an even-money wager because the ball landed in the green 0 slot, they have the option of retaining half of their wager or leaving their money “in prison” for the next spin. The result of the next spin determines the outcome – a gambler whose imprisoned wager pays off gets back their entire bet (without any additional winnings), but if an imprisoned bet loses the entire wager is lost. Games with this rule give the house a smaller advantage.

Some American games have a similar rule that decreases the casino’s edge. Known as the “surrender” rule, the option gives players who lose on even-money bets the chance to win back half of their wager on the next spin, but only if their original wager wins. Games with the “surrender” options cut slightly into the house advantage, but don’t give the gambler the option of taking back half of his wager as with the “en prison” rule.

Bets & Payouts

This list of available bets on Euro and American games (along with their accompanying payouts) is the same for double zero and single zero wheels, except that the Five Number wager is not available on European tables.

  • Single number or straight-up bets pay 35 to 1.
  • Two number or split bets pay 17 to 1.
  • Three number or street bets pay 11 to 1.
  • Four number or corner bets pay 8 to 1.
  • Five number bets pay 5 to 1.
  • All outside dozens or column bets pay 2 to 1.
  • All outside even money bets pay 1 to 1.

Here is a list of French roulette bets and their appropriate French nickname, useful for non-French speakers who try their hand on a French wheel.

  • Single number or straight up bets are called “En plein.”
  • Two numbers or split bets are called “Cheval.”
  • Three numbers or street bets are called “Transversale.”
  • Four numbers or corner bets are called “Carre.”
  • Six numbers or line bets are called “Sixainne.”
  • Twelve numbers or column bets are called “Colonne.”
  • Dozens bets are called “Douzaine.”
  • Red or black bets are called either “Rouge” for red or “Noir” for black.
  • Even or odd bets are called “Pair” for even or “Impair” for odd.
  • Low or high bets are called either “Manque” for low or “Passe” for high.

The basic premise of roulette is simple – lay bets on the number, color, or general position on the betting surface where you think the ball will land. After all bets are placed, the croupier sets the wheel in motion and launches the ball.

Roulette has been a casino staple for three-hundred plus years and remains one of the most recognized games in the world. The roulette wheel and table are symbols of casino gambling that cross all language barriers. Understanding the basics of the game, how wagers work, and differences in table rules and roulette customs around the world is crucial to winning; though the game is based entirely on luck, knowing which wagers are smart and which wagers are longshots can be the difference between blowing through your bankroll in a few bets or enjoying an hour or two of wheel-spinning action.

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