For centuries now, roulette has been one of the most prominent games in real-world casinos. It has imparted a sense of glamour and sophistication, thanks to its popularity with the aristocracy of old and its ability to always draw a crowd to the table.
As online casinos have become more and more prevalent, though, roulette has gained a new resurgence in the digital realm. Join us as we explore the history of online roulette, how you can play it, and why online roulette is such an appealing game.
The History of Online Roulette
Roulette may have seemed like it was reserved for the rich and fabulous, but that all changed in the 1990s. Thanks to the power of the internet, so much of the world became more accessible to everyone, including gambling.
In 1996, the first online casino got its start, offering some digital slot machines and blackjack. A few years later, roulette came onto the digital scene and exploded in popularity.
As more Americans got home computers and dial-up internet started to be replaced with fiber-optic access, online gaming became a top activity for internet users. Software companies jumped at the opportunity to meet this new growing demand. Online casinos became a real thing, using random number generator technology to simulate the randomness of a real spinning wheel.
The country of Antigua and Barbuda really got the trend rolling in the 1990s when they passed their Free Trade & Processing Act. This granted licenses to businesses that were applying to open up casinos online, essentially spawning the entire online casino industry. Since then, software companies like Microgaming have created turnkey services for people who want to build their own online casinos without having to also build their own software from scratch.
Today, numerous countries have laws that are favorable to online gaming and online casinos, often allowing players from other countries to play on their servers.
How Roulette Works
Roulette is a great casino game for beginners because it’s so easy to learn and to play. The outcomes rely purely on chance rather than thinking about your next move.
In roulette, there’s a table with a spinning wheel and a design on it called the “layout.” On this layout, you have individual numbers organized into three columns, with some extra boxes to one side. Players use specially colored chips to place their bets on individual numbers or on propositions like “black” or “odd” across this layout.
Then, the dealer (or croupier, as roulette dealers are specifically called) throws a ball into that spinning wheel. You can still be wrapping up your bets while this gets underway.
Eventually, the dealer will say, “no more bets.” Then, you get to watch as the ball spins and bounces around the wheel and eventually settles into a pocket that’s beside a specific number. If that was your number, you’ve won! Collect your winnings from the dealer and keep on playing.
There are two different types of roulette wheels that you might come across, though, and it’s important to know the difference.
American Roulette Wheel
The American-style roulette wheel has 36 randomized numbers on it, alternating between red and black. It also has a 0 and a 00, which are both marked in green on the wheel to make them easy for everyone to see. The house gets its advantage from having both zeroes as extra numbers on the wheel.
French Roulette Wheel
Meanwhile, the French-style roulette wheel also has 36 randomized numbers in red and black. But, instead of having two zeroes, it has only a single green 0 pocket. The house gets its advantage here from that one zero.
Online Roulette House Edge
When playing roulette, it’s important to know the house edge, or the mathematical advantage that the casino has. It helps them make a profit and cover their expenses.
Because the American-style wheel has a different amount of numbers from the French-style wheel, the two types of roulette have vastly different house edges. Let’s get into those differences and how they are calculated.
Again, the American-style roulette wheel has 38 total numbers (1-36, plus that 0 and 00).
If there were no house edge at all, the payout for a winning bet would be 37-1 — where, if you bet one unit, you’d win 37 units. Or, to put it another way, if you lost 37 times and won once, the game would be even, and there would be no edge for the player or for the casino.
But casinos are businesses, and they need to make some profits to cover their costs. To make that profit, they pay back less than what the bet would be worth: at 35 rather than 37 (so the payout is actually 35-1).
We can calculate it this way. Since the casino is keeping two units out of 38, the math would be:
(2 ÷ 38) x 100 = 5.26% of all bets
How this translates into actual money: Essentially, for every $100 you bet, the house will end up earning $5.26. Going up against this 5.26% house edge means that winning it big at American-style roulette is going to be hard to do.
And then there’s the French-style wheel. Remember that it has 37 numbers (1-36, plus the single 0).
If it were a “fair” game with no house edge, the payout would be 36-1 — if you’d bet one unit, you’d win 36 units back. Instead, the casino pays back 35-1, just like you’d see in American roulette. But now, the odds are more favorable for you as a player.
Here’s the calculation. Since the casino is keeping one unit out of 37, the math would be:
(1 ÷ 37) x 100 = 2.7% of all bets
How this translates into actual money: For every $100 you wager, on average the house will end up earning $2.70. This makes for a much lower house edge, so plenty of players try to find French-style wheels to try their luck on.
How To Play Online Roulette
Online roulette has a rather different feel from roulette played live. Online, you’re almost always playing by yourself, so you get to control when the game starts. There’s no need to slow the game down by taking bets from multiple people.
You make all the bets you want, and then you hit the “spin” button. Once that electronic wheel starts spinning, your bets are locked in until the round ends.
Online roulette uses random number generating software to mimic the randomness of spinning a roulette wheel again and again. This means that the house doesn’t have an unfair advantage by choosing the same numbers repeatedly, but it also means that players also can’t cheat by finding patterns in the results.
You’re making an inside bet when you place your chips on a specific number or numbers. If you’re feeling really lucky, you can place all of your chips on one particular number, or you can spread your chips out across several numbers in a variety of ways to increase your odds. Inside bets do have higher payouts if you win, so this is where roulette can get especially thrilling. Here are all the types of inside bets you can make:
- The Straight Up: You bet on one or several numbers by placing your chip(s) on individual numbers, fully inside their numbered boxes. You can bet on any number, too, including 0 and 00. If one of your numbers wins, your payout is 35-1.
- Split Bet: You place your chip(s) on the layout so that it straddles the line between two numbers. If either of your numbers wins, your payout is 17-1.
- The Street Bet/Side Bet/Three Number Bet/The Trio: Even though this type of bet has lots of different names, all you’re doing is placing a bet on a whole row of three consecutive numbers. You make this wager by placing your chip(s) on the outside border of your chosen row. If you win this way, your payout is 11-1.
- The Corner/The Four Number Bet/The Square: With this type of wager, you’re betting on four numbers by placing your chip(s) on the intersection where four numbers meet on the layout. Here, your winning payout would be 8-1.
- The Five Number Bet: Also dubbed “The Monster” or “The Beast” because it’s such a beastly bet to be making — it’s honestly the worst bet you can make in roulette. (You can make this type of bet only on an American-style roulette wheel with the double zero, by the way.) Here, you place your chip(s) as a Line Bet on the first five numbers of the layout: 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. If you win, your payout is only 6-1. And, while the typical house edge on an American-style wheel would be 5.26%, for a Five Number Bet the house edge surges up to 7.89%. In the end, it’s really not worth the effort unless you like making wild bets.
- The Line Bet/Six Number Bet/Sixline Bet: Just like with the Street Bet above, you place your chip(s) on the outside border, but now you’re letting it straddle the horizontal line between two rows. That means you’re now wagering on two sets of three consecutive numbers. Your winning payout would be 5-1.
While inside bets have higher payouts, outside bets are more dependable for you to win at least a little something. With outside bets, you play by placing your chips on an entire grouping of numbers (called propositions) instead of any specific numbers. These types of bets are also better for those who are new to the game exactly because they’re more conservative wagers.
- Red or Black Bet: This is a good, simple kind of bet for newcomers to the game. Here, you’re betting that the winning number will be either red or black. This is an even-money bet, meaning that your winning payout would be 1-1 (in essence, that you keep your original bet and get an equal amount back in winnings).
- The Column Bet: This is when you wager that one of the three columns of numbers on the layout will have the winning number. The 0 and 00 don’t count as part of any column, though, so if the ball lands on one of them, you lose. If you win, your payout is 2-1.
- The Dozens Bet: Here, you’re betting that the winning number will be in the first 12 numbers on the layout (1-12), the second 12 (13-24), or the third 12 (25-36). You can bet on two of the dozens, but not all three. Your winning payout for this wager would be 2-1.
- The Odd or Even Bet: With this one, you’re betting that the winning number is either one of the 18 odd numbers on the wheel or one of the 18 even numbers. Neither the 0 nor 00 count as evens or odds on this bet, so if one of the zeroes comes up, the house wins. This is another even-money bet, meaning that your winning payout would be 1-1.
- High or Low Bet: You’re betting that the winning number will be among either the first 18 numbers on the layout (1-18) or among the last 18 numbers (19-36). If the 0 or 00 comes up, you lose. This is another even-money bet, so your winning payout would be 1-1.
If you’re playing French roulette, you may be able to play around with some special bets on even-money propositions. They give you the chance to win some or even all of your money back if the ball landed on 0, and they give you a better edge against the house.
- La Partage: If the ball lands on 0, any even-money bets get split in half, and half of your original bet gets returned to you right away.
- En Prison: Here, you don’t automatically lose an even-money bet when the ball lands on 0. Instead, your bet remains “in prison,” where you don’t lose the wager and it remains in play for the next spin. If your bet wins on that next spin, you get your original wager back. If the ball lands on 0 a second time, you still lose.
With both of these special bets, the house edge drops down to just 1.35%. So this makes it even more exciting if you find a French wheel for your online roulette.
Advantages of Online Roulette
Maybe you’ve played roulette at a brick-and-mortar casino before, or maybe you’re totally new to the game. No matter where you are in your roulette experience, online roulette has plenty of advantages.
Great for New Players
Because it’s a truly randomized game with no deep thought or calculations required to make the right move, it’s a perfect casino game for beginners. The most complex thing you’d need to learn as a new player is all the types of bets you can make and whether you’d like to try out a betting strategy.
Excellent for Practicing Strategies
Speaking of betting strategies, online roulette is a terrific setting to give them a spin, if you will. If you were playing at a physical table, you’d have to worry about scratching out your notes on a piece of paper while trying to make sure you’re still going at the pace of the other people at the table. With online roulette, you can go at your own pace while calculating your next Fibonacci bet or noting how many plays you have left in your Labouchère.
Variety of Styles
This is where you can try American roulette and its tougher house edge as well as French roulette and its more favorable house edge. Some online casinos offer multi-tabling for the more advanced players. With this option, you can play on multiple roulette wheels all at once (which you obviously wouldn’t be able to do in a real-world casino).
Are you a bit of a wallflower, and the idea of crowds makes you nauseated? Clearly that’s not an issue with online roulette. And while some people enjoy the process of getting dressed up for a night on the town, others are just fine with playing online games in their sweatpants on their couches. Online roulette is your time to shine, introverts.
Online Roulette Bonuses
Another major advantage to online casinos is when they offer bonuses. Think of it as an online version of the perks that high-rollers might get at a real-world casino, like comped drinks or an upgraded suite. These bonuses are a great way for you to explore the rest of the online casino’s game offerings without having to pay extra to try their slots.
Anyone who signs up at an online casino is eligible for bonuses and promotions. Do keep in mind that certain bonuses may be offered only to eligible players who deposit or wager particular amounts of money or have a VIP status — just like those high-rollers at physical casinos.
Different casinos have different minimum amounts you’d need to deposit to claim a bonus, so be sure to read their terms and conditions to see what the exact amounts are.
Here are some of the bonuses you might encounter in your online casino of choice:
- Welcome bonuses: Some of the bonuses you can get are deposit bonuses, which means that you get extra credits put into your casino account. A welcome bonus is a deposit bonus that you get straight away, as soon as you sign up. You’ll most likely get a 100% match bonus up to a certain amount, though some roulette-friendly casinos can offer 200% or 300% matches on your deposit.
- Free play bonuses: Instead of getting extra funds deposited into your casino account, you get free spins. This is pretty straightforward, but it’s a great way to keep a winning streak going in roulette.
- Roulette promotions: Numerous online casinos that feature roulette will offer game-specific promotions. You may be invited to play certain tables or different game versions. You might also get rewards for landing on the lucky number of the day. Online casinos that cater to roulette players tend to get pretty creative with their promotions, so keep an eye out.
Now, if you got a deposit bonus, you won’t be able to withdraw that promotional money right away. Most casinos have a turnover requirement, which is a particular amount of money you’d need to wager that’s equal to some multiple of your total bonus winnings. Often, it’s 10x or 15x. Again, be sure to read the terms and conditions of your online casino of choice for those details.
How To Find the Best Online Roulette Casino for You
While there are plenty of options when it comes to online casinos, you want to pick the one that’s right for your needs. Here are some of the top factors you should be looking for when choosing an online casino.
Look at the online casino’s array of roulette variants. At the bare minimum, look for a site that offers both American and French versions of the game so that you can experience the different styles of play. You should also look to see which sites offer free games in addition to real-money options. This way, you can spend some time practicing the game first without risking your money.
In addition, see which sites offer live dealer roulette in case you want to try a hybrid experience. Here, the casino has set up a webcam with a view of the table layout, the dealer, and the wheel. While these games might come with a higher minimum bet, they do offer players a more social atmosphere. They allow multiple players to bet on the same round, and they’ll also include a chat feature so you can communicate with the other players at the table.
Bonuses and Promotions
Look for solid deposit bonus offerings, and consider those that allow you to use those bonuses on roulette specifically. Also look for any loyalty or VIP programs.
Read up on the casino’s licensing, payout percentage, and safety measures. Basically, make sure that you’re sharing your money with a reputable casino.
Check to see if the casino works not just on desktop but also on mobile platforms. Plenty of people now like to game on their tablets or phones, and your casino of choice should work with that. Maybe they have a specific app for you to download and log in to, or they have an easily navigable mobile browser version of their site.
Look for a site with 24/7 customer service. This way, if you encounter an issue outside of “normal business hours” you can still get your problem solved. Another thing to look for is technical support available in multiple languages.
The Legalities of Online Roulette
The state of online gambling in the U.S. has been a bit complicated for a while. Lawmakers made several attempts over the years to ban online gambling and online casinos, but there is still no federal law that forbids gambling, in person or online. The only national regulation comes from the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits gambling from taking place across state lines. Mostly, this issue has been kept on the state level, with individual states making their own laws regarding gambling in all its forms.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was the closest the federal government has gotten to a full ban of online casinos, but even then the law itself doesn’t officially forbid the practice of gambling online. In essence, the UIGEA made it illegal for American-based websites to process payments for online gambling activities from people living within the U.S.
This was still a rather confusing law for a lot of companies, so many of the major online gambling sites simply stopped doing business with American customers for a long while just to be safe.
But in the end, the UIGEA doesn’t make the act of online gambling illegal; it’s just illegal to operate an online gambling website in the U.S. — with some exceptions, of course, as we’ll get into below.
Just know that, in the end, Americans don’t have to worry about doing anything illegal by simply playing roulette online.
Where You Can Find U.S.-Based Online Casinos
Due to regulations in the U.S., most states have banned online gambling within their borders. There is no federal law prohibiting U.S. citizens from gambling online, but you can’t bet across state lines. This makes it a little tricky when it comes to choosing your online casino, but depending on where you live, you still have several options.
These following states actually allow online gambling through establishments based within their borders:
New Jersey is currently the biggest market for regulated online gambling in the United States. With a statute passed in 2013, Atlantic City casinos could apply for internet gaming permits. As a result, New Jersey now has more online casinos than any other U.S. state, and nearly every major casino operator owns an online casino site based in New Jersey.
Pennsylvania is a more recent addition to the realm of online casinos, but this hasn’t stopped the state from now having the second-highest commercial casino revenues (beaten only by Nevada).
In 2017, the state legalized online gambling, and in 2019, two major online casinos debuted in Pennsylvania. The state once had some of the tightest restrictions on gambling in general, but lawmakers have eased up on these as they’ve seen how much revenue they’re no longer losing to neighboring states like New Jersey.
West Virginia has been slowly adding online gambling to its legal activities. The state first legalized online sports betting at the end of 2018. It wasn’t until the enactment of the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act that online casinos became a possibility. This opened the door to online casinos and online poker, which finally launched in mid-2020. The new law allowed the state’s five casinos to pursue developing casino and poker apps.
Michigan is also a state that only recently started allowing online gambling. In 2019, the governor signed legislation that legalized the online forms of sports betting, casinos, and poker. Michigan’s casino properties, which include 23 tribal casinos, can apply for licensing to offer online casino websites.
Delaware was actually the first state to legalize online gambling, back in 2012. The state’s three racinos — Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway — have online casino websites of their own.
Finding Online Casinos Based Overseas
While having only five states with legal online casinos may seem very limiting to U.S. residents, anyone who wants to try their hand at gambling online is still able to do so.
If you don’t live within one of these states that allows online casino operation, you can easily turn to an offshore option. There are plenty of online casinos based in other countries where you can create an account instead and not be breaking any laws.
Now, do keep in mind that some online casinos are based within jurisdictions that have stricter regulations than others. Some enforce rigorous controls over player safety and operator integrity, while others are thought of as “rubber-stamp” jurisdictions that simply offer a license to run any sort of business you want with a low tax rate.
Jurisdictions with some of the highest standards of regulation, licensee auditing, and player protection include:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Isle of Man
- New Jersey
- United Kingdom
If you see a casino that proclaims it’s licensed in one of these jurisdictions but they’ve given you reason to doubt that fact, check with the licensing authority. Licensing seals on a casino’s website should be clickable and bring up a page on that authority’s website displaying the details of that casinos’ license.
The jurisdictions that have the “rubber-stamp” approach should be used with some caution. They offer fewer to no protections to players if there is a dispute with the casino, and they offer less enforcement over their licenses. So just be aware of casinos based out of:
- Costa Rica
This doesn’t mean that you should automatically stay away from casinos based within these jurisdictions, but do your research first.
Online Roulette’s Continuing Popularity
Thanks to the rise of the internet, roulette has garnered a whole new audience that it never had before. Between playing at your own pace, the ability to try a new-to-you style of roulette, and the variety of special bonuses you can earn, why would anyone want to leave their house again to play roulette?
There’s a reason why roulette is continually in the top five most popular online casino games.