North American Roulette History

Today, an American roulette wheel features one slot for 0 and one for 00, while a French or European roulette wheel does not encompass a double zero. This has however not always been the case, and the double zero wheel was used in Europe until the single zero wheel was introduced in Germany and Monaco by François “The Magician of Monte Carlo” Blanc who wanted to find a way of attracting players from competing casinos.

When the game of roulette began to spread throughout the world in the 1800s, the roulette wheels that were imported to the Mississippi region where French double zero wheels. In the United States, gambling houses and river boats would experiment with the roulette wheel to make as much money as possible without scaring away customers, and a long row of different roulette wheels and tables were developed. In the Hoyle Gambling Book of 1886, we find a roulette wheel featuring numbers 1-28, a single zero, a double zero, and an American Eagle. The American Eagle, a symbol of the young nation’s freedom, was a house slot just like 0 and 00 and made the wheel more profitable for the owner. Only a few roulette wheels with the American Eagle have survived into our time and Eagle-wheels in good condition costs thousands of dollars to purchase at auctions.

The Mississippi River was instrumental in spreading the game of roulette throughout the United States. Roulette wheels where imported from Europe to New Orleans, a former French colony, and placed on the river boats where they provided passengers with something to do during long journeys. The Mississippi River runs through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and, of course, Mississippi, and forms the largest river system in North America. Before railways and highways became well developed, river boats where one of the most popular ways of transporting people and goods long distances. Roulette was far from the only game played on these boats. In Jonathan H. Greens book “An Exposure of the Arts and Miseries of Gambling” from 1843, we can for instance learn about how the game of poker was spread throughout the United States on these river boats in the 19th century.

In Europe, roulette was a game played by the upper classes in fancy casinos. In the United States, it was offered on riverboats, in saloons and in make-shift gambling dens. The style and playing layout were simplified in the U.S. to make the game easier to learn and play, and the practice of using call bets vanished. The American roulette tables favored accessibility and fast cash action. Also, roulette cheating was rampant in the U.S. with both gamblers and operators trying to con each other. This is why the roulette wheel was moved and placed on top of the table.