‘Roulette’ is the French word for ‘caster’ or, in other words, a small wheel. Given the French name, it should really come as no surprise that conventional wisdom dictates that roulette was created by French mathematician Blaise Pascal, in 1655, during his investigations into hypothetical perpetual motion. Pascal was an inveterate gambler – in fact, the previous year he and Pierre de Fermat had invented probability theory to solve a gambling problem – so was familiar with two popular contemporary games, known as ‘Roly Poly’ and ‘Even/Odd’, which had many similarities to modern roulette.
Roulette became popular in French casinos, as it did in the gambling houses opened by Prince Charles of Monaco, in the late eighteenth century. By that stage, the roulette wheel had evolved into a recognisable form, with 36 numbers, coloured red or black, but with both a single zero and double zero. The next stage in the evolution of the roulette wheel came in the middle of the nineteenth century, when it was overhauled by two French brothers, Louis and Francois Blanc. The Blanc brothers removed the double zero pocket, thereby creating what is traditionally known as the French, or European, roulette table. The single-zero version offers a house edge of just 2.7%, compared with 5.26% for the double-zero wheel – which is still used in modern casinos, to play so-called American roulette – and was created to compete with other casinos of the time on that basis.