Roulette is one of the most popular games at casinos around the world. Where did Roulette originate from, who was involved in its development and how did it become the game widely known today? Here is a quick look at the history of Roulette.
Origins and Blaise Pascal
While Roulette is commonly considered a French game, some historians have raised arguments suggesting its origins can be traced back to ancient China and Greece. In the former, it was believed there was a popular game that involved arranging 37 animal figurines that represented numbers adding up to 666 into a magic square.
The first Roulette wheel has been attributed to the mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal.
The modern European style Roulette wheel features 37 numbers that total 666, although the extent to which this game shared similarities with Roulette beyond this has not been established.
Meanwhile, in ancient Greece soldiers are alleged to have enjoyed a game that involved drawing symbols on the inside of their shield before placing it face up and drawing an arrow next to it. The soldiers would then place bets on which symbol would stop in front of the arrow and spin the shield. While again this game has notable likenesses with Roulette, whether it can be firmly considered an early forerunner is unclear.
The game of Roulette recognised today emerged in 17th century France. It is believed to have combined elements of Roly Poly and Even Odd, two games that involved betting on the outcome of a spinning wheel, and Biribi, an Italian game that required players to guess which numbered ticket would be pulled out of a bag.
Despite this, the first written reference to Roulette was actually in a gambling regulations document published in New France (now Quebec, Canada) in 1758. The document included Roulette on a list of banned games.
The first Roulette wheel that was used for the game has been attributed to the mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascal, who is believed to have produced one as part of his attempts to develop a perpetual motion machine.
Roulette slowly developed its popularity throughout the 18th century among illegal gambling houses in France and neighbouring countries, using the double zero wheel format (known as the American style wheel today).
The Blanc brothers head to Monaco
In 1843, French brothers Francois and Louis Blanc introduced a new version of Roulette to the German town of Bad Homburg, which was well-known for its numerous casinos. This format used a wheel without a double zero pocket, enabling them to advertise their Roulette game as offering more favourable house edges for the player than other casinos using what was deemed the traditional wheel.
Roulette was initially introduced to the US by European settlers who travelled to Louisiana.
Later in the 19th century, Prince Charles of Monaco attempted to solve his money problems by utilising the announcement that several games including Roulette had been legalised. He contacted the Blanc brothers to help open numerous casinos in Monaco, among which Roulette proved to be one of the most popular games.
This crafted Roulette a reputation as popular among aristocrats and royalty, as the richest and most esteemed from across Europe would travel to Monaco to try their luck at the Roulette wheel. This stereotype towards the game has largely remained in place to this day.
Elsewhere, Roulette was initially introduced to the US by European settlers who travelled to Louisiana. However, at first it struggled to court the same popularity, as American casinos did not like what they perceived as the low house edges offered by the game and attempted to develop versions that swerved the odds more in their favour.
While the game did spread to a few surrounding states, American gamblers were generally uninterested by the limited opportunity to make money from the game.
Curbing cheaters and assisted appeal
As per many other casino games, it wasn’t long before attempts to ‘beat’ Roulette and find ways to exploit it were formulated. Some early methods were notably successful – in 1873, an Englishman named Joseph Jagger realised that the Roulette wheels at the Casino de Monte-Carlo were not perfectly balanced, meaning certain numbers came up more than others.
Casinos sought to introduce measures to prohibit cheating at Roulette.
Jagger relied on upon this information to inform his bets and cleared out several tables of their entire funds to win over 2 million francs across several days, equivalent to €7.8 million in 2020.
Across the Atlantic, gamblers tried to produce magnetic devices that could be covertly placed underneath the wheel in an attempt to drag the ball towards a certain pocket. To curb this, American gambling houses began to build Roulette tables that placed the wheel on top of the table, a layout that is largely universal today.
Having established a tactic to prohibit cheating, American casinos began to embrace the double zero wheel format and associated lower house edges, helping to restore the appeal of the game in the US.
However, in stark contrast to the glitz and glamour associated with its European interest, Roulette proliferated America via back alley and makeshift gambling dens frequented by the working class and those with more money who did not want to be publicly perceived as gamblers.
While Roulette continued to grow in popularity, by the 1970s it was still not commonly played outside of western Europe and low-key gambling houses and select casinos in Las Vegas in the US. Indeed, it was one of several games that benefited from the flourishing of the casino industry in the late 20th century, which granted it true worldwide appeal for the first time.
Roulette has remained one of the most prevalent casino games into the 21st century, to the extent that it is now considered a hallmark of the traditional casino. The double zero American style wheel is predominantly used in the US, Canada, South America and the Caribbean, while the single zero European style wheel is the main version used elsewhere.
To this day, updates and new versions of Roulette rules are still being formed worldwide.
Similarly to other casino games, its appeal has been furthered by the recent growth of online casinos, which enable people to play Roulette any time, any place on websites such as Pinnacle Casino.
Indeed, live Roulette games, including those available on Pinnacle, are among the most popular around the world for those who enjoy playing online casino games.
While Roulette may not be associated with high-profile tournaments in a similar manner to other casino games such as Blackjack and Baccarat, significant Roulette bets have nonetheless proved capable of catching widespread attention.
For instance, in 2004 a man named Ashley Revell attracted international headlines when he sold all of his possessions for a total of $135,300 and placed a bet totalling his entire net worth on red at the Plaza Hotel casino in Las Vegas. The bet won, meaning Revell doubled his money to walk away with $270,600.
Roulette has also asserted a role in popular culture with its involvement in the game show Red or Black? and films including The Gambler, Fast Five, Run Lola Run and Croupier.
To this day, updates and new versions of Roulette rules are still being formed – in 2016, the Venetian Las Vegas casino introduced the first ever Roulette wheel featuring 39 numbers including a triple zero (000), which has since been adopted by some casinos elsewhere.
Learn more about Roulette
To learn how to play Roulette, check out our guide to Roulette. If you want to find out about betting strategies that can be applied to Roulette, we have an article analysing Roulette betting strategies.