I know, I know. It’s not the best bet in the house. In fact, it is far from it. But I can’t help it—roulette is still my all-time favorite casino game. I get sucked in like a kid in a candy store. I can’t walk by a roulette wheel without stopping to watch the players, the action and the tension when that little white ball spins tantalizingly around the wheel before finally coming to a bouncy rest.
What a fun game! All enjoyment aside, however, the grim fact remains that a double zero roulette wheel, the type in use in virtually every American casino, gives the house a whopping 5.26 percent edge. In Europe, roulette wheels have only one zero, cutting the house advantage to a much more promising 2.70 percent, though this is still much higher than the house edge at craps, blackjack and baccarat.
Perhaps because of the single zero wheel, roulette has always been the most popular game in European casinos. Unfortunately, single zero wheels are rarer than a black and blue steak in the United States, and when I’m lucky enough to find one, they are usually too expensive and too crowded for my liking. If I’m on a hot streak elsewhere, though, I like to take $10 of my winnings and indulge myself at the 25-cent or 50-cent roulette tables. There’s only one bet that I will make. But before I give it away, let’s take a close look at roulette’s basic strategies and betting options.
A roulette table usually seats six people, so to help the croupier keep track of all the bets, players are assigned different colored chips that they purchase at the table either with cash or regular chips from that particular casino. Each table has its own minimum chip value posted, because unlike other games, roulette allows you to make the value of your chips anything your heart desires. You’ll notice that when the croupier gives you your chips, he’ll put one of your color on the railing near the wheel with a marker on top to remind him what denomination you’re playing with.
The colored chips are like Monopoly money, meaningless in the rest of the casino, so make sure you exchange them for regular ones before you leave the table because they won’t be honored at the other table games.
Besides the minimum chip value, there is also a minimum amount that you have to bet on each spin of the wheel. Once again, the minimums are probably posted on a sign at the table. If the sign says $2 minimum inside and $5 minimum outside, don’t think the high rollers are in the courtyard.
This sign just means that if you are betting on any of the inside bets—the 38 single numbers that pay 35 to 1—the total of all the bets you place on a single spin of the wheel must be $2, but if you are playing the outside bets that pay 2 to 1 or even money, you have to risk $5 total on each spin. At first glance, the roulette table may look intimidating, with its columns of numbers and colors surrounded by spaces for other bets.
But don’t worry, with a little knowledge, you’ll be wheeling and dealing with the best of them in no time. There are two types of bets in roulette, the inside bet and the outside bet. Any bet placed directly on a number or on a line between numbers is called an inside bet. Outside bets are placed in the boxes and columns on the outside of the layout. The highest-paying inside bet is the straight bet, which you make simply by placing your chips on a single number. If your number comes up, you’ll be paid 35 to 1. Of course the casino can afford to offer such a bounteous payoff because the house advantage on this wager is 5.26 percent.
If you’re looking to spread the love a little bit and take more than one number on the wheel, you can also play a split. Just place your chips on the line that separates two numbers, and if one of those numbers comes up, you’ll be paid 17 to 1. If you situate your wager at the beginning of a row of three numbers, you have made a row or street bet and stand to make 11 to 1 if the wheel is kind. The house advantage is, once again, 5.26 percent. By laying your money at the intersection of four single-number boxes, you make a corner bet, which pays 8 to 1 if any of your four numbers hits. You can also straddle the line between two streets so that you have a double street covered, and if any one of those six numbers comes in, you’ll be paid off at 5 to 1. As with the other bets, the house has a 5.26 percent advantage.
casinos, perhaps because of the
single zero wheel, roulette has always been
The only other bet on the inside numbers is the five-numbers bet, which requires you to stake your claim to the upper left corner of the number 1 box. If 0, 00, 1, 2 or 3 comes up, you’ll be paid off at 6 to 1, but the house edge is a monstrous 7.89 percent, making it the worst bet at the roulette table. The worst bet, truly, since Chamberlain gambled away Europe at Munich. It’s very simple: Never make this bet. Ever.
Much more reliable are the outside bets, which include more numbers but also deliver smaller payoffs. There are three types of bets that offer even money: red or black, odd or even, 1 through 18 or 19 through 36. All of these 18-number bets are pretty self-explanatory, and if the ball lands on either 0 or 00, you lose. These bread-and-butter bets pay off at 1 to 1.
Two outside bets pay 2 to 1. When you bet the dozens, you place your wager on the first 12, second 12 or third 12. Again, 0 or 00 means you lose. The column bet also includes 12 numbers, but rather than including numbers in a sequence, it covers an entire column on the table. Betting the column allows players to mix and match black and red as well as odd and even, and to bet a wide range of numbers on the wheel.
Some people swear by a system of placing several straight bets on numbers that are evenly spaced around the wheel. This method apparently makes them feel like they have as much area as possible covered. To tell the truth, this system is no better than placing random bets. And as for the Martingale System (doubling the bet after a loss), it can put a lot of money at risk for an unsubstantial reward.
So what is your best shot at winning at roulette? Hopping a jet to Europe helps. Playing something else is another viable option. You can also try and dig up a single zero wheel in Nevada. The Monte Carlo and Stratosphere had famously advertised a single zero wheel, and the MGM Grand also had some beautiful old-fashioned wheels, but they are just plain hard to come by. The low house edge on the single zero wheel is made even smaller by a rule called “en prison,” which means that if you make an even money outside bet and zero comes up, you don’t lose right away. Instead, your bet rides on the next spin.
This reduces the casino’s advantage to a slim and attractive 1.35 percent. If you want to stay closer to home, try Atlantic City, where state gaming regulations stipulate that the casino takes only half your wager when the zero comes up on an even-money bet, thereby cutting the house edge to a more manageable 2.63 percent.
And now, without further ado, here’s the one roulette bet I take my chances on. After observing for a while whether red or black numbers are coming up regularly, I will bet the minimum on, let’s say, black, and then place an additional minimum bet on the third column of numbers below the number 36. This bet covers all 18 black numbers, and the third column has the most red numbers on the layout (eight). Therefore, I have chips strategically covering a total of 26 numbers.
On a winning spin of the wheel, I get even money on the black, or a 2 to 1 payoff on the column. Better still, I can win on both bets if my black number is in the third column after the final spin. I can reverse this minimum wager and bet on all 18 red numbers, with an additional bet at the bottom of the middle column under 35 to cover eight black numbers. Once again, I have covered a total of 26 numbers.
Although the mathematical edge remains unmoveable, I seem to have good success with this method. In fact after a run of six wins in a row at one Las Vegas roulette table, I had successfully taught the whole table the system and consequently driven the croupier and pit boss nuts. By the way, progressive betting applies to this strategy, so always be sure to increase your bet after every win.
Keep in mind that the nasty 5.26 percent house edge is lurking behind almost every spin; so be an intelligent player, play smart and if you win early, know when to take the money and run.
|Like in real estate, betting on roulette is all about location. This diagram shows where to place your chips for each wager. Remember, the house edge is 5.26 percent on every bet except the five numbers bet, where the house edge is 7.89 percent.|
|A. Straight Up—Any numbers, 0 and 00||35 to 1|
|B. Column—Any 12 numbers in a column||2 to 1|
|C. Dozen—1st 12, 2nd 12 or 3rd 12||2 to 1|
|D. Red or Black||1 to 1|
|E. Odd or Even||1 to 1|
|F. 1 to 18 or 19 to 36||1 to 1|
|G. Split—Any two neighboring numbers||17 to 1|
|H. Row—Any three numbers in a row||11 to 1|
|I. Corner—Any of the four contiguous numbers||8 to 1|
|J. Five Numbers—0, 00, 1, 2 and 3||6 to 1|
|K. Double Row—Any six numbers in two rows||5 to 1|