Roulette, the ‘little wheel’ turned global phenomenon

Roulette is a popular game, a staple in every casino throughout the world, a game with an aura of glamour and class. This perception is perhaps afforded by numerous cultural references in films such as the Bond franchise. After all, James Bond had his very own Roulette strategy as described in a book by Ian Flemming. But there are many other things most of us do not know about this popular game.

james bond playing roulette

Thai food and Indian cuisine are both equally brilliant, but put them together and you get something sublime! And as such, like many great inventions, roulette was not likely to have been a brand new idea in its entirety, but more a coming together, or a ‘fusion’ of many different inventions.

It seems likely that roulette is the love child of a plethora of different games, including Roly-Poly, Ace of Hearts, E.O. and Reiner, all from the family of English wheel games. Aspects seem to have been plucked from each of these games and thrown in the mix with features from the Italian board games Hoca and Biribi, and finally married together with an already existing French board game, called, Roulette!

So it would seem that roulette, a French word defined as ‘little wheel’, has a rich ancestry from very European roots and was conceived sometime during the 17th century. Behind the amalgamation mentioned above, is Blaise Pascal, the creation of this very first, primitive form of roulette is thought to have been little more than a by-product of Pascal’s quest to discover a perpetual motion machine.

The game has been enjoyed for centuries with the earliest known reference been in Paris, in 1796. The game is described in great detail in a book written by Jaques Lablee, published in 1801. Lablee described the game as having ‘exactly two slots reserved for the bank, whence it derives its sole mathematical advantage’.

The only earlier cultural reference that recounts the existence of a game called roulette was in 1758, a book of law for the New France settlement in Quebec, which outlawed a number of games including roulette and its sibling ‘hoca’. Unfortunately, we cannot confirm whether this early mention refers to the game, as we know it today and as it was indeed known in 1796.

The popularity of the game increased slowly over the 18th and 19th century and even during the earlier parts of the 20th century. A casino in Monaco and one in Vegas were the only establishments known to offer the game in the early years of the 20th century. It was not until during the 1970’s that the popularity of the game exploded.

The rise in popularity can largely be attributed to the rapid rise in the number of casinos that popped up across the globe. Nowadays it is thought that there are thousands of casinos around the world offering variations of roulette.

In the 1990’s to 2000’s roulette took the leap from the casino floors to the virtual surroundings of online casinos and even to betting shops and bingo halls as an ‘onscreen’ gaming experience. Even some online bingo sites, like Rocket Bingo or Mecca Bingo offer roulette alongside their bingo games.

As a result of interactive television roulette now has a home on certain TV channels, where the audience is invited to swap their role from mere viewers to fully fledged game players.

The most recent event in roulettes long spanning story is the games rise to popularity on mobile devices. We now see roulette is enjoyed on mobile devices and it has even been suggested the game may find a new home on a high tech wrist watch by Apple. What will come after this? Place your bets!