Roulette might be the oldest and easiest game in a casino to understand. You have a spinning horizontal wheel with 37 or 38 numbers in it. The croupier spins a ball around the edge of the wheel, and you win if the ball lands in a pocket you chose. You can bet on one or more numbers.
It’s an elegant, slow-paced, relaxing game. For some people (like me), it’s the first gambling game you’ll try in the casino.
But how do you maximize your chances of winning at roulette?
Are there any strategies that work in roulette?
You might be disappointed in some of the answers below. You can use some strategies in roulette that reduce your chances of losing or the rate at which you lose, but roulette has a mathematical advantage for the casino that can’t be overcome.
That’s true for almost all casino games, by the way. You’ll learn why below.
1- Understand Just How High the House Edge in Roulette Really Is and Consider another Game
Roulette is my favorite game to use to explain how the house edge in casino games works. That’s because the math behind it is relatively simple.
An American roulette wheel has 38 possible outcomes (pockets). They’re numbered and colored. You have slots numbered 1 through 36, and you also have 2 slots numbered 0 and 00. The 0 and 00 are green. Half of the other numbers (18 of them) are black, and the other half (18 more) are red.
The probabilities of various outcomes are easy to calculate. The probability of getting any individual number on the wheel as your result is 1/38. That can be stated in odds terms as 37 to 1.
The odds of getting any set of multiple numbers on the wheel are that set of numbers divided by 38. For example, if you place a bet on a black number coming up, the probability is 18/38, or, in odds terms, 20 to 18. (That can be reduced to 9/19, or 10 to 9.)
The payoffs on the roulette bets, though, aren’t commensurate with the odds of winning. If you have a 37 to 1 chance of getting a specific number, and the bet only pays off at 35 to 1, the house will profit in the long run.
It’s easy to understand if you look at a theoretically perfect set of 38 results. You’ll lose 37 bets and win one in that situation. If you’re betting $100 per spin, you’ll lose a total of $3700 on those 37 losing spins, and you’ll win $3500 once.
That’s a net loss of $200.
You can average that by the number of spins (38). That’s an average loss of $5.26 per spin or 5.26% of each bet.
This is the long-term mathematical expected loss in roulette. And it’s the same for almost every bet at the table.
Most table games in the casino have a house edge of between 1% and 3%. A house edge of 5.26% means you’re more likely to lose in roulette, and you’ll lose more money over time playing roulette.
So the first winning strategy for roulette is to find a different game—one with better odds.
2- Find a Table with Only a Single 0
As luck would have it, you can sometimes find roulette games which offer better than the standard odds I discussed in #1. Some wheels only have a single 0 instead of a 0 and a 00. The payouts for the bets are the same, but the odds of winning have improved.
A single number bet on a single 0 roulette wheel now has a 1/37 chance of winning instead of 1/38. In terms of odds, that’s 36 to 1 instead of 37 to 1.
With a payout of 35 to 1, the house still has an edge, but it’s dropped considerably.
Now you’re looking at $3600 in losses and $3500 in winnings, for a net loss of $100 instead of $200. Average that into 37 total spins, and you’ll see that you’re losing an average of $2.70 per spin instead of $5.26.
That’s almost half as much. You’ll still lose all your money in the long run, but you’ll stand a better chance of winning. And you’ll get a lot more action for your money.
In the United States, especially in Las Vegas, finding a roulette game with only a single 0 is like searching for a needle in a haystack. And casinos which do offer these single zero roulette wheels usually have a higher betting minimum than usual.
The Venetian has single zero roulette available, but their minimum bet at that table is $100. The Bellagio has single zero roulette, but their minimum bet is $50.
Casinos which have wheels with the 0 and the 00 (the American roulette wheel) usually have betting minimums in the $5 to $10 range. Some low roller casinos even have roulette games with a minimum bet of $1, like the Cortez in Downtown.
But some casino destinations use single zero roulette wheels as their default. Atlantic City tends to offer mostly single zero roulette wheels.
And a wheel with a single zero is the standard for European casinos.
In online casinos, you can play either American or European roulette. The only difference is that the odds for European roulette are better. They usually have the same betting limits online.
You can even find land casinos with worse roulette games. Some casinos have roulette wheels with a 3rd green slot. Stay far away from these games, because the house edge is even higher. (This version is called “Sands roulette,” and it’s an abomination.)
3- Know which Rules Apply to Which Bets—Especially in Atlantic City
In some casinos, special rules apply to even money bets which can reduce the house edge even more. These rules are also common in European casinos. These rules are often only available on single zero games, but they can have a huge effect on the math behind the game.
And in Atlantic City, they have a special rule that makes a big difference even though there are still 2 zeros on the wheel.
The even-money bets are the ones where you win the amount you’re betting if you win. For example, a bet on red or black pays even money. Bet $100 on red and lose, and you’ve lost $100. Bet $100 on red and win, and you’re up $100.
You can bet on odd or even, red or black, or high or low and win even money.
But in Atlantic City, if you lose on an even money bet, you only lose half your bet.
This reduces the house edge from 5.26% to 2.63%. That’s enough of a reduction to make roulette a competitive game.
But this only applies to even money bets, so if you place any of the other bets on the table, you’re facing a house edge that’s twice as high. Never do that.
In other casinos, the “en prison” rule applies. This is a European rule for even money bets. Instead of immediately losing your even money bet, it’s put “in prison.” On the next spin, if your bet would have won, you get your bet returned to you instead of losing it.
The en prison rule cuts the house edge in half. If you’re already playing on a single zero roulette game, the en prison rule reduces the house edge from 2.70% to 1.35%.
At that point, you’re facing odds similar to those of blackjack. In fact, if you’re not good at basic strategy decisions, you might even be facing a lower house edge with the roulette game. (If you’re not using perfect basic strategy on blackjack, your house edge might be as high as 4% or more.)
4- Stay Away from Progressive Betting Systems
A progressive betting system is one where you raise the size of your bets based on what happened on the previous bet. The most common of these systems is the Martingale System, where you double your bet after every loss in an effort to recoup your losses. The Martingale is usually only used on even money bets.
You can have negative progression systems, too. These are betting systems where you lower the size of your bets based on what happened on your previous rolls.
These kinds of systems seem to make a certain kind of sense initially, but they don’t change the math behind the game. A negative expectation game is still a negative expectation game, regardless of how you change your bet sizes.
The big problem with the Martingale System is that you’ll eventually need to place a bet that’s too large for your bankroll or too large for the table minimum.
You start with a $5 bet on black. If you win, great, but if you lose, you bet $10 on the next spin. If you win that bet, you’ve won back the $5 you lost, and you have a $5 profit to show for it.
But if you lose that 2nd bet (the $10 bet), you have to place a $20 bet on the next spin.
Lose again, and you have to bet $40.
No matter how far you take the progression, when you eventually win, your net win will only be $5. The rest of that large bet is just there to recoup your losses.
That would be fine if you had a nearly infinite bankroll or if the casino didn’t have maximum betting limits.
But the stakes get too high too fast for this to be practical.
Here’s the progression, starting with $5:
- $5, $10, $20, $40, $80, $160, $320, $640, $1280
If you’re playing at a table with a $5 minimum bet and a $1000 maximum bet, your system breaks after 8 straight losses. You can’t place the next bet in the progression, because the casino won’t let you.
Also, at that point, you’ve already lost $1275. To place another $1280 bet, you would need to have started with a bankroll of over $2500.
Most roulette players don’t have that big a bankroll for a $5 roulette game. In fact, it’s hard to get excited about a net win of $5 when you have that kind of bankroll to begin with.
Most people assume that the probability of getting 8 or 9 losses in a row is much worse than it actually is. Yes, it’s unusual to have a losing or winning streak last that long. But it’s inevitable if you play long enough.
What happens with the Martingale System is that you’ll often book small winning sessions.
But eventually, you’ll inevitably have a huge losing streak that will wipe out all your previous wins and then some.
The problem with that progression system is the same problem that all progressive betting systems have. They don’t change the underlying math behind the game.
If a game has a house edge of 1.35%, 2.63%, 2.70%, or 5.26%, that number doesn’t change based on combining bets of varying sizes.
5- The Minimum Bet Might Be the Most Important Factor in Choosing a Game
You might think that your goal needs to be to find the roulette game with the lowest house edge. That’s not a bad strategy.
But it doesn’t take into account the difference in table minimums at these tables.
You calculate your expected loss per hour at a casino game by multiplying the house edge by the total amount of money you put into action each hour.
At a roulette table, you probably place 50 or 60 bets per hour. If you’re betting $5 per bet, that’s $250 to $300 per hour in action.
But if you’re at a table with a $100 minimum bet, you’re looking at $5000 to $6000 per hour in action.
The difference between $85 per hour in expected losses and $13 per hour in expected losses is more than significant.
My strategy suggestion is to play for stakes as low as you can without being bored. Obviously, if you have $2 million in the bank, playing roulette for $5 per spin might be ludicrously dull.
On the other hand, if you show up at the casino with $100 in your pocket, $5 per spin might be the perfect risk-reward ratio.
But don’t think that just because the house edge is lower that you’re better off. That’s not necessarily the case.
6- Clocking a Roulette Wheel Is a Fool’s Errand
Roulette wheels are mechanical devices, and all mechanical devices are subject to a certain amount of mechanical error. In the case of a roulette wheel, this might mean a bias toward a certain set of numbers. If some numbers come up more often than they statistically should, you might be able to get an edge over the casino by betting on those numbers.
You can only spot that kind of bias by getting a huge amount of data on the spins of the wheel. This means you have to sit there and watch the roulette game for hours and recording the results. This is tricky in itself.
After all, you’re not allowed to just sit at a roulette table for hours without placing bets. And most casinos don’t have nearby benches, either. You might be able to find a nearby slot machine with a seat in front of it.
The only way you can be sure is to clock the wheel for 1000 spins or more. That’s at least 20 hours worth of watching.
But here’s the catch:
Casinos change the locations of their roulette tables and wheels all the time. That roulette wheel and table you spent 20 hours clocking yesterday?
They might have moved it when you went home and slept for 6 hours before coming back.
There goes your edge.
7- Each Spin of the Wheel Is an Independent Event
Some roulette players track which colors come up on previous spins to try to get a feel for what’s due or what’s “hot.”
This is a fool’s errand, too.
Think about it this way. You have 38 numbers on the roulette wheel, and 18 of them are black. If the ball lands on a black spot 8 times in a row, what’s the probability that it will land on black again on spin #9?
Some players think that black has gotten “hot” for some reason, and it’s more likely to come up again on the next spin.
Others think that red is now “due,” and it’s more likely to come up on the next spin on black.
But what’s the formula used to calculate probability?
It’s the number of ways that a desired outcome can happen divided the total number of possible outcomes.
In this case, there are 18 black numbers out of a total of 38 numbers. The probability is 18/38, or 47.37%.
That doesn’t change based on the previous spins of the wheel, because the number of possible outcomes hasn’t changed.
Thinking otherwise is a common math mistake called “the Gambler’s Fallacy.”
The bottom line is that if you think you can get an edge at roulette by paying attention to trends, you’re wrong. There are trends, and numbers or colors do go on hot streaks.
But those hot streaks are ONLY visible in retrospect, and they have no bearing on what’s going to happen next.
8- Opening Your Own Casino and Offering Roulette There
Recently there was a comedy movie starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler where they were trying to make quick money to pay for their daughter’s college education. They decide to open a casino in their house. In fact, the name of the movie is The House.
It’s cute, but it might get your mind running. If you’re thinking that owning your own underground casino with its own roulette table might put the odds squarely in your favor, you’re right.
But opening an illegal casino has personal and legal ramifications beyond what most of us can imagine. Running an illegal gambling operation is a felony. I know some guys who ran underground cardrooms in Dallas. Most of them eventually got busted by the police. They didn’t serve any time that I know of, but they’re on probation for a felony.
And that felony will follow them around on job applications for the rest of their lives probably.
I don’t think the risk/reward ratio warrants risking a felony arrest in exchange for a 5.26% edge over the players.
On the other hand, maybe you want to start your own legitimate casino. My guess is that most people reading this blog post don’t have the money to open their own casino. Even if you want to open an online casino, you’ll need at least $100,000 to get started.
And you face the same problems as before.
If you want to earn money from players losing at roulette, buy stock in a publicly traded casino corporation that’s running at a profit. Avoid casino companies that are losing money. If you’re going to buy a percentage of a business, no matter how tiny a percentage, make sure that business is profitable before investing.
Roulette can be a lot of fun, but there’s no sure path to riches in this game. Like all casino games, the house has a mathematical edge. You can reduce this edge, but it’s unlikely in the extreme you can eliminate it and put the odds in your favor.
My suggestion is to stick with other games, but if you do play roulette, keep your betting amounts low. Find the best odds you can, too, but don’t increase your stakes dramatically just to lower the house edge. That will cost more money than you think.