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Zeroes and Roulette History

By: Joe Valentino, Friday November 12th 2010
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The zeroes play an important role in the game of roulette. If there were no zeroes, and only the numbers from 1 to 36 were present on the wheel, then the average return to the player would be 100% and the casino would not make any money in the long run. This obviously is not a viable proposition and therefore the necessity of having zeroes on the wheel. Whereas the format for the rest of the wheel has been pretty much standard since the inception of roulette there have been changes in the number of zeroes in the early history. This article tracks the changes in the zeroes over time and place.

The earliest recorded description of roulette is in a French novel published in 1801 and set in Paris in 1796. The novel is La Roulette, ou le Jour by Jaques Lablee and it describes the roulette wheel of the Palais Royal Casino. The description says, "There are exactly two slots reserved for the bank, whence it derives its sole mathematical advantage." It goes on to add that these two slots contained "the bank's two numbers, zero and double zero." If the ball fell into any of these two pockets then all bets lost, except for bets placed specifically on zero or double zero. This gave the casino an edge of about 5.5%.

In 1843 two French brothers Francois and Louis Blanc operated a roulette wheel in the German spa casino town of Homburg. In order to compete against the traditional casinos they introduced a roulette wheel that had only zero and did not have the double zero. This reduced the casino's advantage by half to about 2.75% and made the roulette game more advantageous to the players. However such was the attraction of the larger casinos that the single zero wheel did not catch on.

In 1854 gambling was legalized in Monaco and in 1858 the construction on the now famous Monte Carlo Casino began. In 1861 Francois Blanc received a 50 year contract to operate the casino. In 1863 the Monte Carlo Casino opened its doors to the public. In keeping with tradition the roulette wheels had both zero and double zero. However Blanc landed into a problem. He was not able to generate sufficient business to pay his fee to Monte Carlo. Therefore he switched to the single zero wheel and immediately began to draw the crowds. Soon all the roulette wheels in Europe changed to single zero.

Meanwhile a different story was unfolding in America. Hoyle, who is the best known chronicler of gambling in America in the nineteenth century, wrote in 1886 that the then American roulette wheels has the numbers 1 through 28, plus a single zero, a double zero, and an American Eagle. The Eagle slot, which was a symbol of American liberty, was a house slot just like the zeroes. With the fewer normal numbers and three slots for the casino this format gave so much advantage to the casino that it could not sustain. Ultimately American roulette settled down to 36 numbers with zero and double zero.

During the early 20th century there were two famous casino towns. Monte Carlo in Europe had the single zero wheel and Las Vegas in America had the zero and double zero wheel. Today casino gambling is global. The American wheel is prevalent in the U.S.A., South America and the Caribbean, while the European wheel is prevalent elsewhere.

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