Roulette is one of the most popular table games in the world, and can be found in both traditional and online casinos. The action is as simple as it gets—a croupier drops the ball into a spinning wheel, which has slots numbered from 0 to 36. These colored slots form an alternating checkerboard pattern of red and black. Players can place a variety of bets on the number and color the ball will eventually settle into when the wheel stops. If their guess is right—they win!
Roulette is a game of chance, and there is no real strategy to playing it. It is, however, possible to improve your odds of winning money over time by understanding the game in more detail. Factors such as the type of table you are playing at, payout amounts, and comps can all make a significant difference in how much money you end up winning over time.
The Player's Guide to Roulette
This guide will teach you the basics of roulette, the different types of bets, and what to look for at the ideal table. You'll also learn how to tilt the odds as far in your favor as possible at any roulette table, and how to protect yourself against cheating. We’ll even show you some exciting new hybrid games that are based on the roulette formula.
The Absolute Basics of Roulette
When you approach a roulette table—either at a brick-and-mortar or online casino—,you'll most likely find the game already in progress. Most tables allow you to place a bet at any time up until a few seconds before the ball drops into a slot. In a live game, the dealer will announce “no more bets” at this time, while an online game will lock down and prevent you from adding more chips to the table. There will be a short period between each spin where the winning number gets covered by a special glass marker, and new bets cannot be placed until it's removed.
To understand how roulette betting works, it helps to take a look at a standard table.
As you can see, most of the bets are self-explanatory. If you want to bet on the ball landing on a specific number, just place the chips directly on that number. The outer boxes (known collectively as “outside bets”) cover things like betting on red, black, odds, evens or the first or last half of each number set.
A roulette payout table lets you know how much you can expect to get back for each successful wager. It also clues you into the more complicated bet options.
If you want to make one of the wagers that cover a handful of numbers— like “split” or “street”—you'll need to place the chip on the line or corner that touches all of those numbers. In the case of the “first five” bet, you place the chips on the corner shared by the 0 and the 1 or 3, and in the case of the “six line” bet, it's on the leftmost corner shared by the two horizontal betting lines.
One of the big advantages of playing roulette online is that the software will help you locate the correct position for each bet. You also don't have to learn the table etiquette or lingo, though it helps to know a few things.
Roulette tables use their own unique set of color-coded chips, with each player getting their color so that bets are not confused. It does means that tables usually have a player limit, however. And it is important to know that in a physical casino, putting your hands on the table in between the “no more bets” announcement and the removal of the glass marker from the table can get you thrown out immediately!
Roulette doesn't have the collection of colorful lingo that a game like baccarat does, but there are a few terms that you should know. The place from which you buy chips when you first arrive at the table is called the “drop box.” The area where bets are placed is sometimes called the “layout.” A declaration of “no action” by the dealer (or software) means that all current bets are canceled, something that can happen online due to a software glitch. And if you hear other players talking about a “square” table, that means they feel it is fair.
The Types of Roulette Tables
Roulette tables generally come in two different varieties—European and American. European tables are seen as the more desirable of the two, as they favor the player a bit more. The only difference is that European tables have a single “0” while American tables have an added “00”. The addition of that single slot significantly increases the house’s edge.
Some more exotic rules pop up from time to time, and you should be aware of them. Perhaps the most famous of these is the “en prison” or “imprisonment” games that are popular in France. These games allow players to recover half their wager if the ball lands on 0. Instead of recovering half their money, they may also choose to “imprison” the wager. If that wager wins on the next spin, the player recovers it in addition to the winnings from any new wagers. Obviously, these rules make this the most favorable roulette variant for players, so you'll rarely see it offered by online casinos.
Outside of “en prison” tables, the only other roulette variants are those that add one more slot on top of the 0 and 00. At online tables, this added slot usually either triggers a bonus game (such as a “wheel of fortune” or a slot machine spin) or wins a progressive jackpot for players who have wagered on it.
Roulette Side Bets
In addition to the usual range of bets on the table, some casinos offer unique side bets.
Side bets in roulette usually involve a progressive jackpot. It is a concept taken from slots and video poker. Each wager contributes a small amount to the jackpot, and players have to place a specific side bet to be eligible for the jackpot. The jackpot may hit when the ball goes into a special slot on the wheel, or this may trigger a bonus game where you win the jackpot with a lucky dice roll or reel spin. If no such added slot is present, the jackpot may hit when a specific bet type hits three or more times in a row.
Hybrid Roulette Games
Some interesting roulette hybrids have been appearing in recent years. These games combine roulette with other popular casino games like bingo and pachinko. Some even incorporate multiple balls, multiple wheels or wheels with entirely new designs.
Games that combine pachinko and roulette have 25 numbered slots. And instead of the usual wheel, a pachinko board is used to determine the number that is selected.
The bingo-roulette hybrid called Spingo is available from casinos that use Microgaming software. This game also uses 25 slots, but they alternate between red, yellow and blue. One green slot stands in for the usual 0.
You'll also see games that use unusual wheel shapes, two or three balls in the playfield at once, or even two different wheels (resulting in two winning outcomes per spin). Most of these innovative roulette games are exclusive to online casinos. Any new variant is worth investigating, but in general, expect these games to have the same house edge that a standard roulette game does or even worse.
Roulette Advantage Play – What are the Best Bets?
Choosing the best bets in roulette is pretty simple – they're the ones that cover the widest range of possibilities. That means choosing red, black, even or odd for the lowest possible house edge. These aren't truly even bets, however, thanks to the presence of the 0 slots. At best, the player is still at a 2.7% disadvantage to the house over time, even if they are making the most favorable bet type at a European-style table.
The 0 slot also prevents players from betting against themselves to break even and rack up comps indefinitely, though casinos also usually safeguard against this by not comping the most favorable outside bets at all.
Roulette is a constant presence on casino floors because there's no way to beat it mathematically. The best a player can do is scout for a table with a single 0 that allows “en prison” rules. The house edge at a standard European game for the outside bets is relatively low, however, certainly much better than many slot machines and even better than most imperfect play at blackjack and video poker.
Is Cheating At Roulette Possible?
Roulette was one of the most notorious casino games in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to widespread cheating. Rogue casinos did everything from tilting the wheel so that one side of numbers would be much less likely to hit, to installing magnets in the table to draw the ball to a particular number when activated. Casino patrons were no less creative and willing to break the rules, doing everything from sneaking bets in after the winning number was drawn to colluding with dealers.
With today's technology and strong gambling regulations, roulette cheaters are mostly a thing of the past. Online roulette games use a random number generator to determine outcomes rather than an actual wheel, eliminating the possibility of both mechanical and dealer-related shenanigans. As long as the company providing the roulette software is reputable and the casino is overseen by a competent government gaming board—you can play roulette online with total confidence.
However, there is one aspect that some online players are uncomfortable with—live streaming games. These games have a live dealer spinning an actual wheel in a remote location. The wheel is not accessible or available for inspection, so some people worry that the casino will cheat. While this is certainly not impossible, it's implausible at any casino that uses a reputable software.
The vast majority of casinos offering live roulette do not run their in-house tables. Instead, the live games are provided as part of a software package that includes other casino games. The major vendors of this software—companies like Microgaming and BetSoft—supply their services to hundreds (if not thousands) of different online casinos. There is no economic incentive for these software providers to collude with any particular casino in order to defraud their patrons. They would make a paltry amount of money compared to what they make simply from licensing their software, and that is certainly not a sound business model.
The casino would also have their gaming license pulled by government authorities and would likely be blacklisted from ever operating in that territory again. There is no roulette game where the house does not have an edge and does not expect to make a profit over time anyway, so cheating is an illogical business move from their perspective.
Players have been able to use modern technology to do things like track the movement of the ball and wheel at physical casinos, although it is up for debate how much of an advantage that can give them. Online roulette is governed by an unseen random number generator, however—the “wheel” is just for show and to keep with the traditions of the game. So the methods used at live casinos could not be applied to online games.
Ready for a Spin?
Roulette is safe to play online, and there are many advantages. Find a good European table, preferably with “en prison” rules, stick to reasonable outside bets, and you'll enjoy many fun hours of play.