The spinning wheel of roulette offers little in gambling strategy—but it’s undeniably fun.
House Edge: 5.26%
The House Edge Is Steep
Anyone who tells you that there is a mathematically sound strategy for beating roulette either works for the casino, legitimately clocks roulette wheels in search of edges or is a clueless gambler. We’ve all met at least two out of these three. The game involves a small ball dropped into a spinning wheel with 38 slots, numbered double-zero to 36. In Europe, the wheels tend to omit the double-zero for 37 slots. The payoff on a single number in both places is 35:1, so your odds in Europe are better. Assuming that you are not traveling overseas to get an edge at roulette, we’re dealing with the American iteration here. Betting on a single number in the United States results in a house edge of 5.26 percent. That is far from great, but, on the upside, you can be blind drunk and play the game as well as somebody who is completely sober.
After the rudimentary betting on a single number, most of the bets involve buying groups of numbers, and each of these bets gives even more of an edge to the house. There are split bets, in which you place a single chip on the line between two adjacent numbers, which pays 17:1 if either number hits. You can make a street bet by placing your chip on the edge of a row of three; if any of those numbers pop, you collect at 11:1.
The Worst Bet
In a game of bad odds, the very worst is the top-line bet, in which you wager on double-zero, zero, one, two or three hitting. It pays 6:1, which gives the casino a lardy 7 percent advantage on that bet. It should be avoided, unless you’re feeling really lucky, which is a terrible thing to bank on while gambling.
Understanding that roulette wheels are mechanical devices that, through wear and tear, can develop biases, some advantage players seek these situations. They clock the wheels, observing play and tracking results over, say, 10,000 spins in hopes of finding a bias. This was mastered by a mathematician named Richard Jarecki, who fleeced casinos in the 1960s and early ’70s. The modern way involves teams using microcomputers stashed in, say, cigarette packs, to monitor wheels and look for trends. It’s profitable —in 2004 an Eastern European team of clockers is said to have relieved London’s Ritz of some 1.3 million pounds (about $2.5 million at the time)—but also illegal in most jurisdictions, where computers are not allowed at gaming tables. With that in mind, it’s better to risk your money than to risk your freedom.