Roulette has been with us for more than two centuries. Modern wheels, complete with red and black spaces, numbers 1 through 36 and zeroes, have been traced back to Paris in the 1790s.
And for moreJohn Grochowski is the author of six gaming books including the "Answer Book" series -- The Casino Answer Book, The Video Poker Answer Book, The Craps Answer Book and a revised edition of The Slot Machine Answer Book. His articles cover blackjack, slots and video poker strategy as well as casino etiquette and getting the most bang for your buck in Vegas. John's website is www.casinoanswerman.com than 200 years, the math has been well known. Barring something extraordinary such as an unbalanced wheel, the house is going to keep collecting its percentage --- an average of $5.26 for every $100 wagered on a double-zero wheel, unless bettors are foolish enough to make the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. On that bet, the house keeps $7.89 per $100 in wagers.
You can't change the math, and the math favors the house. Still, a few little things can help you get the most out of the game.
** Seek out single-zero wheels: Payoffs are made at odds that would yield an even game if there were 36 numbers on the wheel. On a double-zero wheel, there are really 38 numbers, including the 0 and 00. So the true odds against any single number turning up are 37-1. When you win a single-number wager, you're paid 35-1. That two-unit discrepancy is the house edge.
When a roulette wheel has only one zero, the discrepancy narrows. Now there are only 37 numbers and true odds against any one number are 36-1. There's only a one-unit discrepancy between that and the 35-1 payoff on a winning single-number bet.
The house edge drops from 5.26 percent on the double-zero wheel to 2.7 percent on a single-zero wheel. That's huge --- an extra $2.56 of every $100 you wager stays in your pocket.
Single-zero roulette is not common in the United States, and casinos that have it usually put it in their high-limit rooms. You'll have to pay for the lower house edge with larger minimum bets than on the double-zero wheels on the main casino floors.
One place that has it is Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip, with a nice bonus rule that's usually found only in Europe, where single-zero roulette is more common. That bonus is the "en prison" rule for wagers with even-money payoffs --- odd or even, red or black, 1-18 or 19-36.
With the en prison rule, your wager on the even-money bets does not immediately lose when the ball drops in 0. Let's say you've wagered on red, and the wheel comes up 0. Your wager is locked en prison. If the wheel comes up red on the next spin, you get your money back. If it comes up black or zero, THEN you lose.
That drops the house edge all the way to 1.35 percent, one of the better bets in the casino.
** Choose wagers that fit your goals and bankroll: Are you looking for a quick, big score, and don't care that the flip side is that you can lose your money fast? Then single-number wagers, two-number splits and three-number streets are for you. Are you looking to extend your play, to have a good time with full knowledge that no one win is going to make your session a winner? Then bets that cover a lot of numbers at once, such as the 12-number columns or dozens or the 18-number red or black, odd or even, will give you that play experience.
On a double-zero wheel, the 18-number bet on black, 12-number dozen, four-number corner and the single-number wager all face the same 5.26 percent house edge, but how they get there is vastly different. You'll win that single-number bet only once per 38 spins of the wheel, and it's easy to bust out before you hit that 35-1 payoff. You'll win your bet on black 18 times for every 38 spins, but when you do, it brings a payoff only equal to your wager. Do you want to go for a big win, or plod along and extend your play?
Most players like some combination of the above, spreading their money around several wagers, maybe picking one single number for a chance at a big win, while also betting a couple of corners and streets to give them extra numbers for a chance to extend play.
** Bet 'em while they're hot: There are no real shortcuts to finding a biased wheel. That involves charting numbers for days, and analyzing them to find a pattern. Painstaking work that won't often pay off --- not something to try when you're out for a little casino fun.
Still, most casinos today equip their roulette tables with a lighted display that shows the most recent winning numbers. What do you do if you see that a number or two have turned up two or three or more times in the last 18 spins?
It can be fun to play those numbers a while, just to see if somehow you've lucked into a wheel with a bias. Chances are there's no bias, but playing a hot number is no worse than if you'd just plucked a number out of thin air. There's no harm in sticking with a hot number to see if it's something more than a random fluke.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com, and to his casino talk show from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday on WCKG-FM (105.9), streaming at http://1059freefm.com.
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