Roulette is one of the most thrilling casino games around, with tension and excitement guaranteed from every spin of the wheel. The simplicity in the approach, speed of the game and unpredictability has ensured roulette is a firm favourite with casino fans. And, with a long history, it’s fair to say that roulette is easily one of the most loved and most played casino games ever.
Here we give you a detailed insight into this classic casino game. Our comprehensive guide to the history of roulette will start with looking at when it all began.
The origins of roulette
Whilst there are some differing theories as to exactly how roulette started, some can easily be dismissed. The general consensus is that the game originated in 1655 although it’s fair to say that similar board games may have been played before that.
In ancient Chinese times, they were believed to have played a board game that involved 37 animal figurines, a magic square and numbers that totalled 666, as roulette does. Likewise, in ancient Rome, the soldiers were believed to have played many games that involved gambling and spinning objects which shares similarities with roulette.
However, there’s no getting away that roulette itself originated in France, because the game means ‘little wheel’ in French. Blaise Pascal was the man behind it, who was a mathematician and inventor, and also known to be a keen gambler.
Yet, Pascal began applying his theories for probability on making a perpetual motion machine. It’s only as time progressed that he started to incorporate various aspects of other games to make roulette. Those games were ‘Roly Poly’ and ‘Even-Odd’, which both saw players spinning a wheel and betting on the outcome.
Slight modifications create the game we see today
The initial game produced by Pascal had major similarities with the roulette game we now know, but it wasn’t until 1796 that we saw the exact game in its present form. Generally, during this period, gambling was illegal across many countries which prevented the majority of people playing. Yet, by the late 18th century, strict laws were coming into place which meant people could wager on their favourite games, of which roulette was one.
At this stage, the roulette wheel contained a zero and a double zero, what we know today as American roulette. This was purely to give the house a mathematical advantage over the players when they were playing. Those numbers started off as red and black, like the rest of the wheel, but by the 1800s they became green to avoid confusion, and have remained so since.
Roulette becomes popular across the world
As more people began to enjoy the game, the appeal of roulette went across the world, although different countries might make slight adaptations for themselves.
In America, after starting out with the zero and double zero, some wheels would also contain an American Eagle which was the symbol for American liberty. It was designed to give the house even more of an advantage over the players. Yet this would not last long and it was soon back to the numbered wheels.
Whereas, in Europe, casinos or gambling outlets went the other way and took the double zero off the wheel, creating European roulette as we now know it. The first instance of this was in Bad Homburg, 1843 in Germany by François and Louis Blanc. The reasoning behind the move was simple, they wanted a single zero style roulette wheel to attract more players to their casino than alternatives that offered the double zero.
As we know, those two types of games exist today and the European roulette wheel should be more appealing to players. That’s because the house edge is just 2.7%, yet when you play American roulette, the advantage the house has increases to 5.26%.
Over the years roulette became the number one game to play for gamblers, but again, gaining access to legal gambling venues was hard given the strict rules in place across the world, if gambling was even legal at all. By the 1860s gambling had been abolished in Germany so the Blanc family took their operation to Monte Carlo, which quickly established itself as the prime location for gambling across the continent.
There, the single zero wheel was dominant and attracted players from afar. One notable player was Englishman Charles Wells, described as ‘the man who broke the bank’ after winning equivalent to $500,000 on the tables whilst playing. In today’s money that would equate to around $13m! How he managed to do so remains somewhat of a mystery. Wells was a known fraudster yet the casino could not spot anything wrong with how he played.
Roulette remains popular as gambling laws change
From the 1900s the rules surrounding gambling would differ from country to country, although wherever possible, roulette was popular. As well as that, a lot of underground gambling would continue to take place, where once again, roulette would be regularly played.
Throughout the next few decades, laws on gambling began to soften, with more people allowed to play. Casinos were legal in Vegas by 1931, which was the beginning of ‘Sin City’, attracting players from across the world.
Although, it wasn’t until the 1970s that casinos would appear regularly across countries. By this stage, gambling and casinos were flourishing, which meant games were growing in popularity. That included all the casino favourites, from blackjack to slots and of course, roulette.
The rise of online gambling
Even though gambling was legal and a hobby for many people, there was still a stigma attached to casinos. Generally speaking, they were just for men and in many cities across the globe, the casinos would be run by a criminal element. However, the perception of casinos was beginning to change. The rise of Vegas saw casinos as fun, enjoyable and presented a new form of entertainment for a wider audience, which had a knock-on effect as more tried to replicate this on a smaller scale.
Yet, the most significant development in the change of gambling was the introduction of online play. This generated a new audience, meaning roulette was accessible to almost everyone. Microgaming were the first to launch an online casino in 1994, which inevitably incorporated roulette, although the quality and gameplay of the software would differ a lot to how players play now!
That was just the beginning, and since then things have developed at an impressive rate. As more and more companies got involved with the online casino aspect, the competition yielded better quality. From graphics to gameplay, everything was improving.
Furthermore, there was also the addition of live dealers which added more realism to people’s play. The dealer would talk you through the game, as you watched the wheel spin, as if you were in a casino, but from your own device. The extra realism was a real hit with players and it’s now common to find various casino games offering a live dealer option.
Another way that revolutionised the gaming industry was the introduction of mobile gaming. This brought even easier access for players, with roulette literally a click away at any time. Once again, over time things seriously improved, and 2012 saw a real focus on offering players the ultimate gaming experience from their smartphones.
Given the significant strides made in the last few years, it’s hard to envisage what the future holds for online casino games, or roulette in particular. From a player’s perspective, it’s almost all achieved, with the casino effectively brought to you with the many ways you can play. Ultimately, the technology today has made roulette instantly accessible, allowing you to enjoy the game wherever you are. And, as since 1655, there are still a large number of players who love to experience the thrill and excitement of this old casino classic.