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The game of roulette, French for “little wheel,” changed drastically when it hit America in the 18th and 19th centuries. Call it greed or good old American ingenuity, American casinos and gaming properties figured out a way to alter the rules and the wheel itself just a little and make roulette much more profitable for the house.
American roulette vs. European roulette is not really a debate; it is clear which is better for the gambler and which is better for the casino. Here’s a breakdown of the standard American roulette game compared to the standard European game.
Roulette Wheels American vs. Euro
The most obvious difference between American and European roulette games is the spinning wheel itself. European roulette refers to a version of the game with a wheel containing the numbers 0-36. The American version of roulette adds a 00 space, raising the number of possible winning numbers from 37 to 38. The inclusion of that one extra wagering space has the biggest impact on the odds of roulette. In European roulette (without an ‘en prison’ rule), all bets give the house a 2.7% edge. In American roulette, every bet but one gives the house an edge of 5.26%, nearly double the edge of the standard European wheel.
Roulette Rules American vs. Euro
But the difference between the two games doesn’t stop at the numbered wheel itself. There’s a rule in some European roulette games called ‘en prison’ that pushes the house edge even further towards 0. When you play by ‘en prison’ rules in European roulette, losses on even-money bets due to the zero space coming up a winner aren’t immediately lost. Instead, they remain on the board (in prison, get it?) for another spin. If the bet wins, you get your initial wager back but not any additional money for the win. If you lose the best, you lose the wager. Should the zero space come up a winner again, your bet remains in prison.
The ‘en prison’ rule in effect at some European roulette games changes the overall house edge on even-money bets to just 1.35%, making it one of the more attractive wagers among all table games in Europe.
Some American roulette games offer a rule similar to ‘en prison,’ called the Surrender rule. Typically, you’ll find the Surrender rule in effect in casinos in Atlantic City, though Surrender roulette is available elsewhere in the country too. The Surrender rule applies to even-money bets that lose due to the ball landing in either the 0 or 00 space, just like the ‘en prison’ rule. The difference is that the American Surrender rule means you get half your even-money wager back if a 0 or 00 comes up a winner. American roulette games with a Surrender rule offer even-money bets with a smaller house edge of 2.63%.
Roulette Chips American vs. Euro
There’s a tradition in American roulette games involving chips that you won’t find in European casinos. In American roulette games, even those with single zero European style wheels, each player has their own color of chips, to help differentiate the bets. This is because American roulette games employ a single croupier who must keep track of who bet what, rake in casino winnings, and pay out gambler wins all at the same time. The differently-colored chips help the croupier and players remember who bet on what spot. At the end of a roulette session in America, you trade in these chips just like you would other gaming chips.
In European roulette games, there are usually two croupiers at work. European roulette games use the same chips used elsewhere in the casino, and the games depend on the croupier’s memories to determine who placed what bet on which space.
This difference in chips is a perfect example of how the culture of roulette is different from America to Europe. American casinos prize speed over luxury, employing a single croupier and using different colors of chips to speed up the payout process for wins. In Europe, the game of roulette is a sophisticated game that moves at a slower pace, employs two casino workers per table, and takes a little longer to determine who earned what payout.
Roulette Strategy American vs. Euro
Roulette is a negative expectation game, so there’s no such thing as roulette strategy. However, you can use your head when it comes to selecting the roulette game you want to play and avoid the less advantageous American wheels and odds.
The best strategy for winning a little more and losing a little less at roulette is to avoid American style roulette games completely. Some Las Vegas casinos and every Atlantic City casino has at least one European style game, either with a single zero wheel, ‘en prison’ or Surrender rules, or both. If you do your homework before your next trip to Vegas or Atlantic City, you can find these more advantageous games before you hit the casino, saving you time walking around looking for that single zero wheel.
Make no mistake: you still stand to lose at European single zero roulette wheels, even those with ‘en prison’ rules in place. The difference is that you’re likely to lose a little less at single zero wheels than double zero wheels. Losses at European wheels are statistically about 1/4th the expected losses at double zero American style roulette games.
It is easy to see why roulette is a more popular game in European casinos than in American gambling spots. The European version of the game is simply more player-friendly. Even though the casino will always profit from roulette, since it involves negative odds for the gambler, European casinos offer their customers better odds, and players respond by playing more roulette. In American casinos where single zero games are offered, there is no reason to play a double zero wheel, unless the single zero European style game is overcrowded.