Aces Guide to Gambling

Roulette Strategy and Rules :

House edge same for most roulette bets

About The Author

John Grochowski is the author of four gaming books including The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Casino Answer Book.

Grochowski was recently named by Casino Player magazine as one of the 100 best gaming authors of the 20th century.

He also runs a gaming column in the Detroit News and the Chicago Sun-Times, which examines issues ranging from blackjack and video poker strategy to casino etiquette.

John Grochowski

When it comes to betting their money, roulette players have options and more options.

On the inside of the table layout, they can bet on any of the single numbers, split a bet across two numbers, bet three-number streets, four-number corners, a five-number combination on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3 or six-number streets.

On the outside, they can bet red or black, even or odd, high or low, dozens or columns.

They can make several bets on one spin of the wheel, or stick to one favorite play.

Which bet is best?

No one in particular. In American double-zero roulette, the house edge on all bets but one is 5.26 percent. That means for every $100 we wager, in the long run the casino will keep $5.26.

Let's imagine a perfect series of 38 spins in which the ball lands once in each number--1 through 36 plus 0 and 00. Let's say you're betting $1 on each spin on 29. With 38 spins, you risk a total of $38. Winning wagers pay 35-1, so on the one spin that the ball lands on 29, you keep your $1 bet and pick up $35 in winnings. You lose $1 on each of the other 37 spins.

At the end of 38 spins, you have $36 of the $38 you've risked. The house has won $2 from you. Divide that $2 by your $38 in total wagers, and you have the house edge--5.26 percent.

We can try the same thing with any other bet on the wheel. Let's say you bet $1 on black on each spin. That's an even-money bet-- when your color comes up, you win $1 for every $1 you wager. There are 18 black numbers, so on the 18 spins black comes up, you keep your $1 wager and win $1. On the other 20 spins, you lose. At the end of our 38 spins, you have $18 in winnings plus $18 in wagers you didn't lose, a total of $36. The house has $2. Divide that $2 by $38 in total wagers, and you get 0.0526. Multiply by 100 to convert to percent, and you have a house edge of 5.26 percent.

In the real world, there's no such thing as a perfect sequence in which each number comes up once in 38 tries. Sometimes your single number is going to come up twice, even three times in 38 spins. Sometimes black will come up 25 times instead of 18. On those occasions, you'll win. But sometimes your single number won't come up at all, or black will come up only 11 times. Then you'll lose at a rate faster than expected. With millions of customers and billions of wagers, everything balances out for the casino--the house wins 5.26 percent of the money wagered.

The only wager on the wheel that does not carry that 5.26 percent house edge is the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3, which pays 6-1. It's worse, with a house edge of 7.89 percent. Any strategy at American roulette should start with avoiding the five-number combination.

In European roulette, with just a single zero, there is no five-number bet. Instead, a four-number combination of 0, 1, 2 and 3 pays the same 8-1 as a four-number corner bet.

With only one zero on the wheel, European roulette also has a house edge only about half that on the American game. Let's go back to our perfect sequence, with each number turning up once. Only now, there are only 37 numbers in the sequence--1 through 36, plus a single 0.

If we bet $1 on black each time, we wager a total of $37. On each of the 18 black numbers, we keep our $1 wagers plus pick up $1 in winnings. So at the end of the sequence, we're left with $36. Divide that by the $37 in total wagers, and you're left with a house edge of 2.7 percent.

In Europe, casinos often have a rule called "en prison," which trims the house edge all the way to 1.35 percent. When the ball lands on 0, even-money bets such as red or black don't lose. Instead they're imprisoned for one spin. Let's say you bet on black, and the spin is 0. Your bet stays on the table. If the next spin is 0 or red, you lose. If it's black, you don't win, but your bet is returned to you.

With that rule, single-zero roulette has a low enough house edge that it's one of the better bets in the casino. But in the United States, single-zero wheels are not common, and the en prison rule is not offered. If you want to cut the house edge below 5.26 percent, you'll usually have to look to other games.

 

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