The history of the casino table game roulette leads us through at least, but probably three continents. It is very likely that early variants in the Middle East were known, may be not as a table game, but certainly with the wheel as instrument to foretell fortune or bad luck. The wheel was invented in the present region of Iraq a few thousand years ago during the highly cultivated Sumerian period. But something like Asian Roulette never appeared and we have to wait a very long time before we see proven marks of the game, that leads us to European Roulette at the end. Stories that roulette was imagined by Chinese monks, who were a bit bored while serving the gods and Buddha, were never confirmed. The game was beyond any doubt in some form played in the Italian land houses of the nobles, called casinos, and was exported from there to France. Parts of the game were in Italy played as board games like Biribi and Hoca. In France a more or less similar board game was known under the name roulette. The name is a diminutive for ‘little wheel’ and indeed the French word for rolling a wheel is rouler.
The name European Roulette is completely deserved for one thing is clear: the game in its present forms was definitely shaped in Europe, moreover in France. It is said that the philosopher and mathematic Blaise Pascal is the real inventor of the roulette wheel, but that is rubbish. He might have given his opinion and may be some improvements, but his influence on European Roulette was minor at the best. The name European Roulette is only used to devise it from those other forms, named American Roulette and French Roulette. Both varieties are described on these pages, but for the lazy readers among you we will shortly give the most important differences. French Roulette has a different lay-out, because table and wheel are placed behind each other and at the left and the right of that arrangement the players can stand and place their bets. Apart from some casinos in France, especially the world famous Casino de Monte Carlo, it is hardly seen in brick and mortar casinos. In the first centuries of the game the wheel contained two pockets with a zero mark. This was and still is the number of the casino. Unless used in special combinations, all players lose their bets to the casino. Later it was calculated that the average profit of the casino was 5,26% thanks to the zero pockets. This variant with two zero pockets in the wheel came to the United States with French immigrants and found roots in Missouri from where it was taken to other states and Canada. It is still existing under the name American Roulette and is also common in South America and in the Caribbean.
What happened in Europe in the meantime? Well not much, until two casino enterprisers, the brothers François and Louis Blanc (also French of course) introduced a new wheel with only one zero pocket. They might have experienced with the old wheel, declaring one zero pocket as ‘not valid’ but for sure they were the guys that gave roulette a new face, limiting the profits of the casino to 2,70%. The final countdown for European Roulette had been started. But why should somebody limit their profits? Well, the main casino of the Blanc brothers was not in France but in the German town of Homburg, a less attractive place than Paris. So they tried out a proven marketing concept: competing on price. The profits of the zero pockets is only part of the total profit for casinos which is much higher, thanks to the fact that there are always people who spend too much money in casinos and lose it at the end, playing away all they have in their pockets. The roulette play with one zero is now known as European Roulette and is also played in the main casinos in Asia and it is also the main form for roulette games that are played through the internet in the online casinos.
We will never know what would have happened if the Blanc brothers would have stayed in Homburg, happily living ever after. But history is many times also steered by politicians and in Germany it was from one day to another decided that casino table games were forbidden, in fact all forms of gambling were abolished and the Blanc brothers had to move on. Their next and final stop with their table games and European Roulette as well was Monte Carlo, where the ruler in place dreamed of his town as a safe haven for the rich and fortunate Europeans and realizing a big casino was part of the plan. This must have been the first time that European Roulette (with one zero pocket) was introduced outside Germany, although it got at the end a mixed form with French Roulette, but that was only a matter of lay-out as we wrote here above. This all happened in the 1860s and when we overview the number of casinos that are built in European countries it is almost unbelievable that between the 1860s and the 1970s almost nothing happened. The main casinos in Europe (Venice, Paris, Monte Carlo) were attracting numerous people, but casinos were not seen as a possible attraction for smaller places. Many governments were very shivery of gambling in general and casinos as a general form of entertainment were only coming up as from the 1970s. European Roulette is the common variety of roulette games in all those new casinos, thanks to the French Blanc brothers.
New varieties will come up in the next few years, but they will only appear in the online casinos. It is much easier to change the rules and lay-out of the game, when it is only a matter of software than when you have to build new tables and wheels. One of those new varieties is the ‘neighbour’ game that is described elsewhere on this site under the title Roulette Rules.