Roulette is a casino classic, a game that has been around in its modern form for more than 200 years.

Its roots are in an English game called “roly-poly,” invented in 1720. The roly-poly wheel was divided into black and white slots. There were no numbers. Wagering was the equivalent of betting red or black on today’s wheels.

Roly-poly was banned in the United Kingdom, but the wheel made its way across the English Channel... The French developed it into roulette, with modern-looking wheels complete with 0 and 00 traced to Paris in 1796.

Today, roulette is well entrenched as a casino option. Its popularity is stronger in Europe than in the United States, largely due to better odds. But both online and offline, a steady stream of players keep roulette tables busy around the world.

Roulette is easy to play. There are no complex strategies to learn. But you do need to know how the bets work.

The Basics of this Roulette Guide:

The Wheel

The focal point of the roulette game is the wheel, whether a physical wheel in brick-and-mortar casinos or a virtual representation of a wheel online.

The wheel is divided by frets (or virtual frets) into segments for numbers 1 through 36, a 0 and, sometimes, a 00. In the United States, most wheels have both 0 and 00, but in Europe wheels with a single 0 are more popular.

Usually, most of the wheel is made of highly polished wood, but the numbered segments and frets nearest the wheel center are metallic.

The backgrounds for 18 numbers are black, while another 18 are red. Backgrounds for 0 and 00 are green.

Segments are not arranged in numerical order but do alternate red and black numbers. On a double-zero wheel, for example, 0 has black 2 to its left, then red 14, and to its right, red 9 and black 26.  On a single-zero wheel, 0 has black 26 to its left, the red 3, and to its right, black 15 and red 19.

The wheel has a handle on top, used by the dealer to give it a spin. 

The Balls and Wheel Spin

Along with the wheel, the dealer has a small ball. When he spins the wheel in one direction, he releases the ball to spin around near the top of the wheel in the other direction. As the ball slows, it drops lower and lower on wooden section until it finally reaches the metallic segments, where it bounces from section to section until it stops on a winning number.

Online, this is done with a virtual representation of a ball and wheel, and the result is determined by a random number generator.

The Roulette Table

A long, felt covered table, or a representation of the table online, has a layout grid marked out with the wheel numbers. The top of the layout – nearest the wheel – has the zeroes, backed in green. Next come 12 rows of three numbers each. These are arranged numerically, with a row of 1, 2, 3, then a row of 4, 5, 6, and so on. Each number is backed with the same color as on the wheel.

The numbered grid is for what are termed “inside bets.” Just below the grid and to one side are areas for “outside bets” in which you bet on 12 or 18 numbers at once.

At the bottom of the grid are spaces marked “2-to-1.” These are to bet on columns formed by numbers on the layout. For example, the first column contains 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, 31 and 34.

On the side of the layout nearest the first column are spaces marked red, black – usually with red or black rectangles or diamonds instead of words – as well as even, odd, 1 to 18, 19 to 36, first 12, second 12 and third 12.

If you bet on black, you win if the ball lands on any black number. If you bet on a column, you win if the ball lands on any number in that column. These are all easy bets that give you multiple chances to win.

Roulette - Minimum Bet Requirements

At each table, a placard tells players the betting minimums and maximums. Players may satisfy the minimum on inside bets by making several small bets that add up to the minimum, but most bet at least the minimum on each outside bet.

For example, if the placard says “$5 minimum, $1 each inside bet,” it means that to play red or black, odd or even, or other outside bets, each bet must be at least $5. On inside bets on the numbered spaces, you must bet a total of $5, but it can be broken down into several wagers as long as each is at least $1.

Roulette Chips and Wagering

Wagering online is done via touch screen. You can touch to choose the size of your bet, then touch the roulette layout to place your bets. If you want a single number bet on 14, touch the 14; if you want to bet on the second column, touch the second column, and so on.

Offline, some roulette games have electronic betting pads that allow players to bet in a similar manner.

However, many offline tables, including the large majority in the United States, have players place physical chips on the layout.

Each player who buys in at a roulette table is given his or her own color chips. This is for the dealer’s convenience. Players usually make several bets at once, spreading chips around the layout, and the colors tell the dealers which players to pay off.

When you buy roulette chips, you tell the dealer what denomination the chips will be. At a $5 minimum table with $1 minimums on inside bets, a low roller might want his chips to be valued at $1. Then if you buy in for $50, you will bet 50 chips and the dealer will put a $1 marker atop a chip of your color to tell him its value.

When you finish playing, the dealer will take any roulette chips you have and give you casino chips to take to the cage to cash in. The roulette chips themselves might have a different value for the next player, so they can’t be taken directly to the cage.

Roulette Bets

Here are the available bets, the payoffs and where to place your chips to make them.

Inside Bets

**SINGLE-NUMBER. Pays 35-1. Place your chips directly on the number.

**SPLITS (two numbers): Pays 17-1. Place chips on the line between two numbers. 

**STREETS (three numbers): Pays 11-1. Place chips on the line outside a row, and all three numbers in the row win.

**CORNERS (four numbers): Pays 8-1. Place chips at the intersection of four numbers. 

**BASKET (five numbers): Pays 6-1. Available only on double-zero wheels, place chips at the corner line between 0 and 1, and 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3 are all winners.

DOUBLE STREET (six numbers): Pays 5-1. Place chips outside two rows, straddling the line between them.

Outside Bets

Making the outside bets is a snap. Just put chips in the box marked for your bets. You get 12 numbers on each column or on the first, second or third 12, and payoffs are 2-1.

You get 18 numbers on red or black, odd or even, or first 18 or second 18, and payoffs are 1-1.

The House Edge

The payoffs on each of the bets listed above would make the game even, with no house edge, if there were only 36 numbers. However, including the zeroes, there are either 37 or 38 numbers.

On a double-zero wheel, the payoff on a single-number bet is 35-1. However, the true odds are 37-1 – 37 losing numbers and only one winner.

That yields a house edge of 5.26 percent. Any bet can win or lose on any spin, but over extended play, the house expects to keep an average of $5.26 of every $100 wagered.

On a double-zero wheel, every wager except the basket has a 5.26 percent house edge. On the basket, the edge rises to 7.89 percent, making it a bet to avoid.

On single-zero wheels, the difference between payoffs and true odds is less, and the house edge is reduced to 2.7 percent.

Some casinos have special rules that reduce the edge on some bets. In Atlantic City, the casino takes only half your bet when the ball lands in 0 or 00 on 18-number bets such as red or black. That drops the edge to 2.63 percent.

Roulette Strategy?

Roulette is not a game of strategy. Some players like to bet a variety of numbers together, hoping to find a winning combination. Some like to play numbers that have come up more than once recently, hoping to get in on a hot streak. Some like to play numbers that haven’t come up in a long time, hoping they’re due.

The reality is that results are almost always random, whether by a random number generator online or by a wheel given proper maintenance online. With extended play, the odds of the game will lead toward an edge for the house.