Every day gamblers up and down the country are having a bad run playing roulette and googling whether or not it’s rigged. Well, the answer is easy. It is. But not in the way you think.
And, yes, this is going to be one of those ‘you can’t escape the edge’ type pieces.
Regular readers will know that this blog is all about gaining an edge. Whether that’s playing poker with fishes, card counting at blackjack or eeking out value from weak lines at a sportsbook.
Many games can be beaten. But roulette is not one of those games. Play for long enough and you will lose. End of story.
Every Bet at Roulette is a Bad Bet
I’ve played poker in casinos around the world and there is a common theme. Players are gamblers. Even the big names have been known to win a massive tournament or crush a cash game only to lose the lot at the craps or roulette table on their way back to their hotel room.
To me this has always seemed strange. How can players who site for hours calculating odds to ensure they only make +EV bets then go and dump the lot on a heavily -EV bet?
Considering this blogs audience I’m going to assume that you have some knowledge of expected value. But for strays who have wandered in through search, here’s a quick run down:
The Coin Toss
A boring example, but it’s a simple one. A coin toss has a 50-50 chance of coming up either way. So if you win $5 when it comes up heads and lose $5 when it comes up tails then your expected gain or loss is zero. That means that if you played an infinite number of tosses, you’d end up dead even.
But now lets say that if you win, you win $4 but it costs you $5 to play. Now you’re losing – theoretically at least – $0.50 every time you make a bet (note: it’s $0.50 not $1 as you only lose half the time, see below for an example of this).
In the short term you might win. Even five or ten heads in a row isn’t that unlikely, meaning you could be up $20 or $40. But keep playing and the numbers will catch up with you.
Now lets say you do 1,000 coin tosses. And let’s also assume that the 50-50 plays out perfectly. That means you would have won 500 times and lost 500 times:
- Wins = 500 x $4 = $2,000
- Losses = 500 x $5 = $2,500
- Net Gain / Loss = -$500
So you’ve just lost $500. Nice going, chump,
To make a profit in the long term you need to be on the right side of the expect value. So in the coin toss example you’re losing money. However, if you received $6 for each winning toss and paid $5 for a loss then the opposite would be true. The longer you play the more likely you are to make money:
- Wins = 500 x $6 = $3,000
- Losses = 500 x $5 = $2,500
- Net Gain / Loss = +$500
This is the general premise for every bet I make.
What About Roulette?
All casino games have a house edge built in, that’s where the casinos make their money and it’s based on the same idea as the coin toss paying less than you’d expect if you were receiving the ‘true’ odds.
To gain an edge against the casino you need to find a way to shift the odds in your favor. Card counting is a great example of this. Normally blackjack has an edge of around 1% in the houses favor, varying based on the specific rules used. By counting cards you can cut this edge down and even turn the tables so that it becomes 1% in your favor.
There are other games you can do this with as well. Video poker can be beaten if the jackpot is high enough and bonuses can be manipulated to work in your favor. Plus every now and again a new game pops up where the casinos haven’t thought the math through as well as they thought they had and players are able to take advantage (although these games often doesn’t last long).
Roulette, on the other hand, is unbeatable. It’s been around for centuries and the math is well known. Without cheating or rigging the wheel, it’s not possible to gain an edge. End of story.
So from a purely mathematical perspective, roulette is rigged to be in favor of the house. Now I’m not having a go, casinos to need to make money to stay solvent and we need the casinos around to make money. But you need to be aware that when you play roulette you’re playing a losing game.
If you enjoy playing and happy to pay the fee in lost value to the mathematical gods then by all means go nuts. Just don’t every thing you can beat it.
But I Have a System…
No you don’t.
There never has been and never will be a system that beats a fair roulette wheel 100% of the time. If you’ve ‘invented a system’ and you’re winning, chances are you’ve just not played enough. In fact, if your system is up, stop right now and cash out your winnings and never play again. Because eventually it will fail.
Don’t believe me? Let me guess. Does your system involve doubling up after a loss? Yep. Everyone knows about that and no, it doesn’t work. That’s why casinos are still in business and gamblers still lose money on the daily.
Is Online Roulette Fair?
This is a totally different question. The game itself, thanks to math, is rigged in favor of the house. But are the numbers you see online an accurate representation of the real world?
For legit casinos, the answer is yes. In fact they go to great lengths to prove this with third party auditors and dedicated external software development companies to make sure that the game does represent the true odds.
After all, the game is already rigged in their favor so the last thing they need is their players (and turnover) to vanish because they’ve been trying to speed things up in the short term.
Unfortunately you will get dodgy casinos from time to time. Normally the ones that promise the world and are looking to make a quick buck and run – these are the Carnies of the online gambling world and you should stay very far away. If you must play roulette, then stick to casinos that use well recognized software such as Microgaming, Playtech, Net Ent, RTG and so on.