History of European Roulette
French scientist and mathematician Blaise Pascal inadvertently introduced the first roulette wheel in 1655 while attempting to build a perpetual motion machine. The French recognized the gaming potential of this device immediately. Throughout the 18th century, they used it to gamble and play various games, but it was not until Paris in 1796 that roulette, meaning little wheel, appeared in its modern form.
During the 19th century, roulette spread like wildfire throughout Europe, in part because gambling went unchecked by government. Not only did roulette become one of the most popular casino games throughout Europe, it became instantly recognizable and an aspect of the time’s pop culture. Competition among gaming houses vying for roulette business was fierce.
Francois and Louis Blanc were Frenchmen operating a gaming house in Hamburg, a German casino spa town. The twins had spent time in prison in their home country for stock fraud. They had been failures there and not well respected. However, they were finding success in Germany, and in order to distinguish themselves further, they introduced the single 0 roulette wheel. Up until this point, roulette wheels had two house pockets (0 and 00), 38 pockets in all, and were very much like the wheels in use today in Las Vegas. Those traditional European wheels had a 5.26% house odds.
Single “0” Roulette Wheel
The single 0 wheel with 37 total pockets introduced by Louis and Francois Blanc had house odds of only 2.60%. The new wheel was, of course, very alluring to clientele that recognized the lower house odds. The competition, who believed it a recipe for failure, was not so quick to adapt. The Blanc brothers became very established and very wealthy by the time they did. Soon the single 0 would become the standard casino wheel, and later, people would call it the European or French wheel to distinguish it from the American variant.
As their wheel became the prominent one, Francois and Louis Blanc became prominent 19th century figures renowned for the game of roulette. Legends and fantastic stories sprang up around their successes. One popular tale purported that the brothers had signed a pact with the devil in order to achieve the secrets of the wheel. Bolstering this tale was the fact that the numbers on a roulette wheel sum to 666. However, this was true of the traditional wheel as well as the Blanc wheel.
Soon after the Blanc brothers introduced the new wheel, France outlawed gambling, and Germany soon followed. These restrictions did not deter Francois Blanc, however. Instead, he moved his operation to Monte Carlo, where he built the first of the area’s many gaming houses. It was here in Monte Carlo that roulette would become the “King of Casino Games”.
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Despite favoring the house, the American wheel remains a prevalent roulette variant, primarily due to it being the wheel of choice in Las Vegas, the gaming capital of the world. However, its prominence has lessened with the advent of the Internet and the growing popularity of online gaming.
When roulette came to the fledgling United States by way of New Orleans, it was an established game popular throughout Europe. The single 0 wheel introduced by Francois and Louis Blanc was now the standard wheel, and it was unusual to see a 38-pocket wheel, one with both the 0 and 00, and thus increased house odds. The very notion of a third house pocket would have seemed absurd to those European gamblers at the time.
However, this new gaming market in a young United States did not have the same expectations, and in many cases, the clientele had never had intimate contact with the game. Therefore, greedy operators where able add a third house pocket with little to no fuss. The third pocket was essentially another zero, but they called it the American eagle due to the image used to decorate it. House odds on this wheel were 7.69% as opposed to 5.26% on the European wheel and 2.70% on the French wheel.
This was not the only change made by the new American operators. In Europe, casinos played both the European and French wheels at a leisurely pace, 36 spins per hour. America, on the other hand, had already developed an impatient aspect to its personality. Therefore, the gaming house sped up the speed of the wheel. This change met the demands of the clientele while also allowing the gaming houses to generate more revenue.
This style remained popular because there was no other choice. However, as online gaming expanded, it became clear that even US players preferred the French and European wheels. Many online gaming houses still offer an American wheel because many roulette players like to have the option of changing up their luck. Gamers should note that the American wheel is never the right choice purely in terms of probability.
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