Roulette has a long and interesting history.
During the middle of the 17th century French inventor and mathematician Blaise Pascal attempted to create a perpetual motion machine, and one of his early prototypes was a wheel set to spin around a central hub. While the wheel devised by Pascal was not capable of perpetual motion, due to the unbreakable nature of the laws of physics, the mathematically inclined Frenchman became intrigued by the idea of a spinning wheel. By adding numbers to the wheel, and dividing it into red and black sections, Pascal came up with the precursor to modern roulette.
Pascal’s primitive roulette wheel remained intact for more than 150 years, and in 1801 a French novel titled La Roulette, ou le Jour was published by author Jacques Lablee. This novel included one of the first known descriptions of roulette as we know it today, when referencing a roulette wheel housed in the Palais Royal in Paris. According to Lablee’s account of that roulette wheel, “there are exactly two slots reserved for the bank, whence it derives its sole mathematical advantage … two betting spaces containing the bank's two numbers: zero and double zero.”
By the mid 1800’s a pair of Frenchmen revolutionized the game of roulette in order to gain favor with King Charles the III of Monaco. By removing the 00 from the wheel, and leaving only a single 0 as the banker’s space, Francois and Louise Blanc offered players a perceived edge over the traditional wheel and its pair of banker’s spaces. King Charles went on to build a casino in Monaco, and the area remains a bastion of gambling and gaming to this day.
By the late 19th century roulette had made its way to the United States, and in 1866 the official Hoyle book of games described an early American adaptation of the game that added a third house space containing an eagle. According to Hoyle, “the single 0, the double 0, and eagle are never bars; but when the ball falls into either of them, the banker sweeps everything upon the table, except what may happen to be bet on either one of them, when he pays twenty-seven for one, which is the amount paid for all sums bet upon any single figure.”
As the game became more popular people attempted to circumvent the laws of chance and cheat the game, installing magnetic devices beneath the table and resorting to other tricks. Eventually, pit bosses in the riverboat casinos that sprung up along the Mississippi River decided to elevate the wheel and place it above the table to deter shenanigans of this sort, and that layout is still in use today.
During the 19th century roulette flourished across America and Europe, quickly becoming the game of chance chosen by royalty and the elite, as well as common people looking for a little gambling in their spare time. The single-zero version of roulette became the predominant form played in Europe, while American casinos traditionally offered a double zero version of the game. This divide has remained in modern times, and today you’ll find double zero roulette in the U.S., Canada, South America, and the Caribbean, while single zero roulette dominates everywhere else.
Today roulette is played in every major casino around the world, and the game has also been transformed for the technological age. Video versions of roulette are now common, and these games replace a live dealer, the wheel, and betting chips with virtual substitutes. You can also play roulette online via internet casinos.