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Pick your wheel

Pai Yao
Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Roulette is a simple game, but not all roulette wheels are created equal. We take a look at the European and the American roulette wheels and reveal an intriguing discovery we recently made in Macau.

The American (or double zero) wheel

What we now call the American wheel was actually the style of roulette wheel that originally developed in Europe around the late eighteenth century. It has 38 possible results numbered 1 to 36 plus the single zero (0) and the double zero (00). This makes the house edge 2/38 (or 5.3 percent). The two green-coloured zeroes are directly opposite each other on the wheel and the remaining 36 numbers alternate red and black on each side between the two zeroes.

The game made its way from Europe to America around the early nineteenth century, and remained there unchanged. American style roulette wheels are the standard in the US, South America and the Caribbean.

In the early days of roulette in America there was a new version of the game created that had 31 possible results: 1 to 28, 0, 00 and an American Eagle symbol. The house edge on this game of 3/31 (or 9.7 percent) was very high and it soon disappeared.

The European (or single zero) wheel

In 1843 the first single zero wheel appeared in Germany. By the end of the nineteenth century it was firmly established as the standard European wheel. This wheel has 37 numbers: 1 to 36 (alternating red and black) plus a green-coloured zero (0). The house edge on the European wheel is 1/37 (or 2.7 percent), essentially half of its American counterpart.

If you have a choice of American or European wheels, the European should be your pick. Luckily most tables outside of the Americas feature the European wheel.

The other difference between the wheels is that the numbers are in a different order. This doesn’t affect the mathematics of the game but it can certainly lead to confusion if you are used to one style of wheel and then play the other, as the numbers in the various sections are completely different.

Both wheel feature identical payouts. You get even money for red, black, big (19 to 36), small (1 to 18), odd and even all the way up to 35 to 1 for hitting a straight up single number. Just remember that you aren’t getting quite as much ‘bang for your buck’ on the American wheel.

The Hybrid wheel

We’re not sure of the correct name of this wheel, but we have labelled it the ‘hybrid’ wheel. It certainly is one strange wheel! We’ve been to a lot of casinos around the world and had never seen this kind of wheel before we stumbled across it on the floor of a Macau casino. The manufacturers have taken a standard American wheel, simply removed the double zero, and left the other numbers the same order.

This means that the ‘hybrid’ wheel only has 37 slots instead of the American wheel’s 38, resulting in the smaller 2.7 percent house edge. Like the other wheels there are still 18 black and 18 red numbers, but on this particular wheel both numbers on either side of zero are red and the two numbers on the opposite side of the wheel are both black. It looks very strange indeed to see two black numbers next to each other!

If you are used to playing on an American wheel then this wheel is a godsend. A very clever idea, this wheel offers the lower European house edge with the familiarity of the American wheel number order.

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