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Deal Me In: Breaking down roulette odds

25 May 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I heard there are a couple of good bets on a roulette table. Is there a specific number I should be playing, or are the bets located where red/black or odd/even are located? Cheryl D.

Allow me, Cheryl, to streamline Albert Einstein’s roulette quote, "You cannot beat a roulette table unless you steal money from it," by answering your "which bets are good” question this way; “there ain’t none."

The secret of roulette, Cheryl, is not which bet, but which game. The vast majority of roulette tables in America are of the double-zero varieties, which have one of the higher house edges between the table games.

As to which particular bet, no wager on a roulette table is superior to others. All bets on the layout, whether you’re betting on even money wagers like red/black, odd/even, or wagering on a straight-up number, two-number splits, corners, or 12-number dozens or columns, hold the same house edge of 5.26 percent. There is one exception, and the bet is fittingly named, "the beast with five numbers." It is a five-number bet where you are covering the 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3. The house advantage on this sole wager is a whopping 7.89 percent.

What you want to search out, Cheryl, is a single zero roulette wheel. With only 37 numbers (0-36), instead of 38 (0, 00, 1-36), and payoffs being the same as on a double-zero wheel, the house edge is reduced to 2.7 percent.

A second option is the double-zero roulette wheels in Atlantic City. In AC, the house only takes half of your bet if you are betting on any even-money propositions and the ball lands in 0 or 00. Therefore, if you are wagering on the first 18,second 18, odd/even or red/black, the house edge drops to 2.63 percent.

Option three has you flying across the pond to play on a true European single-zero wheel that offers a rule called "en prison." If you make an even money bet and the ball lands on zero, the croupier doesn’t rake in your wager. Instead, your bet is "imprisoned" or held hostage, and you are forced to let it ride through the next spin. If your bet wins, you can then remove it from the table. This wager cuts the house edge on even money bets in half, down to a very respectable 1.35%.

Unfortunately, most players play where none of the above alternatives are offered, so, Cheryl, you better be playing for fun, and with money you can afford, and are prepared, to lose.

Dear Mark: If you happen to see the dealer's hole card and don't say anything, are you are cheating? The same holds true if you are overpaid. Is it illegal to take the money? Norm A.

Taking advantage of a newbie or lackadaisical dealer by catching a glimpse of the hole card is not illegal. It is the pit supervisor’s job to safeguard the integrity of the game and to make sure their dealers are dealing a secure game and not flashing a hole card. As for being paid unearned chips, moral issues aside, it too does not constitute criminal behavior. Pit bosses are always on the lookout for dealers making paying errors, and to make sure that their dealers are following the correct dealing protocols and paying off bets correctly. BUT ….

When I was an apprentice dealer, you bet I was appreciative of the player who corrected my pay gaffes and handed back the chips. I follow suit to this day.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "One of the healthiest ways to gamble is with a spade and a package of garden seeds." — Dan Bennett
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.