A Roulette History Lesson

Roulette is one of the oldest games still played in modern casinos. Recognizably modern roulette wheels, with red and black numbers 1 through 36 along with zero and double zero, were in play in Paris in the late 1700s.

The game itself has hardly changed at all, but some of the trappings have. For one thing, most roulettes tables in American casinos have a tote board showing recent numbers. When the boards were introduced, most showed the last 12 numbers, but now 18 is common, and sometimes there are more.

A reader wrote recently to ask why this has become so common. Why would casinos spend the money on boards to give away such information?

The reason is simple: It’s popular. Players like it, and have proven it with their pocketbooks, When the first tote boards went up at roulette tables, casinos found that play increased by 30 percent.

Nobody in table games management wanted to be left behind as players gravitated toward wheels that shared recent winning numbers. So more and more operators added the tote boards until we reached today’s situation where everybody has them and they’re part of the standard equipment for roulette.

Beyond that, there’s no reason for casinos to fear players having this information. Even before tote boards, most casinos allowed players to chart numbers – something they would never do at blackjack, where odds change as cards are played. At roulette, the odds are constant, and past outcomes have no effect on future play. On a double-zero wheel, the chances of any given number showing up are 1 in 38, every time, no matter what has gone before.

Some systems with electronic betting will show you a lot more than that. At the touch of a screen, you can find number history, streaks, hit percentages for each number over the last 1,000 spins – just about anything you could want to know about what’s gone on at that wheel. The casino can freely give away that information, because as long as the wheel is balanced properly, the odds are unchanging and the information doesn’t give players an edge.

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