The Roulette Wheel vs the Computer

adam kucharskiThis might seem a crazy question, particularly if we are talking about online roulette, which is powered by a computer (unless you are playing live roulette over a webcam that is-try it on the Betfred live roulette tables- we´d recommend Prestige Roulette).

We know that a computer can beat a human at chess and at go, but can it beat the roulette wheel?

Well it might seem a crazy question to you , but there has been a whole book written about it by Adam Kucharski called “The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck out of Gambling”.

Adam Kucharski is a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, where he works on mathematical analysis of infectious disease outbreaks. His book is being published by Basic Books in 2016.

It´s a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in gambling. He covers sports bettors who build up systems based on form, bots playing humans at online poker and dealer signature in roulette. It´s a scientific look at the world's best known gambling strategies using mathematics, psychology, economics and physics to help explain some of the phenomena he comes across. There has always been a strong connection between gambling and science.

Looking at roulette in particular, Kucharski figures that you can beat roulette if you can collect vast amounts of data on the wheel- a job that is perfectly suited to computers.

Google’s AlphaGo recently beat South Korea's Lee Sedol 3-0 at Go. Surely it could handle the data coming off a simple roulette wheel?

We are talking about computers tracking ball trajectories and dealer signature of course. If you can analyse the exact actions of a roulette dealer and the analyse that data for any conscious (or unconscious) patterns, you may be able to identify hot zones on the wheel and thus gain an edge over the house. The wheel may also have imperfections. Big data crunching also allows you to identify hot zones that are caused by wheel imbalance, minor variations in pocket size and difference in friction, and so on.

Cynic will argue that it is practically impossible for a dealer to deliberately or accidentally target and pocket an area of the wheel.

Plus modern day casinos have been burnt in the past by characters such as Gonzalo Garcia Pelayo and the roulette clocking team who hit the Ritz in London. They are continuously improving their security procedures to root this kind of scam out. All casinos have strict guidelines for their dealers to follow when it comes to spinning the wheel and dealers are taught to speed up or slow down the wheel and ball delivery before each spin to make it difficult for people to clock the wheel.

As for wheels having a physical defect that ends up skewing the results- again this is possible, but the casinos are wise to it and it is not unusual for casinos to monitor the "randomness" of their wheels to ensure that there is no wheel bias. Good maintenance and timely replacement of wheel also helps in this regard.

So can a computer beat a roulette wheel? If we are talking a pure online video roulette wheel, then no- because another computer is busy making sure that the results are random.

But if we are talking about a real physical wheel, then the answer is yes. But you need to crunch a lot of data, and even then the bias might be so small as to give you a imperceptible edge that would make it impossible to get an edge over the house in any sort of meaningful time period.