Roulette is one of the most prominently featured table games at both land-based and online casinos, and its rise in popularity shows no sign of slowing down! The table game combines the element of chance with a vibrant, social and exciting atmosphere.
But where did this beloved casino game originate and how did it come to be one of the busiest tables at any given casino? Let’s find out!
The origins of roulette
Interestingly, the origins of roulette are as mysterious and intriguing as the game itself. While there is no clear-cut evidence, there are many theories – some more probable than others.
Some believe the game dates back to medieval times and was inspired by the “Wheel of Fortune” – a symbol of fate in ancient philosophy.
The second theory is that French Dominican monks played the game to break the monotony of monastery life, basing it on an old Tibetan game where the aim was to arrange 37 animal statues into a magic-number square of 666. The monks appear to have replaced the statues with the numbers 0 to 36 and arranged them randomly around the rim of a revolving wheel.
The third and most popular theory is that the game was invented in the 1650s by Blaise Pascal, a French physicist and distinguished name among scientists and mathematicians. Pascal’s work was the first introduction to the theory of probability. While studying cyclones, he wrote a famous essay on the search for a formula to calculate cyclones, which involved the rolling of wheels. Some believe the roulette wheel to be an accidental invention or by-product of his quest to invent a perpetual-motion machine.
While theories vary, what is commonly agreed is that roulette, as we know it, was a 17th-century invention originating from France – hence the name, which is French for “little wheel”.
The emergence of roulette in the 17th and 18th centuries
Although roulette is of French origin, it was likely influenced by two similar games that were popular in Europe during the 17th century – “Roly Poly” and “Even-Odd”; both involved spinning a wheel while betting on the outcome. Being a famous gambler, Pascal would certainly have known of these games while creating (whether intentionally or accidentally) his own version.
At the time, gambling was an unpopular pursuit: it was actually illegal in most European countries. Thus the earliest documented evidence of the game was from the 1700s, mostly in legal documents that banned it. In “New France”, now Canada, a decree dated 1758 prohibited the playing of “dice, hoca, faro, and roulette”. And the English Act 18 Geo. II stated in 1745: “Whereas a certain pernicious game called Roulet or Roly-Poly is daily practised… no place shall be kept for the playing of the said game.”
Having been previously outlawed, most European countries saw the introduction of strict gambling laws in the late 18th century, which revived betting. Around the same time, Prince Charles III of Monaco was facing financial distress. He saw a way through by taking advantage of the rising popularity of gambling and opened several gambling houses and made roulette a prominent feature. And it wasn’t long before the game became popular among royalty and aristocrats.
The development of roulette across Europe
In the 1800s, gambling was again outlawed when Louis Philippe closed down all casinos in France. What this led to, however, was the rise of gambling in Germany. In 1842, two Frenchmen, François and Louis Blanc, were responsible for modernising roulette. To gain competitive advantage, the brothers removed the double zero (“00”), which was previously present, from the roulette wheel, leaving the single zero on the wheel in addition to the numbers 1 to 36.
This crucial step essentially created European roulette as we know it today, and in doing so dropped the house edge from 5.26% (in American roulette, as it’s now called) to 2.70%. The Blanc brothers then moved from France, where the game was illegal, to Germany. There, they introduced the game to the thriving gambling community, and the single-zero variant quickly became the craze at casinos all over Europe.
The golden age of gambling in Germany was short-lived, however, and casinos were banned in the 1860s (they reopened in 1933). This shutdown on gambling fun meant that it was only in Monte Carlo, Monaco, that casinos continued to operate. The Blanc brothers moved their operations to Monte Carlo, where they established an elite gambling mecca that would be known as the world’s first modern casino. And its centrepiece amusement – the star attraction – was the single-zero roulette game. You can still play this casino game at Monte Carlo Casino, more than 150 years after the first spin of the wheel.
Arriving in America
While roulette flourished in 18th-century Europe, it was also making its way to America. First appearing in New Orleans, Louisiana, the casino table game became all the craze: it wended its way up the Mississippi River on the paddle steamers and went westwards from there. As in many things, American-style play differed from European ways. For one, it was not reserved for the rich and leisurely but was found in gambling dens. And secondly, it kept the double zero on the wheel (along with its higher house edge), and offered simplified betting options to allow for a faster-paced game.
This remains the difference between the two most popular variants – American and European roulette. You’ll see there are slight differences in both the wheel and the table layout.
The game keeps rolling on
During the first part of the 20th century, gambling and casinos remained fairly small operations. Monte Carlo and Las Vegas were the only notable places offering roulette. Nevertheless, the game steadily built a fan base that has lasted the distance, thanks to its enduring nature of exciting gameplay with a choice of betting to suit pockets of most depths. By the 1970s, casinos began to become popular and their prevalence has continued to grow.
Roulette goes online
One leading contribution to this reawakening of the game came with the advent of the internet. InterCasino, the first online casino, opened its virtual doors in 1996. The rest is history. With more people having access to the internet in their homes, and later, on their mobile devices, online roulette
really took off – and is more popular than ever. Not only that, but with technology rapidly advancing, innovative variations of the game are widely available, from 3D roulette to multi-wheel roulette.
Anyone with an internet service can now play casino games from the comfort of their living rooms or on the go, and from various devices, making roulette highly accessible for players to enjoy.
Live dealer roulette
While online casino games offer an array of advantages, many players found the social aspect lacking, particularly in roulette, which lends so much of its atmosphere to the excitement of the people around the table. To address this, 21st-century advancements allowed for an exciting prospect that would combine the best of the virtual world with sought-after, real-life interaction – live casinos and live dealer games.
It took a few years for this initiative to really take off, with the first live casino games being streamed from real casino tables via a webcam, which was problematic in terms of filming, interruptions, clarity and interactivity. One of the pioneers, Evolution Gaming, introduced the first dedicated studio to the scene in 2006, allowing multiple cameras to be set up to give players optimal views and an engaging experience. This blazed a trail for what is now the hottest-growing collection of games in the virtual space.
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