If you find a page about American roulette strategy that purports to be written by a “pro,” run the other direction. There are no “pro” roulette players, unless you count the casino. Roulette is a negative expectation game.
I’m going to explain the intricacies of roulette in this post, including the math behind the game that prevents players from turning pro. This post focuses on American roulette, which is the version of the game I learned on.
But I’ll touch on European roulette and other variations in the final section so that you’re not completely lost.
The American roulette strategy advice I have to offer is probably different from what you’ll find on most roulette strategy pages, but I hope to offer more accurate advice than the average gambling writer. I do know a couple of roulette tips and tricks you might find useful.
I’ve seen various pages about roulette which start off with a history of the game. They usually compare the age of the game roulette with the age of other casino games. I’m going to skip that nonsense in this post.
I’m an expert on gambling strategy, not gambling history.
I don’t care whether roulette is older than craps or vice versa.
Roulette is a simple enough game, though. You have a spinning wheel, similar to the wheel on the game show Wheel of Fortune. Instead of having dollar amounts attached to the various stops, though, you have numbered slots.
And instead of a pointer, you have a metal ball that gets spun around the rim of the bowl that holds the wheel. The wheel spins in one direction, and the metal ball spins in the opposite direction. Eventually, the ball loses momentum and lands in one of the 38 pockets on the wheel.
The pockets are numbered 0, 00, and 1 through 36. The 0 and the 00 are colored green. Half the other numbers are black, while half of them are red.
The gambling comes in when you bet on the outcome. You’re basically betting on where the ball is going to land, but you have lots of ways of placing that bet.
The most obvious bets are the single-number bets and the bets on which color will win.
If you place a single-number bet, you only win if the ball lands on that number. When you win, though, you get a 35 to 1 payout.
For example, if you bet $10 and won, you’d get a payout of $350. You’d get your $10 bet back, too.
If you place a bet on red (or a bet on black), you win if the ball lands on any of the 18 red (or one of the 18 black) numbers. But since you have such a relatively good chance of winning, you only win even money.
For example, if you bet $10 on black and won, you’d get a payout of $10. You’d get your $10 back, too.
Those are far from the only betting options available to you, though.
You can also bet that one of two numbers will win, or you can bet that one of three numbers will win. You can also place a four-number bet.
Or you can bet that the final number will be even. Or that it will be odd.
You can bet that the number will be high (19-36). Or that it will be low (1-18).
All the bets pay off as if there were no house edge on a game with 36 numbers.
If it weren’t for the 0 and the 00, these bets would be a break-even proposition in the long run.
But casinos aren’t in the business of breaking even. They’re in the business of making a profit — hence the 0 and the 00.
A bet on black loses if you get a red result OR a green result.
A bet on even loses if you get an odd result or a 0 (or 00).
This gives the casino an unassailable mathematical edge over the player.
Let’s look at the payoff for a single-number bet and compare it to the payout odds to see how the casino profits.
Let’s assume you made 38 statistically perfect spins of a roulette wheel. You’d see each outcome once. You’d lose $100 every time you lost, but on the one number where you won, you’d win $3,500.
But there are 37 losing numbers, for a total loss of $3,700.
With a loss of $3,700 compared to a win of $3,500, you’d show a net loss of $200 over 38 spins.
That’s an average of $5.26 per spin, or 5.26%.
That 5.26% is the house edge for the game of American roulette. If you played an infinite number of spins of the roulette wheel, that would be the amount you’d lose.
Let’s look at another example — the even money bet.
You bet $100 on black on 38 perfect spins. You win 18 of those bets because there are 18 black numbers. That’s $1,800. You lose 20 of those bets at $100 each, for a loss of $200. That’s 5.26% again.
All the bets at an American roulette table carry that same 5.26% house edge — except one.
There’s a bet at the roulette table called the five-number bet, and it’s a bet that wins if the ball lands on any of the following numbers:
That bet pays off at 6 to 1.
Let’s look at 38 perfect spins again. You win on five of those spins, and you win 6 to 1, which is $3,000 ($600 x 5 winning spins).
But on the other 33 spins, you lose $100 each, or $3,300 total.
That’s a net loss of $300.
Over 38 spins, that’s an average of $7.89 per spin, or 7.89%.
This makes the five-number bet the only “incorrect” bet at an American roulette table.
The best strategy for any casino game is to place the bet with the lowest house edge. All the bets at the American roulette wheel have a house edge of 5.26% with the exception of the five-number bet.
Therefore, if you’re betting on anything OTHER than the five-number bet, you’re using the perfect American roulette strategy.
You’ll find plenty of more involved strategies and systems for roulette, though. These are usually structured ways of raising and lowering your bets based on what happened on previous spins of the wheel.
The most famous of these, and my favorite, is the Martingale System. To some extent, the Martingale System is unjustifiably maligned, too — and I’ll explain why.
First, though, how does the Martingale System work?
It’s simple. Every time you lose, you double the size of your next bet until you win. Then, you go back to your initial bet size.
For example, you bet $10 on black and lose. On the next spin, you bet $20 on black and win.
You won back the $10 you lost on the first spin, AND you have a $10 profit.
But sometimes you’ll lose multiple times in a row. Every time you lose, you double the size of your previous bet, so you need to have a bankroll to pull off the Martingale System.
Here’s another example of the Martingale in action.
You bet $10 on black and lose. You bet $20 on the next spin and lose again. You bet $40 on the third spin and lose yet again.
On the fourth spin, you bet a whopping $80, and you win.
You lost $70 on the first three spins, so now you have a $10 profit.
Most gambling writers are quick to point out that the Martingale System cannot overcome the house edge for American roulette in the long run. It might not be immediately obvious why that is, though. After all, this system seems foolproof at first glance, doesn’t it?
If you had an infinitely large bankroll and no betting limits, the Martingale System WOULD be perfect.
The problem is that you DON’T have an infinite bankroll.
And you DO have betting limits.
The problem with the whole “doubling up” strategy is that the size of your bets gets much larger than you’d expect them to, much faster than you’d expect them to.
Sure, it’s rare to lose a bet on black five, six, seven, or eight times in a row.
But it happens at least once a day in every casino.
Let’s look at the size of the bets in a progression like that:
Most of the people I know who can afford to risk $1,280 on a single roulette bet are going to be bored silly with a $5 bet.
They’re not going to have much fun playing American roulette for these stakes, and they’re not going to be satisfied with a $5 profit, either.
Also, I’ve never seen a roulette game with a $5 minimum bet that didn’t also have a maximum bet of $500. I’ve seen games with a $20 minimum that had a $1,000 max bet or even a $2,000 max bet.
But there’s always a maximum bet, and the betting spread between the two isn’t usually very large.
Here’s the reality of the Martingale System. In the short run, it can improve your probability of walking away a winner. I’ve seen one educated, well-researched estimate that said if you only play for an hour or so, you have an 80% probability of walking away from your session a winner.
But keep in mind that with the Martingale, after a progression, you’re only ahead by one unit.
Those winning sessions are guaranteed to be small.
Eventually, though — on average, 20% of the time, you’ll have a losing session.
And because of the exponential nature of the betting system, those losing sessions will be bigger losing sessions than the size of the winning session. You’ll wind up with a net loss, over time, that will eventually average out to about the same size as your 5.26% house edge.
This means that this American roulette strategy won’t overcome the house edge in the long run. It’s not really a winning strategy.
It can be a fun strategy to use in the short run, though. I’ve been with buddies at the casino and showed them this system. They were impressed when I walked away with a profit.
I didn’t bother to tell them the flaws in the system. I guess I’m just ruthless in that respect.
Although some people are too dull to even follow what’s going on when you make this kind of system known in the first place.
There are other ways to play American roulette, though.
Everyone knows that the odds of winning a million dollars playing the lottery are ridiculously low. Winning a progressive slot machine jackpot is also a big longshot.
ANY game where you can win a million dollars will be a longshot, though.
You could try to win a huge amount of money playing roulette, though. You just need to win several times in a row. You could try to win even-money bets repeatedly, or you could go for a shorter winning streak on a longer shot bet. Either would work.
For example, you could start by betting $5 on black. If you win, you leave your winnings there and go for it again. Look at the progression if you go on a winning streak:
You only have to win 18 times in a row to win over a million dollars.
That sound impossible, but it happens.
Another way to do this more aggressively is to place a single-number bet repeatedly.
Here’s what that progression looks like:
Win a single-number bet five times in a row, and you’ve won over $8 million.
Of course, with either of these options, you run into a similar problem that you’d run into with the Martingale System. You can’t place the next bet in the progression because of the betting maximums.
Still, you can win some big jackpots with this strategy.
The house still has an edge, though. You don’t get to overcome that no matter what happens.
Still, your odds of getting a significant payout are better when letting your winnings ride in roulette than they would be playing a slot machine.
This is my favorite system to play.
The most common variation of roulette is one in which you have a single 0 on the wheel instead of a 0 and a 00. This changes the probability significantly. The payouts remain the same, but the probability of losing drops.
Instead of having a 37 to 1 probability of winning a single-number bet, you have a 36 to 1 probability. The payout is still 35 to 1, though.
The house edge for this version of roulette — single-zero roulette — is 2.70%.
You can find variations which offer you opportunities to cut your losses in half, too. The house edge on these versions is 1.35%. They put your even-money bet in prison and wait a spin to see what happens. If it loses a second time, then it’s lost for good.
Otherwise, your original bet is returned to you with no winnings.
American roulette is a game where you can’t get an edge over the house. That’s just the nature of the game, its probabilities, and the payout odds. No system or strategy can overcome that house edge in the long run.
This doesn’t mean that roulette strategies are useless. You can use some of these strategies to improve your probability of having a winning strategy, if that’s your aim. The Martingale System is perfect for this, in fact. You just need the bankroll to withstand it.
You can also use a let it ride strategy to parlay your roulette winnings into a larger win than you’d probably see on a slot machine anytime during your casino visit. You’ll fail far more often than not, but you’ll still have a better probability of hitting a jackpot than you would playing slots.
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