History of Roulette

Visit any casino and walk the floors, and you’ll definitely hear a handful of things. The music and sound effects of a slot machine will likely be blaring out. A blackjack dealer will be commanding his game. The element that will probably stand out the most though, is the clacking of a ball being hurled around a numbered wheel.

Roulette has become part of the furniture when it comes to the casino, and with good reason. It’s a relatively simple game to play, offering something of an entry-level experience to newcomers, as well as providing plenty of action for regulars. As a game with such a presence on the floor, as you would expect, it has a long and storied history that spans centuries. So what exactly is the history of roulette, and how did this seemingly humble game become such a behemoth of the industry? Read our guide for the lowdown on one of the most popular casino games of all time.

History of the Game

You can possibly tell by the name and its spelling that this isn’t a game that began in the English-speaking world. Instead, roulette is believed to have been born out of France when Blaise Pascal was looking to devise a perpetual motion machine and inadvertently invented the roulette wheel in the 1600s. However, that’s not to say that it is the definitive home of the game of roulette.

In 1700s England, a very similar game was played with a wheel called Even/Odd (E/O). This is essentially identical to the gameplay of roulette where players can choose to bet on the ball landing on either an odd or even number. However, it keeps it much simpler and doesn’t include any of the other bets, with no specific numbers on an E/O board and just the letters E and O. In the full game of roulette, there are the individual numbers, red or black, and number range bets for a player to take advantage of.

How Far Does the Game Go Back?

So far, we’ve discussed how most origin stories for roulette date it to somewhere between the 17th and 18th Centuries. However, as with almost every game that you can find in a casino, the mists of time have clouded the truth and made it hard to tell exactly where something was first genuinely played. Consequentially, there is some contention as to whether the game truly did originate in Europe only centuries ago.

Some historians have pointed to games that were played in Ancient Greece and China that share noticeable similarities. In particular, Greek soldiers were known to have used their shields to play a game that is remarkably similar to what we would recognise as roulette. They would scratch or draw symbols on the inside of their shields before spinning them next to an arrow drawn on the ground. They would guess which symbol they expected it to land on. In this case, their shields essentially functioned as roulette wheels.

History of Roulette in France

While some believe we can trace the roots of roulette all the way back to ancient civilisations, it’s clear that the French truly developed the game as we know it today. Pascal’s invention of the wheel may be disputed, but the fact that this was a popular game in 1790s Paris is not. In fact, it was reported that there was a roulette wheel in the royal palace that now houses the country’s Ministry of Culture. There is reference to the game before this time, too. Specifically, French-speaking Quebec banned roulette in 1758, which suggests that it was something that those who emigrated took with them across the Atlantic.

The early games that were played in France were a little different to what we would now call the European variant. What we would expect to see now is just the one zero pocket. However, the older game was more akin to the American version in which there is a zero and double zero, giving the house more of an edge and giving players a slightly lower chance of winning. Also, unlike the modern roulette wheel, the first ones used red and black for the house pockets. Frenchmen would eventually change the double zeros, though, but that would happen outside of the nation’s borders in another country that plays a big part in roulette history.

Evolution of Roulette in Europe

France may be the ancestral home of roulette but it certainly isn’t the only place that played a part in its development. As is common with a continent with as much movement between nations as Europe, ideas and cultural pastimes are shared and built upon. Many are not aware that Germany actually has something to say about the evolution of the game. In particular, it was the first place where the number of zero pockets was reduced to one.

In a town called Bad Homburg, which was known for being something of a casino destination of its time, two Frenchmen decided to implement the single zero wheel as a way of enticing players with an improved chance of winning. By reducing the house edge slightly, they hoped that players would flock to use their wheels. This was 1843, around 50 years after the game was first introduced and it’s fundamental to what is now the European variant. Without this change, there would be no difference between it and the US version - unless the North Americans continued to also use a pocket with an image of an eagle as they once did.

Evolution of Roulette to Online Casinos

The casino was made for the internet. Its games are simple enough not to be a burden on computers, tablets, or mobile devices. However, they are also engaging and open to being developed into different variants. Roulette is a big part of that. It is a simple spin of a wheel with a ball landing on a number that corresponds with a place on the table that players have bet on. It’s perfect for online play, given that it doesn’t even necessarily need more than one player - a dealer isn’t even needed when players can spin the wheel with a press of a button.

It first hit the World Wide Web all the way back in 1996, making it probably one of the first games to make the leap from the physical to the digital realm. It made use of random number generators to underpin the gameplay, and the lack of sophisticated graphics meant that it was perfect for early computers. It would continue to grow in popularity through the years and would see advancements in the form of updated graphics and gameplay, but has largely stayed much the same as it ever was.

The main difference between how online roulette is now - versus nearly 30 years ago - is live roulette. Instead of being decided by RNGs and a purely one-player game, the live casino allowed players to connect with a real-life dealer via video stream who would spin the wheel for multiple connected players simultaneously. This made the experience much more similar to what you would expect from a brick-and-mortar venue. This has allowed online casinos to create different variants and add to what is already a hugely successful game, such as speed roulette. It has also allowed for real brick-and-mortar casinos to include roulette machines alongside their traditional tables to offer more to players.

Take Time to Think | | 18+

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