I’m not sure you could find a game in the casino that’s easier to play than roulette – maybe Casino War. The problem with easy casino games like roulette is that the math behind the game is usually awful for the player.
All casino games have a mathematical advantage for the casino. The bigger that advantage is, the worse the game.
But roulette has advantages which make up for that big edge that the casino has. For one thing, the game proceeds slowly, so you’re not putting as much money into action per hour. Assuming you’re not playing at online casinos, that is.
Since roulette is an entirely chance-based game with no skill involved, you don’t need to know much about strategy to succeed. That’s why this is the only roulette strategy guide you’ll ever need.
I’ve tried to keep it short and simple, too.
The first thing you need to know about roulette is that it’s a game based entirely on chance. Roulette has no skill element.
The second thing you need to know about the game is that roulette bets don’t pay off at their true odds. They pay off at less than their true odds, which gives the house a mathematical edge that can’t be beaten.
Here’s a quick probability lesson.
The probability of any event happening is a number between 0 and 1. It’s most often expressed as a percentage. To calculate the probability of something happening, you divide the number of ways it can happen by the total number of possible outcomes.
Most roulette wheels in the United States have 38 different numbers on them. The probability of winning a bet on a specific number is simple, then – it’s just 1/38, or 37 to 1. (That second expression of the probability is in odds format, which makes it easy to compare the payout with the odds of winning.)
That bet has a 37 to 1 probability of winning, but the payoff is only 35 to 1.
This is comparable to betting 37 cents to win 35 cents on a 50/50 proposition. Whoever’s getting the 37 cents is going to come out ahead in the long run.
If you look at a mathematically perfect distribution, it’s easy to calculate the average amount lost on each bet. If you bet $10 on that number 38 times, you’ll win one and lose 37 times on average, in the long run.
That’s $370 in losses and $350 in winnings. Your net loss is $20.
Of course, in a single session, you won’t see mathematically perfect results.
Every spin is random, and the actual results don’t start to resemble the theoretical results until you get into a large number of events.
When computing the house edge, you assume mathematically perfect results, because that’s how you determine the house’s edge.
$20 divided by 38 spins is an average loss of $0.53 per spin. That’s about 5.3%. (It’s actually 5.26%, so it’s a good approximation.)
That’s what we mean when we say that in American roulette, the house has an edge of 5.26%.
There’s nothing you can do to affect that mathematical edge one way or the other. It doesn’t matter which bets you place or what size they are. It doesn’t matter what happened on the previous spin, the previous five spins, or the previous 50 spins.
Think of the house edge as a tax that the casino keeps over the long run.
That’s partially true. It’s impossible to get an edge over roulette unless you can find a biased wheel, which is impractical for reasons I’ll explain later.
Your only hope of a strategy at the roulette table is to have as much fun as possible for as long as possible. You do that by minimizing the house edge and the number of bets you make per hour.
Most casinos in the United States use the 38-number wheel I used for the example when calculating the house edge. All the bets on that kind of table have the same house edge of 5.26%, even the even-money bets, but there’s one exception.
The five-number bet.
This is a bet that one of the following five numbers will come up.
This bet pays off at 6 to 1, but the odds of winning the bet are 5/38, or 33 to 5. The house edge on this bet is 7.89%.
Therefore, the correct strategy at such a table is to avoid that bet and make any of the other bets at the table that you want to.
Your goals as a gambler also play into what might be considered an appropriate roulette strategy.
Do you want to make one big hit?
Do you just want to play for a long time without losing too much money?
Let’s talk about some of these approaches for a minute.
Let’s say you have a bankroll of $1,000. Your brother also has a bankroll of $1,000. You both sit down to play roulette at a table with a minimum bet of $15 and a maximum bet of $1,000.
You decide to bet the minimum, $15, every time you place a bet. And you limit your bets to the even-money bets, which win 47.37% of the time (almost half).
Over time, you should gradually lose your money at that roulette table. You’ll probably spend some time up and some time down, but if you play long enough, you’ll almost certainly become a net loser.
Your brother, on the other hand, decides he’s going to bet his entire $1,000 on black on the first spin. He wins, and then he cashes out.
Did you or your brother exhibit more “boldness”?
And what does that mean in dollars and cents?
Obviously, when your brother put his entire bankroll at stake on a single spin, he was using maximum boldness.
By betting the minimum repeatedly, you’re exhibiting minimum boldness.
Since we know that the more bets you make, the more likely your results will look like the predicted results, we know that your brother has a better chance of doubling his money than you do.
He has a 47.37% chance of doubling his money.
You, on the other hand, have to win multiple bets with a 47.37% probability of winning each. Since you have to win more than one of them, you have to multiply.
Let’s say you want to know your probability of doubling your money by making two bets of $500 each.
When you’re examining the probability of multiple events happening at the same time, you multiply the probability of one by the probability of the other.
In this case, you would multiply 47.37% by 47.37%. The probability of winning both those bets – and doubling your money – is 22.42%.
And that makes sense, because you only have four possible outcomes here.
There are four possible outcomes, but the outcomes based on winning are lower because the initial probability of winning is lower.
You’re not limited to just flat betting or betting your entire stack. You can also raise and lower the size of your bets based on what happened on previous bets.
This won’t overcome the house edge in the long run, by the way.
But it can change your short-term probabilities.
The most popular system that uses this approach is the Martingale system. With the Martingale system, you double the size of your bet after every loss. Once you win, you start over.
By doing this, you recoup the losses from your previous bets and wind up one unit ahead.
Let’s say you start with that $15 minimum in that last example.
You lose four times in a row, so here are your bet sizes on each of those bets.
You’ve now lost $225. And sure enough, your next bet is $240, which – if you win – results in a profit of $15 for the sequence.
What happens when you use a system like this?
You do increase the probability of having a winning session in the short run, but the size of your wins is limited. And eventually, you’ll have a session where you have a big losing streak, which happens more often than you think. When you do, that losing session will be so big that it will wipe out all those previous small wins.
These are just ballpark estimates, and the actual results will vary based on how long your sessions are, but think about it this way.
You might walk away from these short sessions winning $60 each on average, 80% of the time.
But 20% of the time, you’ll walk away having lost $300 or $400.
The system breaks down because of two factors.
Once either of those happens, it’s impossible to recoup your losses.
There’s nothing wrong with using the Martingale system when you play roulette. It’s a legitimate and fun way to play.
But you must understand that it doesn’t turn roulette into a game where you can consistently win. If you misunderstand this fact, you’ll wind up losing money you need for something else.
Most people underestimate the probability of having that many losses in a row, but we know how to do the math. It’s just the probability multiplied by itself each time.
A losing streak of seven losses has a probability as follows.
47.37% x 47.37% x 47.37% x 47.37% x 47.37% x 47.37% x 47.37% = 0.5%
This means it should happen about once every 200 sequences, which isn’t that many when you think about how many roulette spins happen per hour in a casino. At 50 spins per hour, this kind of losing streak will come up – on average – once every four hours.
Also, it’s important to understand how the gambler’s fallacy fits into this discussion. This is a common math mistake where someone thinks that something that’s happened repeatedly on previous bets changes the probability on the next bet.
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that if you only have a 0.5% chance of getting a losing streak of eight losses in a row, it would be a good bet to switch to betting on black.
But you’re NOT betting on eight losses in a row. You’re betting on the next spin, which is entirely independent of those other spins.
The formula for the probability of that individual event hasn’t changed. It’s still 18/38, or 47.37%.
Some people believe the reverse, too. They think that if something keeps happening repeatedly, it’s more likely to keep happening. You can win money betting on the streak until the streak ends.
Here’s the thing about winning and losing streaks.
They definitely exist.
They’re also impossible to predict.
Streaks only exist in retrospect.
It’s impossible to predict how long a streak will last. And those streaks don’t change the long-term mathematical expectations for the games.
There’s a system that works the opposite way from the Martingale. It’s sometimes called the reverse-Martingale, the anti-Martingale, or the Paroli system.
Instead of doubling your money after a loss, you double your money after every win.
Your goal is to capitalize on the occasional winning streak to book a huge win.
Since 0.5% of the time, you’ll have a losing streak of seven spins or more, you’ll also have a 0.5% chance of having a winning streak of seven spins or more. If you’re doubling your bet on each of those, you’ll wind up a big winner for the session.
But this is the opposite of the Martingale. Instead of having four or five small winning sessions for every large losing session, you can look forward to four or five small losing sessions for every large winning session.
Decide beforehand if you’re willing to accept lots of small losing sessions in exchange for an occasional huge win.
Decide if you prefer lots of small winning sessions and the occasional huge loss.
Or maybe you’d prefer to just flat bet and gradually lose and win small amounts over time.
Some people like using a maximum boldness approach and making only a single bet, but that’s unusual.
You should also think about if you want to maximize your chances of a small win on every spin or go for a big win. If you place an even-money bet, you’ll win even money almost half the time. If you place a single number bet, you’ll win 35 to 1, but you’ll only win about once every 38 spins or so.
And you have any number of options in between.
Once you’ve decided between these, you can choose a game. As it turns out, the standard American roulette wheel isn’t necessarily the only game in town – especially if you’re playing online.
A standard American roulette game has a house edge of 5.26%. It has 38 numbers, two of which are green (the 0 and the 00).
But you can find some casinos which offer a European style single-zero roulette wheel. The house edge for this game is only 2.70%. And the five-number bet isn’t even available on this game.
The odds are still against you here.
But you’ll lose money at almost half the rate that you would on the American wheel.
And any betting system you use will be more effective when facing a lower house edge.
You can even sometimes find roulette games which offer the “en prison” rule, which lowers the house edge even further.
When you place an even-money bet at a table with the en prison rule in effect and lose, your bet is set aside (“in prison”).
If it loses again, you lose the bet.
But if it wins, you get your original bet returned to you (sans winnings, of course).
This reduces the house edge by 50%, but only when you place even-money bets. At a table with en prison rules in effect, it’s bad strategy to make any other bet at the table.
If you can find a European table with en prison in effect, you face a house edge of 1.35%, which is almost as good as what you’d see at the baccarat or blackjack table.
Since roulette wheels are mechanical, it’s possible that they could be warped or imperfect in some way. If a roulette wheel has certain areas of numbers that come up more often than they statistically should, you could exploit that by betting on those numbers.
Here’s why that’s impractical.
To find such a biased wheel, you’d need to “clock” the results at the table for a certain number of spins to be sure of any bias. Even if you went off the results of 1,000 spins, you’d be looking at 20 hours just recording results.
And since such a bias would be invisible, you might just waste 20 hours doing this.
Most casinos won’t let you loiter for 20 hours straight, so you might have to gamble while you’re doing this, which costs money.
Also, at some point, you need to go home and go to sleep. Casinos move equipment around all the time. What happens if you come back the next day, and the table where your biased wheel sat has a new, perfect wheel on it? (Or even another biased wheel which is biased toward other numbers?)
I think trying to exploit a biased roulette wheel is a fool’s errand. It would be easier and more profitable to learn how to count cards in blackjack.
There you have it – everything you need to know about roulette strategy. This isn’t a game where you can get an advantage, but it is a game that rewards a strategic approach.
The first step in that approach is to determine what your goals are and what kind of gambling would be most fun for you. Your approach to the game will vary based on that.
You’ll also need to decide how much value playing roulette brings you. If you’re losing more than it’s worth, you should switch games or change the size of your bets accordingly.