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Roulette: An even bet?

15 September 2009

An e-mailer apparently was feeling aggrieved about a perceived lack of attention paid to his favorite game.

"You must really hate roulette," he wrote. "You're doing your readers a disservice. They're missing out on one of the best games. It seems like it's almost an even bet."

Now, I don't hate roulette. I've had some good times at the game, mostly when my wife and I have played together at the cheap tables in some of the older joints in Las Vegas. Let us loose at a table with dollar minimum bets with chips that can be broken down to 25-cent level, and we'll play family birthdays to our hearts' content.

But almost an even bet? No. Roulette, in the double-zero variety that is common in American casinos, has one of the higher house edges among table games. Whether you're betting single numbers, two-number splits, three-number streets, four-number corners, six-number double streets, 12-number dozens or columns, or 18-number red/black, even/odd or first 18/second 18 propositions, the house has a 5.26% edge.

The exception is the five-number wager on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. There, the house edge increases to 7.89%.

Assuming you avoid that five-number bet, you can expect to lose an average of $5.26 per $100 wagered in double-zero roulette. Compare that to other table games — $1.06 on banker or $1.24 on player in baccarat; $1.41 per $100 on the pass line in craps; $2 to $2.50 for an average blackjack player, or about 50 cents for a player who knows basic strategy; $2.01 on the original pay table in Three Card Poker, or about $2.60 in Caribbean Stud Poker.

Here's the way that house edge works on the red/black bet with an even money payoff. Imagine you're betting $5 on black on every spin of a perfect 38-spin sequence in which every number turns up once. You risk a total of $190. You lose on the 18 red numbers and the two greens — 0 and 00. On your 18 wins on the black numbers, you keep your $5 wager and get $5 in winnings, leaving you with $10 per winning spin for a total of $180.

At the end of that sequence, you've risked $190 and have $180 left. The house has your other $10. Divide that $10 in losses by $190, then multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you have 5.26%. That's the house edge.

Let's try that again with a single number. Same 38 number sequence, same $5 wagers, same $190 risk. I'll make my pretend bets here on No. 7, for my wife's birthday. When that shows up, I get a 35-1 payoff, bringing $175 in winnings, and I get to keep that $5 wager, leaving me with $180. I lose all the other bets.

That leaves $190 risked, $180 in my pocket, $10 to the house — the same 5.26% house edge even though we've gotten there by a far more volatile route.

I told my e-mail correspondent the same thing I'll tell you here. Roulette is not almost an even bet. It's not one of the best bets in the casino. It is fun, though, and I'll play it as a diversion when the minimum bets are low enough. When I'm playing for more than a diversion, though, I stick to games that give me a better shot to win.

** ** **

For those who are serious about roulette, there are ways to better that 5.26% house edge, though it requires being in the right place at the right time.

At double-zero wheels in Atlantic City, the house takes only half your bet if you're wagering on even-money propositions and the ball lands in 0 or 00. So if you bet red/black, odd/even or first 18/second 18, the house edge drops to 2.63%.

Single-zero wheels are a better deal than double-zero wheels, though in the United States they usually have higher minimum bets. With only 37 numbers, including the zero, instead of 38, and payoffs the same as at double-zero wheels, the house edge drops to 2.7%.

Some European single-zero wheels have a rule called "en prison." There are minor variations, but basically, if the ball lands on 0, even money bets are held in prison for a spin. If it wins on the next spin, the bet is returned to the player. If it loses, the house takes it. That second chance drops the house edge to 1.35%.

At 1.35%, roulette really does become one of the better bets in the casino. So maybe I do my e-mailer a disservice. Maybe when he suggested roulette was almost an even bet, he was talking about European single-zero roulette with an en prison rule.

Or maybe not.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski