Roulette is one of the most popular casino games in the world, enjoyed by players from Monte Carlo to Las Vegas. Not only does it have the dynamic excitement of the spinning wheel and a genuine randomness to its outcomes, it also has a style and sophistication that adds a certain glamour to the game that a hand of cards just doesn’t have.

But where does roulette come from, and how did it develop into the game we know and love today?

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There are several competing theories about the origins of roulette, the most popular of which credits the most unlikely of sources.

Rather than being invented by a profit hungry casino owner, many sources say roulette was invented almost by accident by French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, while trying to create a perpetual motion machine.

It turned out that his smooth spinning, almost friction free wheel was perfect for the game, and quickly replaced early versions where numbers were drawn from a bag.

It is said that Pascal worked with another famous scientist, Pierre de Fermat (of Fermat’s theorem fame), on the probability of different outcomes and the odds that should be paid.

Pascal’s work took place in the middle of the 17th century, and by the mid-18th century, roulette was appearing in casinos across Europe.

A similar game was mentioned by Casanova in 1763, under the name of Biribi, and Even-Odd, a game with 40 compartments labeled simply even or odd, was popular in England around the same time, until it was banned in 1782.

The French origin seems plausible not only for the name – roulette translates as little wheel - but also the names of the bets. Passe, which is used to represent numbers 19-36, translates as the ball having ‘passed’ the midpoint, while manqué, which is used to represent numbers 1-18, translates as the ball having ‘failed’ to reach the midpoint.

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Roulette’s big break came in 1863, when Francois Blanc took over the gaming license for Monte Carlo, and added the first zero, giving the bank a 2.7% house edge. This earned the blessing of Monaco’s king, Charles III, who needed the income from the casinos to prop up the kingdom’s finances.

Urban myth has it that Blanc sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the secrets of the roulette wheel, and that therefore the numbers 1 to 36 add up to the number of the beast from Revelation – 666.

It is, however, more likely that the layout of the board just fits neatly into a 9x4 arrangement, and that the sum of the numbers is merely coincidence.

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Another misconception is that greedy American casino owners added the double zero, increasing the house edge to 5.26%. However, double zero wheels were common across Europe from as early as 1800, and these wheels were simply exported to the New World.

At one time, zero and double zero were colored and ranked for winnings. So zero was red, even and ‘manque’, while double zero was black, odd and passe.

Winning bets were not paid out but ‘imprisoned’ until the next spin, where if they won, the stake was simply returned without profit. These days, the zero and double zero are green and are simply losing bets.

Whatever the origins, the roulette wheel remains one of the most popular casino games, as well as one of the most glamorous.