Poker players know all about the many different ways to play their favorite card game. However if they aren’t already familiar with roulette they may not realize there are different variations for that popular casino game as well.

Here is a quick primer for those curious about the different roulette games available in brick-and-mortar or online casinos.

“Roulette” is actually a French word meaning “little wheel,” and that provides a clue regarding the game’s origins which date back to 17th-century France. Roulette became an especially popular gambling game across Europe by the end of the 1700s and into the 1800s.

During the 19th century roulette wheels were arranged slightly differently depending on where you were. In fact, during the mid-1800s some of the first American roulette wheels not only featured numbers all around the edge, but a picture of an American Eagle as well.

That particular practice fell away, but differences remain that produce what are now known as the three main variations of roulette: European roulette, French roulette, and American roulette.

European Roulette

Roulette is a game in which players bet on where a ball will land following a spin of a roulette wheel. The outer edge of the wheel has numbered “pockets” all around it, and after the wheel stops spinning the ball settles in one of them, thereby determining which is the winning number and how the bets will be settled.

All roulette wheels feature the numbers 1 through 36, with the half of the numbers marked “red” and the other half “black.” The European wheel features an additional zero slot — “0” — which is marked green to make it stand out.

There is a felt table extending out from the wheel itself on which the numbers are printed. When people are playing roulette they place their chips on the number on which they wish to bet.

As you can see, the numbers appear horizontally in a rectangle, and on the bottom and right sides of the box appear other boxes where players can make bets on groups of numbers including:

  • “1st 12” (1 to 12)
  • “2nd 12” (13 to 24)
  • “3rd 12” (25 to 36)
  • “1-18”
  • “19-36”
  • “Even” (all the even numbers)
  • “Odd” (all the odd numbers)
  • “Red” (all the red numbers)
  • “Black” (all the black numbers)

Sometimes the bets are described as “outside” and “inside” bets, a reference to whether the bet appears inside the main box (on the numbers 1 through 36), or outside the box (the bets on ranges of numbers).

Payouts are based on the odds of winning. For example, if you bet on a single number and the ball lands on it, you win 35 times your bet. If you bet on “red” (18 numbers total) or “odd” (also 18 numbers) and are correct, you win double your money.

Notice, however, how the “zero” slot actually gives the house a small overall edge here, making it a little less than 35-to-1 to pick a winning a number, and a little less than 2-to-1 for the ball to land on red or an odd number.

French Roulette

French Roulette features the same wheel (with one “zero” slot) and all of the same betting options as European roulette. The French Roulette table has a slightly different layout than the European one, although it still offers all of the same “outside bets” (they are just placed a little differently).

In fact some players might think at first glance that French Roulette is exactly the same as European roulette. However there are a couple of added rules in French Roulette that make it unique and do have an effect on the odds and payouts.

In French roulette, if you make an “outside” bet and lose because the ball lands on zero, you get half your bet back. This rule is called “la partage” which comes from the French word partager which means “to share.”

The “la partage” rule makes the odds a little better for the player, since it lessens the significance of that “zero” slot by half. Thus when comparing French roulette vs. European, the French version has more favorable odds for the player than does European.

The second rule difference is related, one called the “en prison” rule. In this case, if you have made an “outside bet” and lose because the ball lands on “zero,” you are given an option — either take half your bet back (following “la partage”), or make the same bet again.

If you take that second option, the croupier puts a marker on your bet to show it is locked in (or “in prison”), and if you win your bet you win and if you lose you forfeit your bet. (Casinos have different rules regarding what to do if the ball lands on “zero” a second consecutive time.)

American Roulette

That brings us to the third popular variation of the game, American roulette. Here’s a look at the layout of an American roulette game — can you spot the difference between American and European roulette?

You probably found one big difference. The American roulette wheel has a second green “double zero” slot to go along with the single “zero” slot found on the European roulette wheel. Otherwise, all the same “outside bets” are present and indeed the game plays largely the same.

If you think about it, though, you soon realize that since in the American version the wheel features that extra “double zero,” the odds are not as great for players and thus the house edge is larger.

Single number bets to win still pay out at 35-to-1 in American roulette, but here there are 38 slots altogether, not 37, which reduces the chance of hitting your number by a little bit more. The same is true, say, for a bet on “red” — instead of 18 chances out of 37 to hit your number, now it is 18 chances out of 38, and you still get the same 2-to-1 payout.

Thus when it comes to American roulette vs. European roulette, the European version is the one that gives the player better odds. And the same is true for French roulette vs. American roulette — the French version is better for the player, while the American version gives the house the bigger edge.

In fact, recently there have even been some examples of casinos offering “triple-zero wheels” in their roulette games that give the house an even greater edge.

You might have noticed one other difference between the American and European roulette wheels — the order of numbers. Those are fairly standard, actually, but as you can see the sequence of numbers is quite different when you compare them.

If you play roulette online, you’ll often see you get choices between the different variations. That’s a great advantage of playing online — you can play European, French, or American roulette no matter where you are!

Images: “Brown casino roulette,” CC 0; “European roulette,” Betzaar, CC BY-SA 3.0; “American roulette,” Betzaar, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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