How to Play Roulette
Last update: May 2021
Roulette is the game where the little white marble goes around the spinning wheel. It's a fun game but the house edge is usually high (5.26%), meaning you'll lose more money than you would at better table games.
- Consider not playing it. Standard roulette has a high house edge, which means you'll lose your money faster than at other games like blackjack, craps, or baccarat. If you must play roulette...
- Use the average loss calculator before you play to see how much you can expect to lose.
- Make only the minimum bet. Roulette seduces you into betting more to make things exciting because the pace is sooo slow. Resist that temptation because the more you bet, the more you'll lose.
- Never play the triple-zero games (see below).
- If you're playing video roulette or on a cruise ship or ferry, make sure the game doesn't pay out less than normal. (See below.)
- If you're betting at least $25/round in a brick-and-mortar casino, seek out the better games, described below. But don't bet more than you usually do just to get a lower house edge.
- If you're playing online, play a single-zero game. In land casinos those games charge a high minimum bet, but not online. Bovada has single-zero games for a measly $1 bet.
- Play less if you play online. Online games are played way faster than in a physical casino, and faster play means bigger losses. If you'd play $5/round in a land casino, play only $1/round online.
- In games where you get half back on even money bets (red/black, even/odd, 1-18/19-36) when the ball lands on 0 or 00, make only even-money bets. Don't make the other bets, since the house edge on those bets in these games is twice as high.
- Never bet on the 5-number bet. (See below.) The house edge on the 5-number bet is 7.89%.
- Don't be fooled into thinking that any number or color is "due". If Red has come up five times in a row, that doesn't mean Black is more likely to come up on the next spin. There's more on this in my article on Exposing the Gambler's Fallacy.
- Don't use dangerous betting systems like the Martingale. If you really want to use a betting system, check out some more conservative systems.
Various kinds of roulette
Most roulette games you'll see in the U.S. are called "double-zero" or "00" games, because the wheel has two green slots, one labeled "0" and one labeled "00" (in addition to the 18 reds and 18 blacks). This game has a 5.26% house edge which makes the game a bad bet. (See above.) Because this is the most common roulette game in the U.S., it's often called "American Roulette".
As bad as that is, a new variant is even worse: Triple-Zero Roulette, with 0, 00, and 000 slots. (At the Venetian, the 000 slot is labeled "S" for Sands, the company that owns the Venetian.) The house edge on this game is a horrible 7.69%. Unfortunately, this game is becoming increasingly common on the Vegas strip, and may eventually become the new normal.
On the other hand, some roulette games have a lower house edge, and all of them can be found in the U.S., though they're rare. These games are:
- Single-zero. There is no 00 slot, so there are only 37 total slots instead of 38, cutting the house edge in half to 2.7%. See the Wizard's site for which Vegas casinos offer it, but be warned that the minimum bet is typically $100. (However, you can play it online for a mere $1 per spin.) This game is sometimes called "European Roulette" which is confusing because "Single-zero with half back" (described below) is also called "European Roulette".
- Double-zero with half back (Atlantic City). In Atlantic City, when you make an even-money bet and the ball lands on 0 or 00, you lose only half your bet. This cuts the house edge on even-money bets in half, to 2.63%. All other bets still have the high 5.26% house edge.
- Single-zero with half back (aka French Rules). This is a combination of #1 and #2 above: a single-zero wheel, and you get half your bet back on even-money bets when the ball lands on 0. That slashes the house edge on even-money bets to a respectable 1.35%. All other bets have a 2.7% house edge. See the Wizard's site for which Vegas casinos offer it, noting that he calls this game "European Roulette" (which, confusingly, is sometimes what people call game type #1 above; for the record, both of Bovada's European Roulette games, the newer one and the Classic one, are type #1 above, not this type #3). As I write this in 2017, the Vegas casino with the lowest minimum for this game is the MGM Grand ($25).
Careful with video roulette!
Many land casinos have electronic versions of roulette. The plus side is that the minimum bet is usually a lot lower, often $1. But there are three big downsides:
- The video version is played much faster than table roulette. That means even if you bet less per round vs. at a table, you could wind up better more per hour on the video version. And the more you bet, the higher your average loss.
- Some video roulette games have lower payouts than the table game counterparts. They pay only 30-34 for a single-number bet (vs. 35 on a table), and 15-16 on a double-number bet (vs. 17 for a table). This explodes the house edge. Don't play these machines.
- Playing at a table with other people is generally more fun than playing in isolation.
Careful with cruise ships and ferries
Games on boats tend to have bad odds because the operator has a captive audience. You're not gonna get up and go to the casino across the street, because you're stuck on the boat. So roulette games on boats often have lower payouts than standard roulette. (See Video Roulette, above.)
Placing Roulette Bets
Making a bet is easy: just place your chip(s) on the number(s), color, or sets you want to bet on. For most bets it's fairly obvious—you can't miss the Red diamond for Red bets, and things like Even, 1-18, and 1st 12 are written out in plain English. I've added blue circled letters to the picture below to point out how to make the not-so-obvious bets (the sets of 2-6 numbers). Here are the different bets you can make and the payouts for those bets.
|Roulette Bets & Payoffs|
|Bet||Nickname for this Bet||Payoff|
|Red or Black||Red / Black|| Even Money
(1 to 1)
|Even or Odd||Even / Odd|
|1-18 or 19-36||Low Bet, High Bet|
| 1st, 2nd, or 3rd 12
(nos. 1-12, 13-24, or 25-36)
|Dozen Bet||2 to 1|
|1st, 2nd, or 3rd column
("2:1" on the picture)
|Set of 6 numbers (see A)||Avenue Bet||5 to 1|
|Set of 5 numbers (see B)||Basket Bet||6 to 1|
|Set of 4 numbers (see C)||Square Bet, Corner Bet||8 to 1|
|Set of 3 numbers (see D)||Street Bet||11 to 1|
|Set of 2 numbers (see E)||Split Bet||17 to 1|
|One number||Straight Bet||35 to 1|
You don't have to make just one kind of bet for each spin, you can make as many as you like, and you win if the ball lands on any of your numbers. If you're playing at a lively table, players will aggressively throw chips all over the layout—5, 10, 26, street bets, avenue bets bets, and odd and black for good measure—all for the same spin. People even bet on individual numbers even when those numbers were already covered by another bet (such as a street bet). If a player bet on #11 and also made a street bet on 10-12, and #11 came up, he'd win both bets. If #12 came up, he'd win the street bet but lose the bet on #11. So players who throw a lot of chips around the table usually have a lot of chips coming back to them at the end of each spin in winnings. This doesn't change the house edge; it's the same whether you make one bet per spin or several. But you will likely lose money faster the more bets you make, because you're betting more.
In most casinos players can continue making bets even while the ball is still spinning. When the ball is close to dropping, the dealer will wave her hand over the table, which means "No more bets." When the ball falls into a slot, the dealer will announce the number and the color, and place a marker on the winning number on the layout. Then she'll scoop up all the losing bets towards the dealer area. Next, she'll make the payouts by putting the winning chips next to the original bets. After she's stacked up all the winning chips, she'll remove the marker, and then you can grab any chips you won. Don't reach for your winnings until the dealer removes the marker, or the dealer will scold you! New players often have to be told this repeatedly the first time they play because they kept forgetting and because they're excited about collecting their winnings.
Each player's chips are a different color. That way if two players bet on the same number (or set of numbers), then the dealer knows who to pay, and arguments can't arise over who bet what.
Sometimes the dealer will ask you "Inside or Outside?" when you're buying chips, to find out whether you're making inside bets (specific numbers) or outside bets (red/black, Even/Odd, columns, or dozens). That's because if you're betting only inside and someone else is betting only outside, she can give you both the same color chips and there won't be any confusion. If you're asked Inside or Outside, always answer "Both", even if you only intend to bet only one or the other. That way, you're not locked in and you always have the ability to change your mind. There's no advantage to limiting yourself to inside or outside.
In other games the color of the chip denotes the denomination, but in Roulette the color denotes only which player the chip belongs to. Roulette chips can in fact be any denomination—$1, $5, $25, etc. When you buy in, tell the dealer what denomination you want. He'll put a marker on his stack of chips that are the same color to note how much each of your chips is worth. Because roulette chips are non-denominational, you can't use them in other table games. When you're done playing roulette, give your chips to the dealer and she'll exchange them for regular, denominational chips.
Roulette games have minimum bets, which will be posted on a placard at the table. Minimum bets work differently for inside bets (specific numbers) and outside bets (everything else). For outside bets, any bet you make has to be at least the table minimum. Inside bets can usually be as small as you like, as long as the total of all your inside bets is the table minimum. For example, with a table minimum of $5, you could put $5 on #14, or $1 each on #14, #27, #8/9, #28/29/30, and #19/20/22/23. Remember that you can bet inside or outside if you like; there's no requirement to bet both on a given spin.
Table minimums are lower online. For example, you can play at Bovada for a piddling $1 per spin. However, online games can be played much faster than games in a physical casino, and the more rounds you play, the more you'll lose. $1 per spin in a fast online game is like $5 per spin in a land casino.
Red/black, even/odd, and 1-18/19-36 pay even money, which means you win the same amount that you bet. (Bet $5, win $5.) The other bets pay more, because they're less likely to win. In fact, Roulette gives you the chance to win 35 times your bet (a winning bet placed on a single number). In this way, Roulette is more like slots: one single bet can win a lot. (It's also like slots in that the house edge is very high.)
Here's a handy way to remember the payouts when you're betting on a set of numbers: Take 36 divided by the quantity of numbers you're betting on, and subtract 1. For example, a 6-number Line Bet would be (36/6)-1 = 5, so that bet pays 5 to 1. For a street bet, we have (36/3)-1 = 11, for 11 to 1.
Remember a couple of things about that: First, you always get your original bet back. So if you win a $10 bet at 5 to 1, you'll get $60 in chips back ($50 won plus the original $10). Second, all the bets on the layout carry the same house edge, with the exception of 5-number Line Bet (0, 00, 1, 2, 3), which carries a whopping 7.29% edge.
There is no strategy
There is no strategy to roulette because it's impossible to predict what's coming next. The numbers that have come up recently have no bearing on what numbers are about to come up. The clue that this is true is that most casinos have a marquee showing what numbers have recently hit. That means the casino is playing you. If looking at past numbers helped, the casino wouldn't be happy to broadcast those numbers on a big sign. The house edge is the same whether you use the marquee or not.
This means, for example, if Black has come up for the last 10 spins in a row, the next spin is not more likely to be Red. Black and Red are still equally likely. There's an old saying, "The wheel has no memory." That means it doesn't know what it spun before, and even if it did, the wheel can't select what number comes up out of its own volition. There's more on this in my article Debunking the Gambler's Fallacy.
Here's another example: Since there are 38 slots on the wheel, we expect any given number to hit 1 out of 38 spins on average. Now let's say you've been playing Roulette for a few hours, betting on Red every time, and you've been keeping track of what numbers have hit. There have been 152 spins (4 x 38), and so we expect that each number should have come up 4 times on average. You note, with some surprise, that #14 hasn't come up at all. Does this mean that #14 is "due" and that you should bet on #14? No. Number 14 is not "due", no number is ever "due". The wheel has no memory.
One last example: You're betting on #27 every time, because that's one of your lucky numbers. We expect it to come up once every 38 spins on average. Luckily for you, it comes up on the 15th spin, making you a tidy profit. Should you now start making other bets instead, on the assumption that #27 won't hit again soon because it just hit this time? No. You can certainly switch to another number if you want, but that won't improve or worsen your chances. The chances of #27 coming up on a given spin are the same, whether it just come up on the last spin or not: 1 in 38. I've seen roulette numbers repeat plenty of times.
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How the House Edge is Figured
It's more important to know what the house edge is, than how to calculate it, but here's the math in case you're interested.
In American Roulette, there are 38 spots: numbers 1-36, plus 0 and 00. Your odds of winning a one-number bet are 37 to 1 (37 ways to lose, 1 way to win). But if you win, the casino doesn't pay you 37 to 1, they pay you less: 35 to 1. The difference between the true odds and what they actually pay you is 2/38, or 5.26%. You can do this same calculation for the other bets, and it comes out the same.
Here's another way to look at it: Let's say you bet $10 on every number, one bet on each of the 38 spots. So you've just thrown down $380 in bets. Only one of those numbers will win, and will pay 35 to 1, so you'll get back $360 (the $350 you won plus your original $10 bet on that number). You bet a total of $380 but you walked away with only $360, so you lost $20. That $20 you lost represents the house edge of 5.26% ($20 lost divided by the $380 that you bet; $20 ÷ $380 = 5.26%).
You get the goods here
Some of the tips above are good examples of things you can learn on this site for free, which you might not find out about from books that cost actual money. For example, when I was learning about gambling, the first thing I did was to buy and read the book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Gambling Like a Pro. But in 332 pages they didn't see fit to mention the low edge in Atlantic City, so I didn't know about it. I found out about it when an Atlantic City dealer took only one of my two chips on a losing bet and I had to ask why.
How many unique hits should you expect after a certain number of spins?
That question was asked on a gambling forum, and because I'm an HLM (helpful little mofo), I wrote a simulator (below) to answer that very question. Even better, I subsequently wrote a roulette calculator to answer lots of roulette odds questions.
|Chances of Unique Numbers|
|Number of Spins|
|Number of Sessions|