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History & Origins of Roulette

While Roulette takes its name from the French word meaning ‘little wheel’, the origins and when it was invented is  still debated today.

The earliest record of people playing roulette, as we now know it, came in the 18th century, through Jaques Lablee’s novel La Roulette, ou le Jour, which describes a roulette wheel being spun at the Palais Royal in Paris.

The wheel itself is believed to be a fusion of English wheel games, with Georgian-era favourites including Roly-Poly, Reiner, Ace of Hearts and Even-Odd among those cited as influences.

Since then, roulette and roulette rules have developed, leading to two distinct variations being born – American-style roulette and French roulette.

While the French game – using a single ‘zero’ pocket – evolved on the Riviera, the American version – utilising a double ‘zero’ and a simplified betting layout – developed along the Mississippi in gambling dens and early casinos.

At the turn of the 20th century, these two variations became synonymous with the environments that nurtured them. The French game echoed sentiments of style and leisure – commonly associated with Monte Carlo, while its American cousin became known for ease of play and quick cash.

And it’s these two variations that remain today, with the United States, Canada, South America and the Caribbean favouring the American style, and French roulette operating elsewhere.

Since the millennium, the evolution of roulette has continued, with California Roulette, a variation that uses cards on a wheel in lieu of pockets, being legalised in 2004. The wheel also contains 38 cards – numbering 1 to 36, plus zero and double zero.

Roulette has remained one of the most iconic online casino games around and one that has become as synonymous with the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo as it has with the growing world of online gaming. From the red and black of the wheel to the little ball hopping between the 37 pockets, it’s mesmerised generations for over 200 years.

Roulette in Popular Culture

Roulette remains very much at the forefront of casino game culture in Europe, with the game still closely associated with the lustre of Monte Carlo. The continued development of online casinos has seen online roulette establish itself in the modern era. And while the nature of this individual game may not exude the drama of a poker duel or the cold calculation of a hand of blackjack, it remains an iconic casino game that still holds a strong place in television, film and literature.

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Films and TV Shows That Feature Roulette

One of the beauties of roulette is its accessibility, with the basic rules of roulette incredibly simple to understand for players of all abilities.

The simplistic nature of the game can be boiled down to an all or nothing red or black scenario. This element of straight, easy to understand chance, means that references to roulette in film and television are usually fleeting, as the build-up of tension tends to reach its climax fairly quickly.

As such, its use in more contemporary movies such as Toy Story 3 – a scene where the toys at Sunnyside use a ‘See ‘n Say’ as a roulette wheel while discussing the new arrivals – and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – a scene where the penguins allow all of their money to ride on black – are brief.

Perhaps the most famous cameo of a roulette wheel is in the celebrated 1942 film Casablanca, in which Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, takes pity on a young couple by telling them to bet on 22. After winning, he tells them to let it all ride and, after winning a second time, Rick tells them to cash in their winnings and never come back.

Arguably the best use of roulette for dramatic effect can be found in the Academy Award-winning German film Run Lola Run (1998). In the third act, the film’s protagonist, Lola (played by Franka Potente), puts all of her money on 20 in a desperate bid to raise enough funds to save her boyfriend. After it wins, she repeats the bet, earning 129,600 marks.

Literature That References Roulette

Following Jaques Lablee’s 1796 novel La Roulette, ou le Jour, roulette has made brief cameos in popular literature.

One of the most famous is in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953). Although his exposure to roulette in both film and book is limited – with the protagonist showing more of a penchant for baccarat and poker – Fleming’s iconic James Bond character is described as playing roulette during his first outing as 007.

While it didn’t transition onto the silver screen production with Daniel Craig, in the original version, Bond visits the roulette table prior to his climactic baccarat duel against Le Chiffre.

In the book, Fleming describes Bond as using a system of progression betting on the even chances (likely red or black, odd or even numbers, high or low numbers), that leads him to a successful return.

Indeed, this mere mention of the game spawned one of the most well-known roulette strategies, commonly referred to as the ‘James Bond’ strategy – the effectiveness of which is frequently questioned.

While Fleming doesn’t detail the roulette strategy in Casino Royale, he does divulge ‘Bond’s secret’ in a travelogue called Thrilling Cities, describing it as “the only way of gambling with a capital of £10”. The method Bond supposedly uses relates closely to the ‘Labouchère system’.

Largely though, the bulk of literature themed around roulette tends to focus on strategic approaches. Following the rapid rise of land-based casinos since the 1970s, there have been dozens of books written on ways to help players win.

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