Roulette is one of the easiest games in the casino to play. After all, it’s just a spinning wheel with colored slots with numbers. All you have to do is bet on which slot the ball will land in.
The table is covered with options, too. You can bet on a specific number. You can bet on a specific color. You can even place multiple bets.
Like all casino games, roulette has a house edge. The bets don’t pay off at the same odds of winning. If they did, the casino wouldn’t make any money.
It’s impossible to consistently win at this game.
But casino math only reflects what’s going to happen in the long run. Sure, you’re going to lose at roulette in the long run. You’re also going to die in the long run. You don’t sit around worrying about it, though, do you.
Here are some easy ways to win at roulette in the short term.
Plenty of sites debunk the Martingale System. And I’m not claiming that the Martingale System increases your chances of winning, either. In fact, I’m happy to admit that in the long run, you’ll go just as broke at roulette using the Martingale System as you will using any other system.
But it can be a fun way to grind out some small wins in the short run.
Here’s how it works:
You place an even money bet. If you win, great! If you lose, you bet again, this time doubling the size of your previous bet. If you win this time, you’ve won back what you lost before along with an extra bet. If you lose this time, you double your bet again. And so on…
Here’s an example:
You bet $5 on black. The ball lands on red. You lose your $5.
Now you bet $10 on black. The ball lands on red again. You lose your $10.
Now you bet $20 on black. The ball lands on black. You win $20, which covers the $15 you lost on the previous two bets and nets you a $5 profit.
At first glance, this system seems foolproof. In fact, if you had an unlimited bankroll and no betting limits, it WOULD be foolproof.
But you have a limited bankroll.
And the casino has betting limits.
Let’s look at the progression if you lose 8 times in a row:
Most casinos allowing a $5 bet on black or red has a maximum bet of $500. If you lose 7 times in a row (which is going to happen more often than you expect), you won’t be able to place your next bet.
Here’s the other problem:
You have to be able to cover all these bets, and even if you win after this progression, you had to risk hundreds of dollars to ensure a $5 profit.
Once you’ve made those 7 bets listed in 1-7, you’ve lost $635 already.
And the odds of winning that next bet don’t go up because you’ve lost the previous 7 bets. The roulette wheel has no memory.
The odds of landing on red or black are the same on every spin, regardless of what’s happened on previous spins.
But in the short run, the Martingale works often. You’ll grind out a few small wins. You might even have several small winning sessions.
But if you play long enough, the law of large numbers will eventually catch up with you, and you’ll have a devastating loss or two.
This doesn’t mean that the Martingale is a bad way to play. If you enjoy this betting system, go for it.
Just don’t think that it changes or improves your odds of winning, because it doesn’t.
The even money bets are losing bets, but they’re more likely to win than the other bets on the table. The house edge is the same on every bet (except one), but that doesn’t mean you should embrace high volatility.
Let’s look at the payoffs and the odds of winning for some of these common bets.
The even money bets all work the same way. You have a close to 50% chance of winning these.
Red or black, odd or even, high or low—these are the even money bets.
All of them have the same probability of winning.
On a standard European roulette wheel, you have 37 numbers. 18 of them are red, 18 are black, and one of them (the 0) is green. 18 of the numbers are even, 18 are odd, and one of them (the 0) is neither. 18 of the numbers are high, 18 are low, and one of them (the 0) is neither.
If you bet on black, you have 37 possible outcomes. 18 of them are winning outcomes. 19 of them are losing outcomes. Your probability of winning is 18/37, or 48.65%.
The odds of winning are 19 to 18.
But the payoff is even money.
If you play a theoretically perfect 37 bets at $100 each, you’ll win $1800 and lose $1900, for a net loss of $100. The average loss per bet is $100 divided by 37 bets, or $2.70.
And that’s the house edge—2.70%.
A single number bet has the same house edge, but you’re a lot less likely to win such a bet. The payoff for a single number bet is 35 to 1, which helps make up for not winning so often. But in the long run, this bet has the same house edge as the even money bet.
Here’s how the math works:
You have a 1/37 (or 2.70%) chance of winning this bet. The odds are 36 to 1 that you’ll win. But the bet only pays off at 35 to 1.
Place 37 theoretically perfect results, and you’ll win $3500 on one bet, but you’ll lose $100 36 times, or $3600. Your net loss is still $100.
This doesn’t mean you’re unable to walk away a winner.
It just means the odds are against you.
If you stick with the even money bets, you’ll at least have a 48.65% chance of winning each bet.
That’s much better than a 2.7% chance of winning.
The 5-number bet isn’t even available on a European roulette wheel. It’s only available on an American roulette wheel.
Here’s the difference between the two wheels:
A European wheel has 37 numbers total, with a single green 0.
An American wheel has 38 numbers total, with a green 0 and a green 00.
This increases the house edge on the American roulette game to 5.26%, which is almost twice as high as 2.70%.
But it also enables the casino to offer another bet that isn’t available in European roulette. It’s called the 5-number bet, and it’s the worst bet in roulette.
The 5-number bet is a bet that the ball will land on either the 0, the 00, the 1, the 2, or the 3.
The odds of winning this bet are 5/38, or 13.16%.
The payoff is 6 to 1.
Here’s what happens in a theoretically perfect set of 38 spins:
You win 5 times, but you lose 33 times. That’s $3000 in winnings, but it’s $3300 in losses, or $300 in losses total.
$300 divided by 38 spins is 7.89%.
You can place this bet and win, but since it offers the worst odds at the table, it sure makes it harder.
Also, don’t confuse the 5-number bet with the 4-number bet available on the European roulette wheel. That bet doesn’t have such a high house edge. It’s a bet that the ball is going to land on the 0, 1, 2, or 3.
I explained the difference between American roulette and European roulette clearly in the last bullet point, but let’s look at what those numbers mean on average to a roulette player.
One way to look at the math behind a casino game is to estimate the expected hourly loss. This is the average amount of money you’ll lose per hour if you play the game long enough to hit the theoretical expectation.
You calculate this by multiplying the average bet amount by the number of bets you’re playing per hour. The product of those two numbers is the amount of money you’re putting into action every hour.
The house edge is the amount of that action the casino expects to win. You multiply the house edge by the average hourly action to get the expected hourly loss.
In American roulette, let’s assume you’re betting $100 per spin. You’re betting on 50 spins per hour, so you’re putting $5000 into action.
5.26% of $5000 is $263 per hour in expected losses.
In European roulette, you’re only expected to lose 2.70% of your total action, or $135 in the above example.
What’s the difference between losing $263 per hour and losing $135 per hour?
There’s no good reason to play American roulette if you have access to a European style roulette game.
In Atlantic City, if you place an even money bet, the casino only takes half your bet if you lose. This lowers the house edge to 2.63%.
This doesn’t mean that every casino in Atlantic City offers European roulette.
It just means that the even money bets (also called the “outside bets” because of their location on the betting surface) literally offer better odds than any of the other bets on the table.
In fact, the other bets on the table still have a house edge of 5.26%.
Combine #5 on this list with #2, and you’re now facing a game with a house edge of just 2.63%, which increases your chances of walking away a winner.
This should seem obvious, but roulette wheels in Europe only have a single zero. They’re called European roulette games because that’s where they’re found.
But some casinos in Europe have additional rules which favor the player.
One of these is the “en prison” rule. It only applies to outside bets. If the ball lands on 0, you don’t lose. Instead, your bet is put in prison—you let it ride until the next spin. If it wins on that second spin, you get your bet back.
This cuts the house edge in half again, making the house edge on these bets only 1.35%.
Your expected average hourly loss on this game, assuming 50 spins per hour at $100 per spin, is only $65.
Roulette wheels are engineered near perfection, but they’re not all perfect. Some of them form a natural bias over time. In other words, they might land on certain numbers more often than other numbers. If you can figure out what those numbers are, you can get an edge over the casino.
What happens is that on some wheels, a set of half-a-dozen or so numbers hit more often because that part of the wheel is slightly sunken compared to the rest of the wheel. To find a wheel like this, you would literally have to record the result of hundreds of spins and compare them with the expected results.
I don’t think this is a practical technique for a couple of reasons. One is that recording roulette results for hours on end isn’t practical. Another is that casino management changes the locations of roulette wheel and inspects them regularly.
Suppose you spend 16 hours a day clocking a wheel 2 days in a row, and you determine a definite bias. You go home, get a good night’s sleep, and come back the next day to take advantage of this information.
But the casino changed out the wheel in the middle of their 3rd shift when you weren’t there.
Also, imagine what a drag it would be to clock a roulette wheel for 32 hours and discover that it has no bias at all.
Back to the drawing board.
Online casinos offer you free money an incentive to sign up with them. These are called “casino bonuses”. They sound great, too.
Here’s an example:
You can sign up at Example Casino and deposit $1000 and get a $5000 signup bonus.
You have $6000 to play with.
Sounds easy to win when you start with such a big stake, right?
Here’s the catch:
The casino requires you to fulfill wagering requirements before allowing you to cash out.
These are also sometimes called playthrough requirements.
They’re expressed as a multiple of the bonus or the bonus plus the deposit.
In the case of this example casino, let’s assume that the bonus and deposit must be wagered 50 times before you’re allowed to cash out.
You’re required to wager $300,000 in total action before you can cash out.
Since you’re smart and playing European roulette, the house edge is only 2.70%.
But 2.70% of $300,000 is $6100.
The math prevents you from getting an edge. You might be up after $300,000 in wagers, but the odds are against.
To make it even harder to ensure a profit from your roulette play, the casino limits the wagers that count toward your playthrough requirement.
At most online casinos, only wagers on the slot machine games count 100% toward fulfilling your requirements.
It’s not unusual for a casino to disallow wagers on roulette entirely.
Even at casinos which allow roulette wagers, you’ll often only get to count 10% or 20% of your wagers on roulette toward the wagering requirement.
This means an expected loss of 5X to 10X that $6100 I mentioned above.
This makes it almost mathematically impossible to come out ahead when using a casino bonus.
But here’s one strategy you might try:
Fulfill your wagering requirements by playing the slot machines. Once your wagering requirements have been fulfilled, if you have enough money left, bet it all on black.
Your plan is to place a single bet with a goal of doubling your money.
This might still leave you with less money than you started with, but it’s a fun way to bring roulette into the picture when you’re trying to take advantage of a casino bonus.
I talk about why this might be a good idea in the next section.
You can use multiple bet sizing strategies when gambling. When you have an edge, a minimum boldness strategy is appropriate. When the casino has an edge, a maximum boldness strategy is appropriate.
A minimum boldness strategy means using a small percentage of your bankroll and making lots of small bets.
A card counter at the blackjack table might use a minimum boldness strategy. She might have an edge of 1% over the casino, but the edge is a long-term expectation. In the short run, she could hit an unlucky streak.
By keeping her bets small, she avoids going broke before her long-term expectation kicks in.
A maximum boldness strategy is when you bet most or all your bankroll on a single bet.
Suppose you have $500 to gamble with, and your goal is to double your money.
Your best odds of doubling that money is to place a single bet on black or red at the roulette table. (Any even-money bet will do, in fact.)
The probability of winning that bet isn’t 50%, but it’s close. On a European roulette table, it’s 18/37, or 48.65%.
You have a 48.65% chance of doubling your money.
Compare that with the probability of doubling your money if you placed two even money bets in a row of half your bankroll ($250 each).
You need to win both bets to double your money.
The probability of that happening is calculated by multiplying the probabilities of each one:
48.65% X 48.65% = 23.67%.
If you divide your bankroll into 4 bets of $125 each, the probability of doubling your money gets even smaller.
This is a great illustration of how the house edge works over the long run—which is the subject of the next section.
You can get the edge at some gambling games. If you play poker better than the other players at the table, you can eke out a profit over time. If you can handicap at an expert level, you can win often enough to make up for the sports book’s vig. If you can count cards, you can get an edge over the casino. Find the right video poker games and play at an expert level, and you can get an edge that way, too.
But you can’t get an edge at roulette.
The best you can do is find the games with the best odds and hope to get lucky.
The higher the house edge is, the lower the likelihood is that you’ll get lucky.
You can budget your gambling bankroll accordingly if you understand this going into it.
Roulette is an entirely random game with an unassailable house edge. The best you can hope for is to get lucky once in a while.
But you can have fun doing so.
The best advice I have to offer roulette players is to refuse to play American roulette. If you’re forced to play American roulette, don’t play the 5-number bet.
If your goal is to double your money, place one big bet on one of the outside bets. You’ll have a close to 50% chance of doubling your money, which is better than what you’ll find at most casino games.
The good news about roulette is that compared to some of the other games you’ll find the casino, the action is slow. This means fewer bets per hour, which results in a lower expected hourly loss rate.
But if you play long enough, you’ll eventually lose all your money.
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