Why do people play roulette?

Of all gambling games, this one is the most transparent about how the house makes money. The highest payout odds (35-to-1) are based on a 36-number wheel. No roulette wheel has fewer than 37 slots.

Roulette has a reputation for having a modest house edge (between 2.70% and 5.26%). It’s not as small an edge as in baccarat or blackjack, but it’s not as big as the edge on most slot machines or keno games.

What makes roulette a tough game is that to get the biggest win, you must take the biggest risk. On the same table, you’ll find people playing it safe with outside bets and others betting on single numbers.

That single number payoff is both attractive and elusive.

Mathematically, the outside bets are an attractive option.

How many times can the ball land on red or black consecutively in a single streak?

The theoretical limit is infinity. In real life, the record was set in 1943 when, in an American roulette game, the ball landed on red *32 times in a row*.

It says something about a game that everyone knows 32 reds in a row happened in 1943. Modern roulette tables are manufactured differently than in the 1930s and ‘40s. It’s unlikely such a streak will happen again.

But what if you could predict that red comes up the next five times in a row?

Just by invoking the power of two, a player can take $100 and double it, double it again, keep going, and turn that initial bet into $3200.

You have a better chance of winning on a single number bet, and yet some betting systems teach players to “let it ride.”

Here are five simple systems doomed to fail by basic design.

## 1- Place Two Outside Bets at the Same Time

Outside bets pay 1-to-1 (even money) for black/red or even/odd bets or 2-to-1 for 12 number bets.

A simple strategy is to make two bets of equal amounts. Place one bet on an even money zone and the other bet on a 2-to-1 zone.

Some people say if you bet black, you should then bet column three, which has eight red numbers. Just to be clear, column three spans the length of the table. It’s not the “3^{rd} 12” bet next to “Odd” and “19 to 36.”

The mirror strategy bets on red and column two, which contains eight black numbers.

The idea is to cover 26 out of 36 black and red numbers.

If you win the even money bet, replace your lost bet on the column. Let it ride.

If you win the second or third column bet, replace your lost column bet and take some profit off the table.

You’ll lose some of the time. The longer you use this strategy, the more likely you’ll burn through your bankroll. But you may get lucky.

## 2- The Martingale Strategy

This is one of the most widely discussed simple betting strategies for roulette. Loosely named for the man who invented it, John Henry Martingale, the system requires you to double your bet every time you lose.

When a player using the Martingale system wins, they go back to using the table minimum.

As every gambling writer points out, table limits and the size of a player’s bankroll put a quick end to this strategy on a short losing streak. If the table limit is $1000 per wager, a player can only double a $5 bet seven times.

A $500 bankroll won’t allow you to double your bet more than five times. This table illustrates the problem:

BET NO | AMOUNT | RUNNING TOTAL |
---|---|---|

1 | $5 | $5 |

2 | $10 | $15 |

3 | $20 | $35 |

4 | $40 | $75 |

5 | $80 | $155 |

6 | $160 | $315 |

If you need to double the bet again, you won’t have enough money because your bankroll is now down to $185.

Why do people think this strategy works? Because the idea is that you’ll win back more than you’ve lost (eventually). In theory, it sounds fine. In practice, many players lose their money quickly.

This strategy is only used on even money bets like red or black, odd or even, or high or low.

## 3- The Missing Outside Bet

This strategy ignores the green zone, as most strategies do. Look at the end of the table where you see three zones: 1 to 12, 13 to 24, and 25 to 36. These are the outside bets the strategy uses.

The idea is to watch the game for a while, recording which 12-number zone the ball lands in. When you get to a minimum consecutive number of results that exclude one of the three zones, place you bet in the “missing zone.”

The strategy then holds that you should increase your bet *each time you lose*. If you think this sounds familiar, it is. It’s a variation on the Martingale Strategy.

The Missing Outside Bet strategy is based on the Gambler’s Fallacy. The fallacy assumes that random chance favors any result not realized in recent plays.

Regardless of what happened on the previous spin of the wheel, the odds on the next spin are exactly the same. On a 37-number wheel, the odds of getting a red result are still 18 out of 37, or about 48.6%.

It doesn’t matter if black came up on the ten previous spins or red came up on the ten previous spins.

## 4- The John Wayne Strategy

Named for the actor because this was supposedly his favorite roulette strategy. But it doesn’t matter if he used it at all. The strategy itself is simple enough for anyone.

That spreads the risk. Instead of using outside bets, which pay only 2-to-1 odds or even money, the player uses inside bets to go for higher payoffs.

The player must choose two numbers from the middle column and place one minimum bet on each.

Next, the player places a minimum bet on each of the four corners for the chosen numbers. This placement covers 18 numbers in total. There’s a slightly better than a 48% chance of hitting one of the numbers.

This strategy hedges your bets. In other words, if it works at all, the most it will do is slow down your losses. The four-number bets pay 8-to-1, but the probability of hitting one of those four numbers is between 10% and 11%.

The idea behind the strategy is to bet as little money as possible (ten minimum bets) while covering as much of the table as possible (18 numbers) with better than even money payout odds.

Making even money bets on the outside are probably a better strategy. The player has the same chance of winning but doesn’t surrender any part of their wager.

In either situation, the player loses everything if the ball lands on the wrong number. There’s a better than even chance of that happening.

The only way to get ahead on a John Wayne bet is for one of the two single-number bets to come in.

In that case, why not just bet on ten single numbers every time the ball spins?

## 5- The 17-Number Strategy

Players who only want to win the highest possible payout of 35-to-1 must bet on single numbers. There’s no other way to get those odds.

Using table minimums only, the 17-number strategy maximizes your exposure by going after the highest payout odds.

If the strategy wins, the player gets slightly better than a 2-for-1 payout. This strategy is a tradeoff with the even money outside bets. The probability of winning one of those on a 37-number wheel is 48.6%.

## Conclusion

Considering that casinos have run all these scenarios past actuaries and computers for decades, it’s a safe bet to assume they’re confident none of these systems will ever make any but the luckiest players in the universe wealthy.

Still, it’s fun to take a chance with your money and see what happens.

When you look more closely at how these strategies work, they all share a common theme: expect a better result next time.

Betting systems that try to leverage failure invoke the Gambler’s Fallacy I mentioned above. The random nature of the game doesn’t guarantee your money will last as long as you need it to.

Some people argue that the unfavorable percentages in the game make it more reasonable to place higher bets. If you bet your entire bankroll on a single spin, including an even money bet, you could walk away a very happy winner.

The prudent player leaves the table while he still has enough cash to try another game.