Roulette is the most popular “spinning wheel” game in the casino. It’s the game with the big table and the elaborate betting layout. The wheel sits in a bowl, and the dealer (aka the “croupier”), spins a ball round the lip of the spinning wheel.
Learning how to play roulette is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do. Learning how to win all the time at roulette is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. In fact, it’s impossible. But I’ll share some ideas and strategies for improving your odds of winning later in this post.
1- The Basics of How to Play Roulette
For most of the examples in this post, I’m going to use American roulette as a reference point. That’s because it’s the most common form of the game played where I live. I’ll include information about the differences between American and European roulette later in this post.
The first thing to understand about how to play roulette is that it’s all about betting on which outcome you’re going to get on the roulette wheel. To understand that, you need to understand the composition of the wheel itself.
A roulette wheel is divided into 38 sections or pockets. Each of these are the same size, and the ball has the same probability of landing in any one pocket as it does of landing in any other pocket. (The probability is 1/38 for any specific number.)
These pockets are numbered 0, 00, and 1-36. The 0 and the 00 are green. Half the numbers are red, and the other half of the numbers are black. Half the numbers are even, and half are odd, too.
You can bet that the ball will land on a specific number and get a 35 to 1 payout if you guess correctly. You can also bet on a variety of different combinations. These bets can be categorized broadly into 2 types: inside bets and outside bets.
2- Inside Bets and Outside Bets
The first bet I mentioned, a bet on a single number, is the purest form of an inside bet. It’s called an “inside bet” because of where the option is on the table. The betting surface has all the bets on individual numbers on the inside of the layout.
But that’s not the only inside bet you can make.
You can also bet that 1 of 2 different numbers will come up. This is called a “split bet”. To place a split bet, you place your chip on the line between 2 numbers. If either of those 2 numbers come up, you win 17 to 1 on your money.
You can also bet on any 1 of 3 numbers coming up. This is called a “street bet”. To place a street bet, you put your chip on the line on the outside of 3 numbers in a row. If any of them come up, you win 11 to 1 on your money.
As you might have guessed by now, you can also bet on any 1 of 4 numbers. This is called a “square bet” or a “corner bet”. This pays off at 8 to 1.
A 5-number bet is called a “basket bet”. It pays off at 6 to 1.
A 6-number bet is called an “avenue bet”. It pays off at 5 to 1.
Those are the inside bets you can make. Obviously, the more numbers you take, the more likely you are to win your bet. This is offset by having a smaller payoff based on how many numbers you bet.
The outside bets are the bets with the lowest payouts but the best odds of winning. These are bets on red or black, odd or even, or high or low. You can also bet on 1st, 2nd, or 3rd columns or on 1-12, 13-24, or 25-36.
The bets on red or black, odd or even, or high or low, all pay off at even money.
The other outside bets pay off at 2 to 1.
You can place any combination of inside and outside bets during a roulette spin as you like.
3- The Odds of Winning and Losing at Roulette
The basics of probability are straightforward enough. The probability that something will happen is the number of ways it can happen divided by all the number of things that can happen.
In roulette, you have 38 different possible outcomes. If you bet on a single number, there’s only one way for that result to happen. So the probability of winning a single number bet is 1/38.
If you bet on 2 numbers, that probability becomes 2/38, which can be reduced to 1/19. (I can’t explain fractions in this post, but you should have covered that before high school.)
If you bet on 3 numbers, the probability become 3/38, and so on.
A probability can easily be converted into odds. That’s just a comparison of the number of ways something can’t happen with the number of ways that it can happen.
For something with a probability of 1/38, the odds are expressed as 37 to 1.
For something with a probability of 1/19, the odds are expressed as 18 to 1.
And so on.
If you compare the payout odds with the actual odds of winning in roulette, you’ll quickly note a discrepancy. The payoff for winning a single number bet is only 35 to 1, even though the odds of winning are 37 to 1. The payoff for winning a split bet is 17 to 1, even though the odds of winning are 18 to 1.
That discrepancy between payout odds and the odds of winning is how the casino makes its money. That discrepancy is the house edge.
As it turns out, in roulette, the house edge on every bet you can make is the same–5.26%. That represents the percentage of each bet you’ll lose (on average) over a large number of spins. Mathematicians call that “the long run”.
In the short term, players can and often do walk away from the roulette table as winners. In the long run–over thousands of bets and spins–players are almost guaranteed to lose.
This difference is how the casino stays in business.
You can calculate the house edge in roulette easily, too. You just assume a perfect set of 38 spins. Then average the amount lost over that perfect set by the number of bets you made.
Let’s assume you bet $100 on an even money bet. You’ll win that bet 18 times, for gross winnings of $1800. You’ll lose 20 times, though, for gross losses of $2000.
Your net loss is $200.
Divide that by the 38 bets you made, and you’ll see that you lost an average of $5.26 for every bet.
4- Roulette Game-play Procedures You Should Know About
The 1st thing to look at when considering a roulette table is the “table limits” sign. This posts the minimum and maximum bets for the table. If you’re looking at a table with a $100 minimum bet, you might want to move to a lower stakes table.
But not knowing how much you’re expected to bet can be a real drag at the roulette table.
The next thing to know is that you buy in at the roulette table by laying your money on the table. Roulette tables use different chips than the other tables in the casino. They color your chips so they’ll know which player won which bets.
These roulette chips need to be cashed in at the roulette table before you walk away. You can’t use them at the other tables anyway.
Finally, you should know that you can continue to place bets while the wheel is spinning. At some point, the croupier will announce “no more bets”. At that point, stop putting chips on the table.
If you leave your winnings on the table, you’re betting them again on the next spin. If you don’t want to do that, pick up your winnings.
It’s customary to tip the croupier occasionally. Don’t be a boor. Go ahead and throw the croupier a $5 chip here and there.
Also, if you’re going to drink at the table, that’s fine. Just don’t spill your drink. Nobody likes that guy.
5- How to Practice Roulette Online for Free
All online casinos (except live dealer casinos) offer free playable versions of their games that you can try before signing up for and depositing money into a real money account. This gives you a chance to try the software first. It’s also an opportunity to practice roulette online for free.
I’ve often wondered if these free versions of the games offer the same odds as the real money versions. Years ago, when I tried Golden Palace Casino for the first time, I seemed to have suspiciously long winning streaks on the free money versions of their games.
But when I tried the real money versions of their games, I had a different experience. I saw the kinds of results I expected to see.
These games aren’t rigged. You get random results that duplicate what you’d see at a real brick and mortar casino. The only difference is where you’re playing–online, instead of in a real casino.
Since the house has an unassailable edge over the player, the online casino has no incentive to “cheat” by offering results that aren’t in line with the expected random results you’d see at any other roulette game.
How do these free online roulette games work?
You get a certain number of “play money” chips to play with. They cost you nothing. Win or lose, these chips have no monetary value. They’re kind of like Monopoly money, in that respect.
6- Moving Up to Real Money Roulette Games Online and Off
When you feel comfortable that you know how to play roulette, it’s time to give it a shot for real money. You can play online for real money if you’re comfortable with that. If not, no problem–give it a shot at a traditional brick and mortar casino.
If you decide to play at an online casino, you’ll need to read the terms and conditions of the bonus before you get your hopes up. Some people want to take advantage of the signup bonus and try to make a profit. Most online casinos don’t count wagers from roulette toward the wagering requirements for those bonuses.
If you’ve never played at an online casino before, you might get really excited about these signup bonuses. They’re not a bad deal, either. Usually you get a matching amount of chips from the casino when you make your first deposit.
This matching amount has a maximum dollar amount, and it’s usually calculated as a percentage of your deposit. For example, a casino might offer you a 300% deposit on your first deposit of $100.
This means you’ll deposit $100 and get $300 in bonus chips to play with. Your total bankroll is $400.
But the casino requires you to wager the bonus plus the deposit a certain number of times before cashing out. They usually limit the play that counts toward this to their slot machine games.
A common wagering requirement might be 35X. In the example above, you’d need to place $14,000 in wagers before cashing out.
With a 5.26% house edge, the casino expects to win over $700 on that amount of action. Since your starting chip stack is $400, you’re expected to lose money even if they count roulette toward your bonus.
7- How to Win at Roulette All the Time
Anyone who tells you they have the secret for how to win at roulette all the time wants to get his hand in your pocket. No betting system or strategy will make winning at roulette all the time a reality. It’s not possible.
The house edge for roulette can’t be overcome using betting systems. The best you can hope for are frequent small wins which will eventually be compensated for by a devastating loss.
I can tell you a couple of ways to win at roulette though:
- Change your definition of winning.
- Stick with games which offer better odds.
When I say you should change your definition of winning, I’m suggesting that you not be so results-oriented. It doesn’t matter if you walk away from the table with winnings in your pocket if you had fun. That’s the point of casino gambling–to enjoy yourself.
If you get your money’s worth in terms of entertainment at the roulette table, you’ve won. Simple as that.
Also, the version of roulette I’ve written about up to this point is American roulette. You can sometimes find another version of roulette available–single zero roulette. The house edge on this game is only 2.70%, because it only has a 0, not a 0 and 00.
In Atlantic City, if you make an outside bet, the en prison rule is in effect. This means if you lose an even money bet, you get a 2nd chance at it. If you lose a 2nd time, you lose your chips. Until then, they’re still in action.
Learning how to play roulette is the easiest thing you’ll ever do in the gambling world. Learning how to win all the time, at least from a literal perspective, is impossible, though.
You can reduce the house’s edge against you by sticking with certain games with certain rules–European roulette, aka single zero roulette–but even then, the house has the mathematical edge.