How to Play Roulette

Roulette Lessons

See also how to play: Baccarat | Blackjack | Craps | Roulette | Slot Machines | Texas Holdem | Video Poker


Roulette is the game where you guess where the little marble is going to drop on the spinning wheel. Roulette would be a great game were it not for the high house edge -- usually 5.26%,
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sometimes as low as 2.63%, which is still higher than blackjack, craps, or baccarat. You should always calculate your expected loss and how long you can play on a given bankroll before playing any game, but with roulette it's especially important. But now, let's see how to play roulette.

Placing Roulette Bets

Making a bet is easy -- you 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. We've added blue circled letters to the diagram 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:


Bet
Cute 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

Column Bet

Set of 6 numbers (see A)

Line Bet
5 to 1

Set of 5 numbers (see B)
 nearly 8% edge!

Line 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 several, and you win if the ball lands on any of your numbers. I was amazed my first time at a roulette wheel to see people aggressively throwing chips all over the layout -- 5, 10, 26, street bets, line 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 line bet). This isn't necessarily bad way to play. For example, if you bet on #10 and you also make a line bet on 7-12, and #10 comes up, you'll win both bets. If #8 comes up, you'll win the line bet but lose your bet on #10. In this way, the players were throwing a lot of chips out on the table, but they also had a lot of chips pushed towards 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 games players can continue making bets even while the ball is still spinning. When the ball is getting ready to drop, the dealer will wave his 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 layout where the winning number is. Then he'll scoop up all the losing bets towards the dealer area. Next, he'll make the payouts by putting the winning chips next to the original bets. When he's stacked up all the winning chips, he'll remove the marker, and that's your cue to 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. I have to admit that I was one of those players. (Then again I don't play roulette much any more anyway because the odds are so bad -- these days I play blackjack instead.)

Roulette Chips

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 (the ones listed in purple in the table, on specific numbers) or outside bets (the ones listed in yellow, on kinds of numbers). That's because if you're betting only inside and someone else is betting only outside, he 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 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.

Table Minimums

Roulette games have minimum bets, which will be posted on a placard at the table. Minimum bets work differently for inside and outside bets. For outside bets, any bet you make has to be the table minimum. Inside bets can usually be as small a 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.

Payouts

The first three bets listed in the table above pay even money, meaning that a $5 bet wins another $5. The other bets pay more, because there less likely to win. This is a key way that Roulette is different from other table games. It most other games a bet usually wins only even money, but 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! This is a bet I hope you never make.

Once a dealer was about to accidentally pay me 11 to 1, as though I had made a Street Bet instead of a Line Bet, but the Pit Boss just happened to be right there and corrected her. (Rats!)

You can't second-guess the wheel

It's important to understand that the outcome of the roulette wheel is truly random. 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 still have equal chances of hitting. 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 our 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 (coincidentally, 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 right away 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.

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 a quick analysis in case you're interested.

On an American wheel, 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 laid 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).

The European wheel has a lower house edge (2.63%) because it has only 37 slots instead of 38 (no 00). If you play Roulette, the most important thing is to find a casino that offers the European wheel (which is called "Single 0" Roulette). The last time we checked, Single 0 Roulette was available at the Stratosphere and the Monte Carlo on the Vegas Strip. (We also assume it's offered at the Paris casino, because Roulette comes from France, after all.)

Atlantic City has a special rule which reduces the house edge to 2.7% on even money bets (Red/Black, Odd/Even, 1-18/19-36): If 0 or 00 comes up on on even money bet, you lose only half your bet.

European games have an option called en prison which reduces the house edge to 1.35%, but it's generally not available in the U.S., even in casinos that use the European wheel. On even money bets when 0 comes up, instead of losing right away, your bet is "imprisoned" and rides again for the next spin. If you win the second spin, your bet is "released from prison" and you get it back. You don't get paid for the win, though, but it's better than losing it outright. In effect, this variation has the ability to turn a loss into a tie. Of course, if you lose the second spin, you do lose your bet.

By the way, I want to take a moment to point out that this tidbit above about even money bets in Atlantic City is just one of the many fabulous bonuses you learn about for free on this site, which you might not find out about from books that actually cost money. 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.

Practice roulette with fake money or real money at
Bodog

No popups, no download, no registration, no B.S., just the game. One click and you're in.

Practice Online

You can play roulette online at Bodog, for free or for real money, whichever you prefer. The graphics in their game are quite nice. (It's Mac-compatible, too.)

Summarized advice for Roulette

Roulette can be a lot of fun, but you probably shouldn't play it for very long (or at least make small bets) because of the high house edge.

  1. Consider not playing it. Roulette has a significant house edge. Consider playing low-edge games like Baccarat, Blackjack, or Craps instead. Read our crash course to learn how. If you do play Roulette, be certain to calculate your Expected Loss first.
  2. Try to find a European wheel with the Single 0 (no 00). This game has a house edge of 2.6% instead of 5.3%. The last time we checked (12-00), single Roulette was available at the Stratosphere and Monte Carlo (and probably Paris).
  3. If you're playing in Atlantic City, make outside bets instead of inside bets. Outside bets in Atlantic City carry only a 2.6% house edge.
  4. Never ever make the 5-number bet.
  5. Don't be fooled into thinking that any number or color is "due". If Red has come up 20 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 our article on Exposing the Gambler's Fallacy.
  6. Don't use dangerous betting systems like the Martingale. If you really want to use a betting system, check out some more conservative systems.

 

Did you like our How to Play Roulette guide? Then you might like some of our other guides:

See also how to play:

 

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Gambling Problem?
Call the 800-522-4700 hotline, and read this.

Also, know that Parkinson's drugs encourage gambling.