SPINNING AROUND


A brief history of roulette


AMONG ONLINE GAMBLING affiliates, those who specifically target roulette players are known for taking marginally more risks than their slots counterparts. Why? Because roulette, as most table games, is found in the operator’s low house-edge cupboard, and, as such, tends to attract the sawiest punters. It’s a game of superlatives: wins can be; large, losses even larger, but its popularity with players and affiliates alike never disappoints.

With no other ambition but to celebrate the launch of Mobile Roulette at Virgin Games’ mobile casino, let's unravel the startling story behind the game’s unique volatility and unwavering prestige.

Animals, numbers, centurions and gambling bans

Roulette, meaning “little wheel” in French, is generally accepted to be a hybrid version of a number of 18th Century European games combined with ancient and long forgotten recreations.

Like many games, it has been tied to ancient China. A spinning game of chance featuring animal iconography is said to have been played on top of a stone bearing the number 666, one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture. Dominican Monks are credited with replacing the animal symbols by numbers - improving the game’s global appeal, and spreading its fortune, along with traders, through their missionary travels.

One hint makes the Chinese connection plausible: add up all numbers found on a roulette wheel and the total is 666. A mathematics divergent series calculation imposes 36 numbered slots to preserve the mystical stone number.

“Roulette as we know it today is likely a hybrid of ancient spinning games combined with more traditional table entertainment found in 18th Century Europe.”

Reference to a spinning game can also be found during the Roman Empire. As Western European and pan-Mediterranean territories were invaded by the unstoppable Roman legions, centurions might have inadvertently sowed the seeds of roulette by leaving the distribution of war loot to the randomness of a spinning chariot wheel.

As such, roulette as we know it today is likely a hybrid of such ancient spinning games combined with more traditional table entertainment found in 18th Century Europe.

The main suspects from that period are the “English E-O” and the Italian “Hoca”.

Both games involved a set of 40 slots/ cups on a table and a rolling ball whose destination decided the outcome of the bet. E-O slots were labelled Even and Odd, while Носа cups were numbered. Interestingly, both games featured special slots (two for E-O, three ‘zeros’ at Носа). If the ball rolled into one of these, the house kept all wagers. House-edge sorted.

With wheel, ball and house edge now in a cosy mood, it was just a matter of time before references to their inevitable offspring - christened differently depending on which side of the channel you were on - turned up in literary accounts. It was first described in England and France around 1720.

In 1740 - 250-plus years before UIGEA - games of chance were banned in England. Roulette evolves in French territories until the end of the 18th Century, by which time the game has more or less settled to its current American roulette form (single and double zero slots). In 1758, a New France (Quebec) regulation document mentions roulette in a list of games banned in the jurisdiction.

In 1796, “La Roulette, Ou le Jour” a French novel from Jacques Labiee, includes a detailed description of the game and gambling apparatus, including “two betting spaces containing the bank’s two numbers, zero and double zero.”

Pascal and the Blancs

Not the name of a French pop band, but that of the three individuals most closely associated with the game and its success. Blaise Pascal (1624-1662), a French mathematician and scientist, is credited with accidentally inventing the modem roulette wheel on his quest for perpetual motion. Ironically, the wheel’s invariably finite spin spawned a failed experiment into an outcome-based gambling device.

Enlightenment Age recycling at its finest. Fast forward to 1842, and gambling has just become ‘hobby non grata’ in France. Two French brothers, Francois and Louis Blanc, migrate to the German spa city of Homburg to open a casino there. To remedy roulette’s shrinking popularity - mainly because of its high house edge - they take a drastic step and remove the double zero from their wheels. With only one zero left and odds against them slashed from 5.26 percent to 2.7 percent, players flock to the new style wheels. European roulette is born.

Charles III of Monaco, ruler of a rock not yet graced by Formula 1 proceeds and tax exiles, is inspired by the success of casinos in Germanic spa towns. He commissions Louis Blanc to replicate the feat in Monte- Carlo. The Societe des Bains de Mers (SBM) is created, the first modem casino resort is built, mostly on the back of the European roulette craze.

In hindsight, wise move from Charlie: SBM today operates in 50 locations in Monaco, including five of its oldest and most prestigious casinos and hotels.
It’s mainly owned by Prince Albert (35 percent) and the government of Monaco (35 percent). Closer to home, SBM also owns 50 percent of Mangas Gaming, BetClic Everest’s parent company.

One urban myth endures about Francois Blanc. Some say he sealed a pact with the devil to unlock the secrets of roulette, hence the 666 number permeating the game. Rubbish. If someone tells you the story, don’t get angry. Point them to this article and walk away like a Dominican Monk.

Spread of the spin

The rest, as they say, is history. While single zero roulette enjoyed the favours of European aristocracy, double zero roulette,
originally brought to US shores by French settlers, sailed on its merry way up the Mississippi, spread from Louisiana, and quickly became the staple of American gambling known as American Roulette.

One variation of American Roulette even featured 28 numbers, a double zero, and an Eagle slot - a convenient third house slot. I’m no maths expert but that sounds like a rip-off, and probably was, except if you bought one: they fetch thousands of dollars at auctions these days.
The split remains to this day, with double zero roulette played mainly in North/Central/South America and the Caribbean, while single zero roulette is popular pretty much everywhere else.

To conclude...

The history of roulette is a river of a tale, springing to life in ancient times, carving its path through 18th Century European legislation, flowing through Quebec down to Louisiana’s floating dens, through the Vegas strip via Monte-Carlo, through the web to the Smartphone in your pocket.

So next time you play roulette on your mobile, take some time to reflect and wonder: it’s likely a Chinese artefact you’re holding in your hand. And I’m not talking about your handset.
 
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