The history of roulette: From the 17th century to the present day.
Roulette is one of the oldest casino games that is still played today. In this article I will show you how the game began and how it has evolved and spread around the world during its 400 year history. Discover the differences that have occurred from its invention to the modern online versions of the game.
The invention of the game in the 17th century
The origin of the game is not 100% clear. It is thought that it probably evolved from the Wheel of Fortune, or Rota Fortunae. This concept comes from medieval and ancient philosophy, where the goddess of destiny spins the wheel and shows the rise and fall of a king. It symbolises happiness and misfortune and is a good metaphor for the game.
Other influences are attributed to English EO games (even/odd) and the Italian board game Biribi. There are also other games that have been linked to the invention of roulette, but there is no clear consensus on which ones are completely accurate.
It is widely accepted that roulette was originally invented by the French physicist Blaise Pascal. An eminent figure in the world of science and mathematics, Pascal broke new ground in his research. His work introduced the mathematical theory of probability. Previously, there was no study of the probabilities associated with gambling. During his research on cycloids, he wrote a famous treatise entitled « The History of Roulette ». This title was given as the search for a formula to calculate the cycloids involving the rolling of the wheels. It is believed that the roulette wheel, in its primitive form, was the byproduct of his quest to invent a perpetual motion machine.
Among these different theories on the origins of roulette, the most probable is that the game was invented in Italy in the 17th century. In fact, until around 1900, encyclopaedias called the game that had 38 numbers either « Italian Roulette » or « Big Roulette ». A smaller version of the game, played with only 18 numbers, was called small roulette or German roulette.
18th and 19th centuries – The development of single zero roulette across Europe
In the 18th century, gambling came to France, where it became very famous and popular in casinos. It had a slightly different layout from the modern game. At the end of the 1790s, the game had a zero, which was red, and a double zero, which was black. However, despite the colours, they were house pockets. So if you bet on red or black and the ball lands on the zero or double zero, you would lose your bet. To avoid confusion, the zeros were coloured green from the 1800s onwards.
When roulette began to be played in France, King Louis XV tried to ban the game. Indeed, in 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte only allowed the game of roulette to be played in the casinos of the Palais Royale. The game was completely banned in 1837, when Louis Phillipe closed all casinos in France. This led to the golden age of German casinos in Baden-Baden, Bad Homburg and Wiesbaden. During this period, the famous novel « The Gambler » was written by the Russian author, Dostoyevsky, based on his experiences at the casino in Bad Homburg. In order to gain an advantage over the competition, in 1843 the brothers François and Louis Blanc from the Bad Homburg casino removed the double zero from the roulette wheel. Shortly afterwards, the only zero variant of the game could be found in casinos all over Europe.
In the 1860s, casinos were banned throughout Germany, not being reopened by the Nazis until 1933. The ban on gambling in Germany and France meant that throughout Europe it was only in Monte Carlo that casinos continued to operate and prosper. The White brothers moved their operation to Monte Carlo, where they established a prestigious and elite gambling mecca. It was here that the unique zero variant of roulette became so popular and, in the years that followed, it was exported all over the world.
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History of American Roulette
Not only did gambling flourish in Europe in the 18th century, but it also made its way to America at the same time. The first forms of the game had only 28 digits, plus a zero, a double zero and an eagle symbol. The eagle – the American symbol of freedom – added an extra advantage for the casino. If the ball lands on this or the zeros, then all bets would be lost. However, this different version of the wheel soon gave way to the European version of the game, with numbers 1 to 36, where the zeros provided only the house advantage.
The style of play in America also differed from that in Europe. In Monte Carlo casinos, the game has evolved in style, offering a high-end gaming and leisure experience. Whereas in America, across the new territories, the game was played in gambling halls. Due to the cheating practices of both players and operators, the wheel was placed above a makeshift table. This prevented any device hidden under the wheel that could manipulate the results. The layout of the American roulette wheel was also adjusted to offer simplified betting options, thus speeding up the pace of the game.
While the trend in Europe was for the roulette wheel to include only one zero, double zero, with its higher house edge, remained dominant in the US. This remains the main difference between the modern versions of European and American roulette. The American variant of the game is also dominant in Canada, the Caribbean and South America. Whereas the single zero version of the game is predominant elsewhere in the world.
20th century and the rise of online roulette
At the beginning of the 20th century, casinos were not widespread. The only two remarkable places where you could play were Monte Carlo, with the single zero version of the game, and Las Vegas with the American double zero. From the 1970s onwards, the popularity of casinos increased and they began to flourish around the world. However, the real boom came with the spread of the Internet. With more and more households with an Internet connection, this led to a new generation of casinos where you can play online, leading to the best online roulette casino sites we can access today. Let’s start things off was InterCasino, which is considered the first online casino, after opening its virtual doors in 1996.
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