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Brief History of Roulette

Last updated: 10.16.2023 by Andrew Shepard

Roulette is one of the oldest casino games and has a history of over 300 years. It has undergone many changes over time in both design and gameplay. If we brought a roulette player from the 1800s into a modern casino, he would not be able to recognize the game he saw. Here, we will touch upon the interesting history of roulette, explain how it emerged and became widespread, and talk about how it came to its current form.

Origins and prototypes of roulette

There is no consensus among historians regarding exactly when and where roulette originated. Some historians believe that it was invented by Blaise Pascal, a famous mathematician, in the 17th century. Pascal was trying to create a perpetual motion machine, but the result of this experiment was the roulette wheel. Some historians think that roulette evolved from a game called Biribi, which was played in Italy in 1720. There are also historical records of a game that involved only even and odd bets, but was very similar in gameplay and was played in the United Kingdom in the early 18th century.

Although its origin is not exactly known, we know that roulette in its current sense was first played in Paris in 1796. Even though it is claimed that it appeared in the famous Monte Carlo casino, this is nothing more than an urban legend. From this date on, it was possible to find roulette in almost every casino in France, and contrary to popular belief, this was not single-zero roulette: when this game first appeared, it was played with a double-zero wheel. Many novels written at the time describe roulette in detail and explain how it was mathematically designed to give the edge to the casino: 0 and 00, known as "house pockets", were ensuring that the casino would always make a profit in the long run.

Evolution of the roulette wheel

Roulette is a game that has evolved frequently throughout history, and each time the wheel design has changed, resulting in a different variant. The earliest example of this occurs first in France and then in Germany in the early 19th century.

  • In the early 1800s, French casinos began painting the house pockets green. Until then, red was used for 0 and black for 00, but this caused some misunderstandings. In other words, French casinos were the first to change the design of the roulette wheel, at least in terms of color palette.
  • In 1843, François and Louis Blanc began offering a single-zero variant of roulette in a casino in a small town in Germany. Having a single zero on the wheel reduced the casino's edge and offered more advantages to the player. The Blanc brothers did this to compete with casinos in France, giving rise to today's European roulette (and all other single-zero roulette variants). François Blanc was also the owner of the Monte Carlo casino and played an important role in popularizing the single-zero variant of the game.
  • The third and most important change in the roulette wheel took place in America towards the end of the 19th century. When the game entered the United States, there were already two house pockets on the wheel, but casino owners at the time decided to add a third pocket called “American Eagle.” In other words, in the first and original version of American roulette, there were actually three house pockets, and the third one was really shown with the picture of an eagle. As we will explain below, this design was soon abandoned because players were not interested in a game that was less profitable for them.

We can say that the wheel design (and basic roulette variants) still used today emerged in the early 20th century (1.900s). By then, different designs had been tried, but ultimately only the single-zero and double-zero designs stuck out. However, the betting options remained almost unchanged, as they formed the mathematical basis of roulette.

Roulette in America

It is estimated that roulette entered the United States around 1820-1830. It was first played in steamboat casinos in Mississippi and New Orleans. In this period, single zero roulette did not exist yet (as we mentioned above, it would have been invented by the Blanc brothers in 1843) and naturally, double zero roulette variants were the only option. As we briefly mentioned, they even tried to add a third house pocket to the game, but when it failed, they returned to the original double-zero design. The variant we know today as “American roulette” is actually the original European game, but when double-zero roulette began to be played only in the USA from 1860 onwards, it became known as American roulette.

This was because, in 1860, gambling was banned in almost every country in Europe. It was legal only in Monaco, and the largest casino there was Monte Carlo, run by the Blanc brothers. The Blanc brothers only offered the single-zero variant of roulette, and this was the only game that gamblers in Europe could play. Over time, this variant came to be called “European roulette” and became the dominant game. In America, the double-zero variant continued to be played, and this is how the two basic types of roulette emerged and were named.

The modern age of online roulette

Until 1990, the “headquarters” of roulette in America was Las Vegas and Monte Carlo in Europe. So, if you were serious about playing this game, these were the places you should go. But when the first online casino (InterCasino) opened in 1996, this changed: it was now possible to play roulette online from anywhere in the world. The first to develop the digital version of this game was Microgaming, which provided InterCasino's software. IGT and Novomatic soon also began developing online roulette games: these were actually companies that produced equipment for land-based casinos.

In 2006, Evolution Gaming was founded and began offering live casino games: roulette was among them. Evolution has not only created live games featuring a real croupier, but it has also developed new and interesting variants of roulette. For example, Lightning Roulette, despite being a single zero game, has “lucky numbers” that could pay out up to 500x the bet (the XXXtreme version of this game takes this multiplier up to 2,000x). It has also created numerous variants that include side bets and multiplier payouts, such as Double Ball Roulette, Dual Play Roulette, and Football Studio Roulette. Today, RNG versions of online roulette offer three basic variants; European, American, and French, while live games continue to add innovative and creative features to these variants.

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