Roulette is a popular and well-known casino game. In fact, it was the first casino game I learned to play. But back then, I didn’t realize the lousy odds it offered.
I have a buddy who spent hours coming up with roulette systems that involved hedging his bets and mapping them out on the backs of napkins in our hotel room. He did this until ungodly hours of the morning.
Personally, I didn’t understand that. And I wasn’t a serious gambler then.
But as it turns out, serious gamblers don’t try to beat roulette anyway.
This post explains why they don’t.
The Payouts on Roulette Aren’t “Fair”
Roulette seems like it would be easy to beat even if you didn’t get involved in a roulette tournament and even if you weren’t taking advantage of some kind of casino bonus or promotion.
It doesn’t take long to realize that roulette gets its edge from the “0” and the “00” on the wheel. This doesn’t mean you’ll always lose when a 0 or 00 hits, though. After all, you could just place a wager on either one or both of those numbers, too.
It’s because the payoffs on the roulette table would only be fair if the 0 and the 00 weren’t on the wheel.
The payouts on the roulette wheel would be fair if you were playing on a wheel with only 36 numbers on it instead of 38. That’s true of all the bets in the game with one exception.
More About Roulette Payouts and How They Make Roulette Unbeatable
If you bet on a single number in roulette, the payout is 35 to 1. That would be a “fair” bet if the wheel only had 36 numbers on it. Make that bet repeatedly and over a long enough period of time, and you’d inevitably break even with the casino, neither showing a profit or a loss.
If you bet on two numbers in roulette, the payout is 17 to 1. This would also be a fair bet if there were 36 numbers on the wheel.
Basically, roulette has you at a mathematical disadvantage because the casino pays out less than they mathematically “should” when you consider how many numbers are on the wheel.
The amount of your disadvantage can be measured mathematically, too. It’s 5.26%. This is the average amount of each bet you’ll lose playing real money roulette under normal circumstances. If you can find a casino with a single zero roulette, the house edge drops to 2.70%.
In European casinos, you can find roulette wheels with a single zero and an additional roulette that cuts the house edge in half again, to 1.35%.
When you play a bet on any of the even money bets on the table, you don’t lose instantly if the ball lands on zero. The bet is placed “en prison” until the next spin. If you win on this second spin, you get your bet back instead of losing. But you don’t get any winnings with it.
Think of it this way: Instead of having a single zero, a game like this has half a zero.
And that only applies to the even money bets, too.
At any rate, for a serious gambler, bets where you’re at a mathematical disadvantage are bets you don’t want to make. It doesn’t matter if the house edge is 5.26%, 2.70%, or 1.35%, you don’t want to place any of these bets.
How to Theoretically Beat Roulette
To get an edge over the casino in roulette, you’d have to be able to place bets where you get paid more than you mathematically “deserve.” For example, suppose the manager of a casino wanted to drive some business to his casino, and he decided to offer a promotion where he paid 50 to 1 on a single number bet.
You’d have a clear edge over the casino in this situation, and it would be worth it to play this game until the casino stopped offering it. Of course, no casino manager in his right mind would offer such a promotion because it would lose the casino’s money hand over fist.
Another way to get an edge at roulette would be to find a roulette wheel that is somehow malfunctioning and hitting certain numbers more often than it mathematically should. It would, of course, be hitting certain other numbers less often than it mathematically should, too.
On a fair wheel, a number comes up on a spin 1 out of 38 times.
But let’s suppose that you found a roulette wheel with a number that came up 1 out of 34 times instead. You’d have roughly a 5% edge over the casino in this situation.
If you placed an average bet of $100 per spin and made 30 spins per hour, you’d put $3,000 into action per hour. If you’re winning 5% on average, you’re looking at an average hourly win of $150.
How to Find a Roulette Wheel Where You Can Get an Edge
A roulette wheel like I just described is called a “biased wheel.” It has a bias toward certain numbers. How do you find a biased wheel?
The only way to do this that I know of is to “clock” a wheel. This means recording how many times each specific number comes up until you can recognize patterns.
This might sound easy enough, but it’s not as easy as it might sound. For one thing, you’ll need to track a huge number of spins before you can predict a bias with any kind of accuracy. After all, roulette wheels are random, and in the short term, any kind of pattern might come up.
For example, just because black comes up twice or even three times in a row, you wouldn’t assume that the wheel is biased toward black results. That’s just dumb luck. Or in mathematical terms, it’s “variance.”
Another problem with clocking roulette wheels to find a bias is that many roulette wheels aren’t biased at all. Or if they are biased, they’re not biased enough to make a difference in your bankroll.
Modern casinos don’t spend money on shabby gambling equipment. The odds of finding a biased roulette wheel in a modern casino are minimal. You MIGHT find an older casino with a biased wheel.
Even if you do, that casino will certainly notice if you’ve been tracking results on their roulette table and betting the same number repeatedly and winning absurdly large amounts of money.
They won’t necessarily take any action against you like suggesting you play something other than roulette. That’s a tactic they save for blackjack players who are counting cards.
They’ll just replace the roulette wheel, wiping out your advantage.
Yes, people have made money taking advantage of biased roulette wheels. Entire books have been written about these adventures and misadventures.
But those books relate experiences that happened a long time ago.
I’d be surprised if you were able to beat roulette by clocking wheels and taking advantage of biases.
One Method for Beating Roulette Is Illegal
Another way to beat roulette is to take advantage of physics. A roulette ball always leaves the rim of the roulette wheel at the same speed. This is the escape velocity of a roulette ball on a spinning wheel.
If you had a computer and some kind of laser tracker, you could use such a machine to predict where the ball is going to land with a surprising degree of accuracy.
It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but it’s entirely doable and possible.
But using a device to get an edge over the casino is not just cheating, it’s illegal. In Nevada, it’s a felony. You don’t want to spend time in prison trying to beat a roulette wheel, and serious gamblers don’t either.
The amount of sneakiness and stealth involved would be more than most people are willing to put in.
And frankly, there are easier ways to get an edge at gambling by choosing other games to exploit.
What About Roulette Betting Systems?
Roulette betting systems like the Martingale can be fun and can even improve your chances of having a short winning session.
But they don’t work in the long run because they don’t change the odds.
Think of the house edge as a negative number. Every time you place a roulette bet, your expected loss is that negative number multiplied by the amount you bet.
When you use a betting system, you change the amount you bet, which changes the size of that expected loss.
But it’s still an expected loss every time.
You can’t add up a bunch of negative numbers and get a positive number. It’s mathematically impossible.
Roulette is practically unbeatable because of the way the games are built and managed. The bets just don’t pay out at mathematically fair rates.
Serious gamblers know that any kind of superhuman effort to beat the roulette wheel isn’t worth the trouble. After all, there are plenty of other games where you can get an edge for far less effort.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …