Can you Beat the Roulette Wheel?

Is is actually possible to beat the roulette wheel? I mean, there's a house edge right? The casino always wins right? I have spoken to this professor of mathematics who tells me that it's impossible to beat the roulette wheel, right?

These are all statements we've heard over the years and like most short statements or headlines, they can become twisted if you take them out of context, so let's look at the various elements in play on the roulette table slowly and methodically.

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The House Edge
Does it exist? Yes.
Can you get rid of it? No.
Does that mean you will automatically lose. No.

The house edge is hard-coded into the rules of roulette and the design of the table and the wheel. It's no secret that, over the long-run and if you add up the results of many players, if the results on a particular wheel average out statistically- the house will be up. Call it a tax, or a business commission on transactions on the wheel (much like a broker might take a commission for placing a trade on the stock market), the casino charges players a % of their bet to run their businesses and make a profit.

They don't take this money directly off your bet, but rather rely on the fact that there is a gap between the probability of an event happening on the wheel and the amount they pay-out on that bet.

Let's look at a European Wheel, for example. Have a play around on one in our free roulette section. There are 37 pockets on the wheel, so the chance of you predicting a number coming up is 1 in 37. If you bet £1 on that number, you'll get £36 back if the ball drops into that number. The bet pays out 35:1 and you get your original bet back.

Now, if the house were to let you play on their tables for free, you'd get £37 back if you predicted the number correctly. But then who would pay for the cost of their roulette wheels, the croupier, the lighting or the cost of hosting the casino if you were playing online roulette and so on? On such a wheel, if you played for long enough, you'd end up breaking even. The casino would be bankrupt as they'd owe their staff and suppliers money with zero revenue, and that would be the end of that.

The gap is the difference between the pay out and the amount of numbers on the wheel- it's 1/37, or 2.7%. That's your casino house edge.

How Can I Get Rid of the House Edge?
You can't, and if you think about it, it's unrealistic to expect to. Without the casino edge, the casino wouldn't exist in the first place. Now, we can argue that the casino edge is too high- but then that's another argument. Why don't roulette wheels have 51 pockets on them including one zero, for example? Then they could pay out 49:1 on a winning number and the house edge would be less at 1.96%.

Actually, there is nothing stopping casinos launching this kind of product except for the fact that you would need to spend time and money educating players about the new game and its advantages. Roulette has a long history, and I suspect that new variations like this would struggle when competing with hundreds of years of history.

Does the House Edge Mean I Will Always Lose?
The short answer is no. The house edge is a handicap, that's for sure. It's like a commission being charged on every transaction. Let's say you were heading off on holiday to India and changed £1000 into rupees. The exchange rate that day was 81 rupees to the pound, so you go ahead and change your money. The cashier hands over 80,190 rupees, so you say- "Hang on. That should be 81,000 rupees". The cashier would probably reply- "Ah yes, but we have charged you 1% commission, which is 810 rupees".

Now when you get to India, there is a big crisis at work, so you get on the first plane back without spending any of your rupees. When you get to the airport, you're happy to see that the exchange rate is still 81 rupees to the pound, so you change it back. The cashier now gives you back £980, which is £990 less your 1% commission again.

You are £20 down for making 2 transactions. That's how the money exchanger makes a living. That money exchange could be the house edge (it'll often be a lot higher than 1% at the airport as there is a difference between the buy and sell price AND they might charge you a commision!), but you get the theory.

So What's The Point?
So does that mean you automatically lose? Well no, it's just a disadvantage- that's all- and one that is fixed and transparent. In the India example, if you had 2 hours to kill at the airport, and put some of your money into a slot machine and won, you may well come back with 85,000 rupees which would net you £1039 after commision.

The fact that the house takes a cut of every transaction, doesn't mean you will automatically lose, it just means that you have a headwind when you are playing roulette and trying to leave the table up. But it's a headwind that you should know all about, and one which you can manage.

Reducing the House Edge
Your Question should not be "How to I Get Rid of the House Edge?", but rather "How to I Minimise the House Edge?". You can reduce the house edge by game selection (play European rather than American roulette for example), or even bet selection (play even money bets on a French Wheel that play La Partage, for example). Some players have even famously reduced the house edge to a negative (ie the player has a edge) by spotting biased wheels and betting on hot zones. An interesting point here is that even if you had managed to identify a biased wheel, you can still lose on it if you make the wrong bets. It works the other way around- even if you had a permanent advantage or edge over the house, that is no guarantee of you winning, just like having a house edge is no guarantee of losing.

What is The Main Cause of Players Losing at Roulette?
Forget the House Edge- this isn't the danger when you play roulette. The house edge is constant, you can plan for it. No- the real thing that kills people in roulette is variance or volatility. If I know that reds and blacks are going to be distributed fairly evenly during a session, I can work with the house edge by using a progression to cover any losses.

But what happens when I see big swings in results, such as 19 blacks in a row (it's happened and will happen again). Now that's difficult! It's unpredictable and will blow any system out of the water.

What you need to work on is how to 
(1) Identify these runs of bad luck or unpredictability
(2) Sit them out or minimise their effects
(3) Quit early if you find yourself in this kind of scenario.  

That's the real danger in roulette and the one that you need to focus on overcoming.