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 Roulette History


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Roulette History


Spinning Wheel as a Gambling tool in Gambling History

The Origins of European Roulette

A History of European (French) Roulette

A History of American Roulette


I) Spinning Wheel as a Gambling Tool in Gambling History

Roulette is the French word for “small wheel”. The idea to use a spinning wheel as a gambling mechanism can be traced to Greco-Roman period and probably even further back into History. The Roman soldiers used a chariot wheel for gaming purposes. An arrow laid upon the ground pointed to the winning space among those marked upon the wheel. The Greeks played a game with a shield revolving upon a metal point. The shield had ten marked spaces on its surface. When the shield stopped moving, its position against a chosen point on the ground determined a winning space.


Chinese loved gambling so much they introduced a gambling element into their tortures. An old Chinese torture consisted of a victim being fastened between two rapidly revolving wheels. One wheel was in front of his chest and the second one against his back. The wheels were constructed with spiked edges and were of different sizes. The gamble consisted in drawing by lot a number specifying the size of the wheel and betting on the wheel or against it. A fat man who drew the biggest number on the wheel would be sliced in half by the first rotation of the wheel. A thin man who drew the smallest number on the wheel would probably get few scratches only and survive.

II) The Origins of European Roulette

For a long time the historians considered the French mathematician Blaise Pascal to be the inventor of roulette in around 1655. Some thought that the French Dominican monks came up with the idea of roulette in the end of the 17th century to have an entertainment inside their monasteries. However the facts are that the similar in structure games using the spinning wheel had been played at least a century before French roulette became popular game in Paris at the end of French Revolution (1789-1799). Those games were the Italian game of Hoca and the English game of E-O (“Even” and “Odd”).

The game of Hoca was very popular in Europe. Cardinal Mazarin, who was the chief minister of France and the councilor to the kings Lois XIII and Lois XIV, built Hoca casinos in the middle of 17th century to raise money for the royal treasury. The game used a circular table with 40 stationary cups on it. The ball was pushed from the center of the table. It moved for a while around the perimeter of the table before finally stopping in one of the cups. The players bet on the chosen cups. Out of 40 cups 3 cups marked by 0 were house cups winning all bets for the house. That gave the house a very healthy advantage of +7.5% against the players.

Cardinal Mazarin built Hoca casinos in France 17th c.

In the same period the “E-O” game was wide spread in England. The game was the main attraction of the Bath resort, which had hot mineral springs known since Roman invasion of England. That’s how the page 137 of the first 1857 American edition of Hoyle describes the rules of the game. “An EO table is circular in form, but of no exact dimensions, though in general about four feet in diameter. The extreme circumference is a kind of counter, or depot, for the stakes, marked all around with the letters E and O; on which each adventurer places money according to his inclination. The interior part of the table consists, first, of a kind of gallery, or rolling place, for the ball, which, with outward parts, above called depot or counter, is stationary or fixed. The most interior part moves upon an axis or pivot, and is turned about with handles, while the ball is set in motion round the gallery. This part is generally divided into 40 niches or interstices, 20 of which are marked with the letter E, and the other 20 with the letter O. The lodging of the ball in any of the niches, distinguished by those letters, determines the wager. The proprietors of the tables have two bar holes, and are obliged to take all bets offered either for E or O; but if the ball fall into either of the bar holes, they win all the bets upon the opposite letter, and do not pay to that in which it falls; an advantage equivalent to two and a half percent on all the money staked.”

Napoleon legalized roulette and other games in 1806

III) A History of European Roulette

It is impossible to say when and how the French Roulette evolved from Hoca and “E-O” games. In the end of the 18th century French Roulette was already a very popular game not only in France, but also in other European countries. Empress Catherine the Great of Russia had several roulette wheels in her palace. Sultan Selim III of Turkey learned about roulette from French soldiers after Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798. A custom made roulette wheel was installed in Sultan’s palace and one for the “girls” in his harem. The game of that era featured all modern characteristics – 36 numbers plus 0; roulette wheel painted in black and red; straight-up betting, betting on odd and even, black and red, dozens, columns and other bets.

                             Catherine the Great of Russia and Sultan Selim III of Turkey loved roulette

At the beginning of the 19th century the refugees from French Revolution brought French Roulette to England. Thanks to a greater variety of bets the game was a lot more attractive for the players than the old “E-O” game. Eventually European Roulette completely replaced its English predecessor.

IV) A History of American Roulette

At the end of the 18th century the gambling capital of United States was New Orleans. French immigrants during the French Revolution brought French Roulette to Louisiana. The French also were responsible for introducing Craps, Blackjack, Baccarat and Chemin-de-Fer to the American players. The first American-style roulette that spread from New Orleans to the other cities had a design and rules different from a French game. American roulette had 0, 00 and a picture of American Eagle (instead of 000) plus 28 numbers (1-28) on the layout.. When the ball stopped on 0, 00 or Eagle, the bank won all bets except those on winning symbols. The bank advantage on single-number bets was 12.903% against the players due to the fact that payoff was 27 for 1 (instead of 27 to 1). The other permitted bets were bets on red and black and on 4 columns (seven numbers each). This early American roulette was giving the house a percentage too high to be accepted by the players for long. Eventually American Roulette followed the example of the European (French) Roulette in design and rules with the exception of “en prison” rule and “00” symbol, which is still present on the roulette tables in American casinos.

Copyright 2006 Progress Publishing Co.

Selected References:

Hoyle    The Rules for Playing Fashionable Games 1857 Leo Markun  A History of Gambling
Foster' Complete Hoyle  An Encyclopedia of Games 1963 Alice Fleming  Something for Nothing/A History of Gambling
John Scarne  New Complete Guide to Gambling David G. Schwartz  Roll the Bones/The History of Gambling
Gerda Reith   The Age of Chance Carl Sifakis  The Encyclopedia of Gambling