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The History of Roulette

Published on: 28/10/2013

Though the French may claim to have invented the game of roulette, recent historical research has revealed that it was actually a minor modification of many wheel type games found in England during the early eighteenth century. The most popular of these was known as “Roly Poly.” In this enthusiastic gamers would place bets upon which small slots a ball would land when cast into the wheel. Like the modern game of roulette, there were banker slots (two in the case of Roly Poly), where the players would lose everything if the ball had the bad luck to rest there.

Throughout England the game was extremely popular, but was deemed by the authorities to be the cause of certain types of civil unrest. Wherever there was a Roly Poly wheel there was sure to be alcohol being served nearby. This was after all the era of Hogarth’s Gin Lane, and the government was desperately trying to restrict anything that exacerbated public discord. The game was finally banned in 1739 – but no sooner had this been done a new and similar game sprung up. Evan and Odd (as it was called) featured a large spinning wheel like Roly Poly, along with a number of slots for a cast ball to land in. There were a total of forty black and white unnumbered slots, plus another two for the banker. A small difference of note was that the ball landing in one of the banker’s slots did not result in every player losing. Those participants who had bet on the same colour as where the banker’s slot lost, while no payouts were given on the winning colour. This minor change actually resulted in a slight advantage for the house.

A few years later, in 1745, Even and Odd crossed the Channel to France. Once there the black and white colours were switched to the red and black we know today, and the game was christened with a new name: “Roelete,” or small wheel in the vernacular. The changes introduced went deeper than the surface – French engineers developed a vastly improved spinning mechanism, which was actually inspired by a prototype of a perpetual motion machine designed by the great French mathematician Blaise Pascal, almost a century before.

Even though roulette was immediately loved by the French, and was incorporated into the vast array of games they had to satisfy their gambling pursuits, they were always looking for new and interesting diversions and amusements. Around this time in the south of France gamblers had discovered and Italian game called Biribi. This lottery type game was hugely popular in Genoa, and featured a large playing board bearing a grid with 36 numbers. The essence of the game was to predict which of the 36 balls would be drawn from a dealer’s pouch. Players would mark their prediction on their board.

Though Biribi and roulette seemed to have little in common – one featured a large spun wheel, the other a pouch from which the dealer would draw random numbers – this game from Genoa actually had a significant influence on Roulette. Some time around 1770 the slots on the wheel were restructured in the style of the Biribi board. There were now 36 numbers, just like in the Italian game – and also two slots for the banker, which were green and unnumbered.

Roulette has always been popular in France, both in its original form, and in its redesign in accordance with the Italian game, but it wasn’t until after the French revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, that its popularity really soared. With the abolition of the Monarchy, and the formation of the Republic anti gambling laws and restrictions were considerably relaxed. Roulette was suddenly everywhere! No town or city was complete without a number of casinos sporting the huge glittering wheels of chance. At the Palais Royale Roulette was seen as the primary form of amusement.

The game soon appeared all over Europe, featuring in casinos in Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium – and even as far away as Monte Carlo and Parts of Russia. Eventually the two bankers slots coalesced to one, though in America it remained unchanged in this feature.

Published on: 28/10/2013 © Bet Bind
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