The earliest form of roulette dates back to 17th century France where Blaise Pascal, a mathematician and physicist, was trying to invent a perpetual motion machine. Pascal failed to invent such a machine, but he did invent the roulette wheel in the process.
The game of roulette borrowed elements from several other games that were popular in Europe at the time, such as Roly-Poly, Ace of Hearts, Hoca, Biribi, and Reiner. The name roulette – which means little wheel in French– was also borrowed from another game.
If we were to go back to the late 1700s we would find a game of roulette being played in Paris that we as modern roulette players would have no problem in identifying as roulette. A roulette game very similar to what is played today is for instance mentioned in Jaques Lablee’s novel “La Roulette, ou le Jour”. Another early reference to roulette is from 1758 when a law in New France (Quebec) banned the games of “dice, hoca, faro, and roulette”.
The roulette wheels used in France during the late 1700s had both a single and a double zero, just like the American roulette wheels of today. The color of the single zero was red while the color of the double zero was black. It would take until the 1800s before zeros became green.
In 1843, two Frenchmen named François and Louis Blanc introduced a new type of roulette wheel with no double zero, just a single zero. François “The Magician of Monte Carlo” Blanc was a casino entrepreneur who, among other things, would go on to the become the operator of the legendary Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco. The debut of the single zero wheel did however not take place in France or Monaco but in Homburg, a German town with a popular spa. The single zero wheel made it easier for the Blancs to compete with other casinos, since it would offer a lower house edge. According to legend, François Blanc made a deal with the devil to obtain the secrets of roulette. The sum of all the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666 – The Number of the Beast.
In the 1860s, gambling was outlawed in Germany and the Blanc family moved to Monaco where casinos where still legal. At Monte Carlo, they developed what would become a gambling mecca for rich and famous Europeans. The single zero roulette wheel was one of the main attractions, and from Monte Carlo its popularity spread throughout the world.