Every person you speak to, every book you open will give you a different version of where the game of roulette originated. The story of the history behind the game also varies with each country claiming to have been the origin of Roulette – despite the French name! So below we have a combination of all sorts of interesting anecdotes that make up the history of this exciting, captivating game. As Roulette is a game of chance, so its history is made up of many countries chancing their luck as the creator of the game.
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The first reference to a kind of Roulette can be traced right back to the Romans who devised many games played with a spinning wheel. A lot of these were based on their chariots and the famous chariot races they used to have as shown in the timeless movie “Ben Hur”. They used to spin a single chariot wheel to work out how to split the spoils after winning a war! The Chinese also feature in this historical tale, as they do in the beginnings of many inventions. Because Chinese years are depicted with animal symbols, Chinese Roulette had no numbers but pictures of animals representing different values which added up to 666. It was said that the game was brought to Europe through trading goods across the seas. In later years, the Dominican Monks replaced the animal symbols with numbers, thereby creating something closer to the Roulette wheel we have today.
After that, the next mention of Roulette shifts to Paris in the seventeenth century, where according to many people the ‘father of Roulette’, inventor Blaise Pascal lived. He spent most of his life thinking about a perpetual motion machine, and he did invent the hydraulic press and the hypodermic syringe, but there is no definitive mention of him inventing Roulette! When casino’s started to appear in Paris in 1796, we start to see a more refined type of Roulette developing. It was very close to the Roulette played today, only it featured both the single zero and the double zero. It had the numbers 1 to 36 painted in alternating red and black strips around a wheel. Later in 1843, the Blanc brothers, Louis and Francois changed the game and cut out the double zero. This offered a greater advantage to the player as well as better odds than the casinos using the wheel featuring both the single and double zeros.
During the 1800s Roulette gained in popularity. It went from being a new and unknown game to being written about as ‘the king of casino games’ in Parisian newspapers. But in the 1860s gambling was frowned upon by the elite class and was banned in many countries. The Blanc brothers got around this by moving their casino business to Monte Carlo which was the only European city where casino gambling was allowed. Around this time, the double zeros were dropped from the European version of Roulette. At the end of the eighteenth century French immigrants introduced Roulette to America. The game caught on very fast and people mastered the game in no time at all. Soon the casino operators dropped the single zero and kept only the double zero’s making it more difficult for people to win while giving the casino house a bigger slice of profits.
So it was that the double zeros dominated in America, while the single zero ruled in Monte Carlo, and spread to the rest of Europe. And this is the way the game has been played ever since. Nowadays every single gambling house in the world has as many Roulette tables as they can – and each of them is surrounded by groups of people hoping to make their fortune – faces filled with anticipation for the little white ball to land on their number. With the advent of movies, Roulette has quite a history in Hollywood. The famous line from Casablanca, “A kiss is just a kiss but Roulette is always special” will always be remembered – but not for its romantic implications! And in “Indecent Proposal” which premiered in 1993, the more sinister side of a gambling life is shown when a young couple loses everything while playing Roulette.
Over the years there have been gamblers who have made their mark on the history of Roulette. In 1873 there was Joseph Jagger (yes, rumored to be related to the famous Rolling Stone Mick Jagger) who managed to win $400 000,000. He claimed he made a careful study of what numbers came up when and then planned his move – and voila, he won. Another player known as “The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo”, Charles Wells, is supposed to have won two million francs after only two visits to the Monte Carlo casino. Legend has it that he returned to the casino a year later and lost every penny back to the casino, and died a poor unhappy man.