That old wheel is gonna roll around once more.
When it does it will even up the score.
- Johnny Cash, “That Old Wheel”
Though it’s doubtful that the “Man in Black” was talking about roulette in his classic song, he might as well have been. Roulette, which means “little wheel” in French, is quite simply a fun and rather mesmerizing game.
As you step up to any empty slot at a roulette wheel, you’ll see a casino employee called a “croupier” (pronounced croo-pee-ay) spin a wheel with the numbers 1 through 36, some black and some red, plus a green 0 and a green 00. Then he’ll start a small ball spinning in the opposite direction around the outside of the wheel. When they both slow down enough, the ball will land on one of the numbers, and hopefully, you’ll win. (If they never stop spinning, it means you are inside of a dream like in the movie “Inception,” and you need to wake up.)
Now, most people know you can bet on a specific number, like 17 black of James Bond fame. But most novices have no idea that there are lots of other bets you can make. You can bet on two numbers at a time by putting your chip(s) on the line that separates them, three at a time by putting your chip at the end of a row, four at a time by putting your chip at an intersection of four numbers, and six at a time by putting your chip at the outside of two rows halfway between them.
Think that’s enough? Wrong. You can also bet on a whole column at a time, red or black, odd or even, high numbers (19-36) or low numbers (1-18), and even four rows at a time (1st 12, 2nd 12, or 3rd 12).
In fact, it’s a good thing there are so many different bets, as most roulette tables have a minimum, meaning you have to spread that amount out over all your bets on any one roll.
Now, the key to really understanding roulette is in knowing something about the payoffs. And the key to that is remembering that there are 36 numbers on the wheel, not counting the 0 and 00, which will enter into the discussion in a matter of moments. So, if you bet on lucky number 7 to win outright, the odds are 36 to 1. However, you only get paid off at 35 to 1. Therein lies the famous “house edge.” Plus, don’t forget that 0 and its cousin the 00. They mean that your odds of hitting a specific number are actually a little bit steeper than 36 to 1, increasing the house edge.
Let’s have a few more examples and make you a real expert. If you bet on two numbers at once (called a “split” bet), the odds are a little worse than 18-1 because of those 0s, but you only get paid at 17-1. A whole row of three numbers at once (called a “street” bet) presents odds a bit worse than 12-1, but a payoff of 11-1. Four numbers at once (a “corner” bet) pays 8-1 on slightly worse than 9-1 odds. And this keeps going on down to even money bets like red or black, odd or even. Except we now know that they’re not really even money because of those 0s, right?
And on and on it goes, where it stops nobody knows. But if you’re smart, it’ll stop when you’re ahead!