The appeal of roulette is long-standing and persistent: despite what you rationally know about the game, that the odds are not in your favour, that the house will always have an edge in the long run, and that your lucky numbers are just that – pure luck -, you keep going back to the table. Of course, this is partly because roulette is – despite its risk, or indeed for some because of it – extremely fun.
However, this is not the only thing that keeps players coming back to roulette: a lot of it has to do with the physical elements of the game itself, and the way that they combine to provide a thrilling, almost hypnotic experience. So what are the secrets of the roulette ball? What can the ball and the wheel, which combine to create such an addictive experience, tell us about the game?
When discussing roulette strategies, the main tip of the roulette ball which will be constantly repeated is that your odds of landing on a number are always the same, and always completely random. This is important to remember, especially when strategies and guides are claiming to offer a foolproof, guaranteed solution to winning at roulette. Nothing is guaranteed, that is the very essence of the game and of gambling itself. Similarly, it is always important to keep gambler’s fallacy in mind, and remember that the odds of a number happening are completely independent from spin to spin. These are often touted as absolute facts, however there is a catch.
Yes, the spins are random and no, there is not a guaranteed way of knowing what number the ball is going to land on. However, external, physical factors invariably affect the game in almost imperceptible ways: wear and tear on the roulette wheel, bad habits by the spinner, and even the design and materials used are all factors. Players who try to identify these factors are trying to find bias, or the natural physical tendency of a given wheel to land on certain numbers.
Picture a roulette wheel. You have 36 numbers, and either one or two zero slots, depending on whether it is an American or European wheel. The numbers alternate between red and black, however they are not positioned in any sort of logical order. The order is also completely different for each type. Have you ever wondered why that is?
Simply put, this is done to confuse you. If the numbers were listed in numerical order around the circle, you would not only have a much better idea of where a ball is going to land during a spin, but you would be able to pick up patterns across several rounds. It would make it a lot easier for players to identify any bias, and to bet in specific sectors of the wheel. The non-consecutive order of the numbers means that most players will not really have the layout of the wheel memorised, and could not gain any advantage from it. You will find that many more experienced players have committed the number order to memory for this exact reason, whilst others have played so much that the layout has simply become second nature to them.
As you are beginning to see, there is an extensive amount of thought on the part of roulette manufacturers and casinos to make sure that you are at a disadvantage when you step to the table.
One of the main things to look out for is the design of the wheel. Pay close attention to the frets, the small pieces of metal separating the pockets. Knowing your frets is one of the main tips of the roulette ball, as these are often designed in order to reduce ball predictability. A few examples include low frets and scalloped frets (which curve downwards), which make it easier for the ball to move to an adjacent number at the last minute. Some wheels even have triangular pockets, which also help deflect the ball away.
However, it is not all about the wheel: the ball itself is important. One of the best-kept secrets of the roulette ball is that its material is carefully considered in order to achieve the ideal level of liveliness, i.e: the extent to which it will easily settle in one pocket or continue to bounce around. Roulette balls used to be made of ivory, but are nowadays made of lighter, synthetic materials that improve its liveliness. However, a balance needs to be achieved: made the ball too lively and it might bounce off the table, slowing the game down and embarrassing the casino.
So far we’ve looked at the physical elements of the game: the ball and the wheel. However, there is a third element which is often forgotten, one which is essentially in control of the whole game: the spinner. One of the main tips of the roulette ball is to not look at the ball at all, but instead pay attention to the person spinning it.
Casinos regularly switch roulette staff around and train them to consciously change their actions, as spinning the wheel in the same direction with the same force will invariably lead to some similarity in the spins. One way to spot bias is to keep an eye on what the spinner is doing, and whether their spins tend to land more or less in the same area of the wheel. However, before you start obsessively looking at your croupier’s arm movements, it is important to realise that…
Yes, unfortunately, despite knowing all the secrets of the roulette ball and wheel, most players will not be able to identify bias in any significant way. These biases we’ve discussed are insignificant in the context of a single spin. It is not likely to be visible to a player, much less an untrained one, and is usually only identified using specialised softwares who can track outcomes in the thousands: casinos have access to these softwares, and ban players from using them.
Remember that casinos have a huge number of resources at their disposal to make sure their wheels are not biased, and that players are not taking advantage of any biases they do spot. As with most things in the casino, they have the edge – that is, after all, what makes it so fun when you beat them. For that reason, one of the main tips of the roulette ball is a simple one: enjoy the game for the risk that it is, manage your money, and gamble wisely.