History of Roulette
Unlike several of the popular casino games, roulette has a history rooted firmly in Western Europe. People might have guessed as much, given its decidedly French name, which means “little wheel”. The first roulette wheel was invented by Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French mathematician and inventor who wanted to build a perpetual motion machine. Pascal may have introduced a version of the game to his circle of friends, but we can’t know how close it was to the game we know today. The modern game we know wouldn’t appear for another century.
When it did appear, roulette was influenced by a number of other spinning wheel games. The English had several such games, including Reinier, E.O., Ace of Hearts, and Roly-Poly. The rules of the game appear to have merged various aspects of these games with Italian board games named Biribi and Hoca. Around the same time, a French board game named roulette existed and was in fashion, so this became a natural name for the new French spinning wheel game. French colonial legal documents show roulette existed at least as early as 1758, because the game was banned in the (then French) Canadian province Quebec, along with dice, hoca, and faro.
Roulette in the French Revolution
The first description of the modern rules came from the novelist Jacques Lablee, who described a game taking place in the Palais-Royale. This Bourbon palace was opened to the French public by Philippe d’Orleans (himself a Bourbon) during the days of the French Revolution. Besides having a theater and galleries for “ladies of the night”, the palace also contained a casino on its second floor. While the game might have been played earlier, Mr. Lablee’s novel (“La Roulette, on le Jour”) shows that it was an accepted part of casino life as early as 1796.
Early Roulette Wheels
Early wheels used the single-zero and double-zero slots which are now recognized as American roulette. In the 1790s, the 0 was painted white and the 00 was painted black, though these became the customary green slots in the early 1800s. The amount of numbers on these wheels may not have always been 37 or 38. For instance, as late as the 1880s, one American roulette wheel is said to have had 28 number pockets, along with the 0 and 00
Louis Blanc and Single-Zero Roulette
Louis Blanc and Francois Blanc introduced the world to single-zero roulette. This appeared in the Blanc’s casino in Homberg, Germany, in 1843. The brothers made this change in order to lure gamblers to their game with much better odds. This proved popular, though the casino would have to be moved after a number of years. When the Prussian kingdom united all the German states in a federal union after wars in 1866 and 1870-71, founding the Second German Reich, gambling was outlawed across Germany.
Monte Carlo Roulette
Around the same time, the royal court in the tiny principality of Monaco along the French Riviera was facing bankruptcy. Searching for a means of raising revenues, the house of Grimaldi chose to allow legal gambling in a section of Monaco they called Monte Carlo. As Europe’s tiny lordships were being consolidated into modern states, the havens for gambling were reduced to none, save for Monaco. Thus, in the latter stages of the Victorian Era, from the 1870s onward, Monte Carlo became the gambling capital of Europe. Players flocked to play single-zero roulette. Since the European empires were still in existence as far afield as China, single-zero roulette became the standard version of the game throughout much of the world. As usual, the casino owners of the United States choose their own path.
American roulette remained the original game, complete with a 0 and 00 pocket. This meant the game played in the United States had a much higher house edge, which was perfectly fine with the gambling operators in that country. Surrounded by two large oceans, Americans continued to play their version of the game in ignorant and blissful isolation.
In the 1930s, as the Great Depression caused most governments around the globe to scramble for revenues, the state of Nevada decided to legalize gambling to fill their state treasury. This decision led to the casino resort cities of Las Vegas and Reno, which were located along the borders of Nevada within driving distance of Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. The American double-zero variant of the game became synonymous with Las Vegas, so it’s sometimes referred to as Las Vegas roulette.
These days, online gambling casinos offer several versions of the game. People can play European or American roulette by clicking a button on a gaming site, though no one should even choose the game that’s played in the United States. A version of European roulette with called bets is also available, under the name French roulette. With several variations in the rules already offered and more gaming innovations certain to come in the decades to follow, spinning wheel gamblers of the future are likely to have even more gaming options. The history of roulette is still in the making.