The American-style roulette wheel contains the numbers I through 36 in red and black plus 0 and 00 in green. If you zeros did not exist, a player betting on red would have just as much chance of winning as the casino since half the numbers are red and half black. The same would hold true for anyone betting on odd or even, high or low. The reason the house makes a profit on all these wagers is that they all automatically lose whenever 0 or 00 comes up. It is also true that if the zeros were eliminated, there would be no house advantage on the inside bets, assuming the payoffs odds remained unchanged. For example, the 35 to 1 payoff on a single-number bet would reflect the player's actual chances of winning. On the column and dozen bets, the 2 to 1 payoff would accurately reflect the 24 to 12 odds the bettor faced. If the house eliminated the 0 and 00 from the wheel and maintained the same payoffs, it would be paying true odds. Only the five-number bet would still give the house an edge.
Many players have heard that the reason the house wins at roulette is the presence of the 0 and 00. Unfortunately, most of them don't really understand what that means. Some feel that by betting on 0 and 00, they are somehow betting with the house and have a better chance of winning. There are four different ways you can cover the 0 and 00: by making straight bets on them, by making a split bet on them, by making a three-number bet on 0, 00 and 2, or by making a five-number bet. None of these wagers offer any advantage over the other bets you cold make at roulette. For example, since there are thirty-eight possible outcomes on each spin of the wheel, the true odds on a split bet on 0 or 00 are 18 to 1. The casino pays only 17 to 1, which still gives them a 5.26 percent edge.
Sometimes a player making an even-money bet such as wagering on red will try to use the 0 and 00 split as an insurance bet. This is also futile. The player's losses on the split bet will whittle away at his profits when the zeros come up. Finally, his losses will cut into his profits when the zeros come up. Finally, his losses will be greater when black comes up since both bets will go down the drain. Every single wager at roulette has a negative expectation for the player, including those on 0 and 00. Any way you look at it, two negatives don't add up to a positive.
Many roulette players are under the misconception that the double-zero roulette wheel is an American innovation. Actually, the wheel used in this country is the original European wheel, complete with 0 and 00. In 1840, when gambling entrepreneur Francois Blanc opened a gambling casino at Hesse-Homburg in Germany, he realized that he would need some gimmick to attract players. He eliminated the 00 from the wheel in hopes of luring customers because of the better odds so created. Because the removal of the 00 resulted in two red numbers side by side, the order of the numbers was also changed. The ploy was so successful that eh single-zero wheel eventually became standard throughout Europe. This type of wheel has come to be known as the French wheel. Today, this style of wheel is used in virtually every casino in the world except those in the United States and the Caribbean.
Since the payoffs odds on the various bets are the same in Europe as in this country, use of a wheel with only thirty-seven slots rather than thirty-eight cuts the player's disadvantage almost in half. On a straight-up bet, the hose pays 35 to 1, while the true odds are 36 to 1. The player loses only one out of every thirty-seven dollars wagered instead of two out of every thirty-eight. That 1/37 edge means a house advantage of only 2.70 percent instead of the 5.26 percent you face in Las Vegas. The elimination of the 00 also means there is no five-number bet on the European layout. Since this is the worst bet in the game, European players are getting another break since even an ignorant player can't hurt himself by making this bet.
The overseas gambling houses give their bettors another break in addition to the single-zero wheel. When the ball lands on 0, those players betting on the even-money wagers (red/black, odd/even, 1-18/19-36) do not lose their bets, as they would in this country. Instead, they lose only half the wager. Alternatively, the bet may be held en prison (in prison) until the next spin of the wheel. The wager is moved by the dealer onto the outside line of the betting space to distinguish it from the new bets. If the bet should lose on this next spin, it is returned to the player. He does not receive a payoff on the bet, but he gets a reprieve from his loss.
Both of these variations have the same effect. The player betting on even-money wagers loses only half as much when 0 comes up. This has the effect of cutting the house edge-already lower than in the American game-in half. Instead of a 2.70 percent edge, the player making any of the three even-money bets faces only a very reasonable 1.35 percent house advantage. This practice was adopted by the Casino Control Commission in New Jersey when gambling was first legalized in Atlantic City. Bettors who lost on the even-money wagers were given a choice of either forfeiting half their bet when 0 or 00 came up or of leaving the bet in prison for the next roll. Experience showed that most players were just confused by the choice, so the procedure was later modified to entail an automatic loss of half the bet whenever either of the green numbers came up. Since mathematically both procedures have the same effect on the player's long-run profits, this modification did no harm.
The design of the European layout is also slightly different, but anyone familiar with the American version of the game should have no trouble interpreting it. In Europe, the croupiers use a rake, a long wooden stick with a crosspiece at the end, to drag in losing bets and push out winnings. (That's where we get the phrase "raking in the chips.") Inside bets as well as outside bets are paid off on the layout rather than in front of the winning player.
The European gambling casinos do not follow the practice of using special wheel chips and assigning a different color to each player, as is done in this country. Instead, all the players bet with standard casino chips. This can create confusion when there is a large profusion of bets on the layout. The problem is made worse by the fact that the game attracts many more players overseas. Confusion can easily arise as to who owns what winning bet. In such disputes, Americans are usually at a disadvantage due to the language barrier. In some European countries, the croupiers have a reputation for being notably unsympathetic to the claims of American players.