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The Little Wheel: The History of Roulette

The Little Wheel: The History of Roulette


The game of Roulette has been played by such famous individuals as Lucy from the “I Love Lucy” sitcom, Lola from “Run, Lola, Run”, and even the Penguins form the 2012 “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” movie. Not to mention millions of real people who visit land-based and online casinos all over the world every day. This article briefly describes the history of Roulette.

Roulette originated in France. The very first roulette mechanism appears to have been constructed by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, inventor, and physicist. Pascal created the first primitive roulette wheel in the course of his quest for the Perpetuum mobile, the perpetual motion machine that could, hypothetically, go on working forever without an actual source of energy.

In the 18th century, the gaming wheel was combined with Biribi, an Italian game similar to the lotto, and thus the Roulette as we know it was born. Among its ancestors, researchers list the wheel games Reiner, Ace of Hearts, and Roly-Poly which were very popular with the English players during the reign of the four Georges, kings of the House of Hanover. As early as 1758, roulette was already banned in New France (Québec): the regulations banned such games as “dice, hoca, faro, and roulette". In 1796, Roulette was one of the favorite games of the Parisian gamblers: Palais-Royal roulette was described by Jaques Lablee in his novel “La Roulette, ou le Jour” that was published in 1801.

François and Louis Blanc, twin brothers from a small town in France, became famous after they came up with the single 0 style roulette in 1843. For this innovation, François Blanc became known as “The Magician of Homburg”. The new roulette was tried out at the casino of Bad Homburg, a German spa town known for its mineral waters. The traditional Parisian version of the Roulette had a single and a double zero house pockets. It is said that François summoned none other than the Devil and learned the secrets of the game from the Enemy himself. Devil or no Devil, the new Roulette that the brothers Blanc introduced became immensely popular, and so did Bad Homburg. Rich clients came in great numbers, and the new gambling houses sprung up like mushrooms.

After the government of Frankfurt abolished gambling in the 1860s, François moved to a warmer, more welcoming place, the Principality of Monaco, and turned it into a mecca for gamblers. He thus earned his second title – “The Magician of Monte Carlo”. Blanc’s roulette became the premier game at the Monte Carlo casinos. It was in the 19th century that the Roulette became truly famous across the European and American casinos.

Historically, the Roulette has had a very bad reputation with the religious people, because the total sum of the numbers on the wheel, 0 to 36, is the ominous 666, the Number of the Beast that was named in the Book of Revelation. However, early American roulettes only had numbers 1 to 28, single zero, double zero, and the American Eagle. The Eagle did not stay on the wheel for a long time. However, the double-zero roulette remained popular throughout the US gambling salons, while in Europe the single-zero wheel dominated. In the Wild West, the roulette was placed on top of the table and a simplified betting system came in use in an attempt to prevent or at least minimize cheating by both the casinos and the players.

While at the beginning of the 20th century Monte Carlo and Las Vegas were the only notable casino locations offering the French and the American Roulette respectively, by the beginning of the 2000-s, Roulette could be played at hundreds of casinos all over the globe. The double-zero roulette is still popular in the US, Canada, and South America.

The game of Roulette is made to bring profit to the casino. However, gamblers have come up with multiple tricks and strategies for beating the system. There are ways of predicting the wheel’s performance, betting systems that are supposed to allow the gambler to recover the losses, and various clever (and illegal) gadgets that help break the bank. Some of these have actually resulted in success. For example, the famous song by Fred Gilbert, “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo”, was inspired by Charles Wells, a gambler and a fraudster, who actually broke the bank at the Monte Carlo casino in 1891. Charles paid two rounds of visits to the casino: in July-August and in November. He won all the money that was available at the bank at every table that he played. In total, he won about £60,000, which is equivalent to £6 million today. Naturally, Charles was suspected of cheating, but it was never proven. Charles himself said that he had an “infallible system” that helped him win.

Today, Roulette is still a very popular game at the brick and mortar casinos. It has also proved no less popular in the digital world. Online casinos offer multiple variations, including the virtual roulette with live dealers. At Bitcasino, you can spin the Roulette wheel for free, in fun mote, or for Bitcoins.

Words: Jelena Schmidt

Images: Shutterstock

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The Little Wheel: The History of Roulette
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