Roulette: Table, Wheel and Ball

Roulette is an experience unto itself. The smooth spin of the wheel, the ratcheting click of the ball bouncing and settling, and the thrill of trying to squeeze in that last bet before the croupier calls ‘no more’.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the components that make up the roulette game: the table, the wheel and the ball.

Roulette in a nutshell

In brief, roulette is a casino game played like this:

  • Players select a bet from individual numbers, groupings of numbers, or outside bets like colours and odds/evens.
  • The croupier spins a wheel of numbered and coloured slots and releases a small ball, spinning in the opposite direction.
  • When the ball comes to a rest in one of the slots, bets on that number win

For a detailed explanation on the game, visit our guide to Roulette page.

The game itself traditionally comprises three physical components:

  • Table
  • Wheel
  • Ball

Increasingly commonly, however, casinos are replacing the wheel and ball with electronic screens linked to random number generators (RNGs).

The Roulette table

Roulette comes in three basic varieties: American, European and French. These three variations each have their own unique table and wheel layout; the differences are minimal yet important.

American roulette table

American roulette tables have one more betting field than European or French tables. This field is the double zero, which doesn’t feature at all in other versions. This extra field does have a slight impact on the return to player (RTP), as it gives the house an edge.

The American style table, when it appears in European casinos, also has a ‘race track’ added to the layout that allows players to place called bets. You as the player cannot place the bet here yourself. You call it out, and the croupier places the bet.

The dimensions of an American table are 2.9m x 1.7m and it is staffed by one croupier. Players sit along the L of the table opposite the dealer. The outside bets are laid out on one side of the numbered grid.

French roulette table

French tables have a slightly different layout than the others, and all table instructions and bet areas are labelled in French. This, however, makes no difference to the outcomes or RTP of the game.

The table’s dimensions are usually 3.3m x 1.8m and it is staffed by two croupiers. Players sit along the long sides of the table.

Table layouts

Due to the differences in size of these tables, the betting layouts also differ. The most noteworthy differences are the placement of outside bets and call bets.

Roulette Table Wheel and Ball

The Roulette wheel

In 1655, the French physicist, inventor, and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, was trying to invent a perpetual motion machine when he inadvertently came up with the roulette wheel. Early roulette tables coloured the zero and double zero red and black, respectively, but these were later changed to green to avoid confusion.

The single-zero wheel and table were only introduced in 1843, in the German spa casino town of Bad Homburg. Another two Frenchmen, François and Louis Blanc, introduced this style of wheel to compete with casinos that had double the house edge. Following the German abolishment of gambling in the 1860s, the Blanc family relocated to Monaco, where the single zero roulette wheel would take off and become the dominant version, except in America.

It was here that the single zero roulette wheel became the premier game, and, over the years, it was exported around the world, except in the United States where the double zero wheel remained dominant.

French and European wheels

The primary difference between the French/European wheels and the American is the absence of the 00. Besides this difference, the treatment is very similar.  The numbers do not appear in sequential order; rather they are distributed to ensure an even spread of red and black, and mixing high and low numbers together. There are 37 pockets on a French roulette wheel and the anti-clockwise progression of numbers is 0, 32, 15, 19, 4, 21, 2, 25, 17, 34, 6, 27, 13, 36, 11, 30, 8, 23, 10, 5, 24, 16, 33, 1, 20, 14, 31, 9, 22, 18, 29, 7, 28, 12, 35, 3, 26.

American wheel

American roulette wheels have 38 pockets to accommodate the 00. Zero and double zero appear directly opposite each other. The anticlockwise progression of numbers on an American roulette wheel is 0, 2, 14, 35, 23, 4, 16, 33, 21, 6, 18, 31, 19, 8, 12, 29, 25, 10, 27, 00, 1, 13, 36, 24, 3, 15, 34, 22, 5, 17, 32, 20, 7, 11, 30, 26, 9, 28.

Electronic wheels

Electronic wheels are gaining increasing popularity, as they cannot be manipulated to spin faster or slower and have no table bias. They are run by an RNG, and cannot be influenced by the player or croupier.

The Roulette ball

The little white ball that causes so much hysteria is also referred to as a pill. Originally, these were made of ivory, but obviously that’s no longer the case. Roulette balls are currently made out of various polymers designed to mimic the weight, density and action of an ivory ball.

The livelier a ball (in other words, how bouncy it is), the more unpredictable the ball is. It takes longer to come to rest, and can occasionally bounce right out of the wheel if not handled with due care, adding to the melodrama of the game.

Ball switching

This isn’t something that happens only in tennis. Sometimes, a ball needs to be switched out when a croupier feels it is necessary. They usually have a few balls at their disposal, which can vary in weight and liveliness. Often, if a particular player hits a winning streak, they may swop out the balls to ‘cool’ the table.

Aiming the ball

There are some croupiers who swear high and low that it is impossible to aim the ball; then there are others who insist it is not only possible but a valuable skill for a croupier to have. We tend to believe that it is quite possible, especially for someone with experience and practice. Aiming the roulette ball involves choosing the ideal angle and speed at which to release the ball into the spinning wheel. The speed of the wheel at release is another factor that can help place the ball.

Even if your croupier is good enough to aim the ball, it is far more likely that they will land it in a zone, rather than on a specific number. It’s exceedingly difficult to land in a specific pocket, and to do so time after time would be a near-superhero skill.                           

As it happens, all talk of aiming the ball becomes moot because, as we mentioned before, real wheels and balls are increasingly being replaced with electronic versions, so this may soon become a lost art.

Roulette’s ‘magic’ numbers

Let’s dispel rumours right away. There are no ‘magic’ numbers in roulette. It is 100% a game of chance, and there is little to no way to guess where that ball will land. But, that said, let’s take a look at the belief that 3, 7 and 17 are roulette’s magic numbers.

The rule of 3

While 3 has been touted as a lucky or magical number in many instances, sadly, it simply isn’t a magic number in roulette. It comes up with about the same regularity as every other number.

Lucky 7

There is some truth to the fact that 7 shows up as a winning bet a little more often than most other numbers. However, to understand why, you need to look at betting behaviour. People perceive the number 7 as lucky, so they tend to place bets on it more often. By the laws of averages, this means that there will be more wins on 7, purely because it gets played more often.

17 candles

17, much like 7, does have a slightly higher win rate than other numbers. And it’s very much for the same reasons. People place bets on 17 more frequently than other numbers. However, in this case, it is because the number is smack in the middle of the board, making it a simple choice for people who aren’t sure how else to bet.

Can you beat the house?

Roulette games are designed to give the house an edge, and to be extremely difficult to beat. Thanks to sturdy design and centuries of experience, the game is set up to be as random as possible. If you want to learn more about strategies for betting on roulette, visit this article, but don’t be disappointed when you discover that games of chance, like roulette, are always exactly that.

Tell us what you think

Do you have a preference for American, French or European roulette? Why? What’s your lucky roulette number? Tell us all about your experience with the roulette table, ball and wheel, and share your gambling knowhow with the online community.