Who Invented Roulette?

5 min read

Roulette is undoubtedly one of the most popular casino games, loved by players around the world. It’s equally appealing to both first-time gamblers and seasoned veterans. But how much do you really know about the origins of this game?

There are many theories as to who invented roulette. The one you’ll hear most often is that the inventor of this game is a French mathematician Blaise Pascal. He allegedly created roulette in 1655 during his monastic retreat. The game was first played in a Parisian casino, and the rest is history.

From Ancient China to Roman Empire

A theory claims the game was invented by an unknown French monk looking for an escape from the monotony of monastery life.

A similar game existed in Tibet, and its objective was to arrange 37 statuettes into a square. Unfortunately, that’s all we know about this ancient game, as the method of play wasn’t recorded.

Some historians claim the original game was created in China. The ancient game used a spinning wheel made of stone, although it used pictures of animals rather than numbers. The number 666 was in the middle of the wheel. This resembles roulette, as adding all numbers on the modern roulette wheel also produces 666.

Certain sources say the origins of the game can be traced back to the Roman Empire. Expanding the empire’s territory wasn’t easy, with many soldiers dying in battles across different continents. To keep the army’s morale up, the commanders allowed their soldiers to gamble. One of the favourite games was played using a chariot wheel or by spinning shields.

There is no evidence to support these theories, although the French monastery is a common theme in many of them. Now, whether the actual inventor was Blaise Pascal or some monk is open to debate.

The French Connection

Roulette means “small wheel” in French, which is another proof of the game’s French origins. However, many sources say that supposed ancestors of roulette have English and Italian names, like Rolly Polly, Ace of Hearts, Biribi and Hoca.

Let’s focus more on the hypothetical ancestors of roulette. The game of Biribi was described in the memoirs of Casanova from 1763. There are some similarities to roulette (such as the board with 36 compartments), but no ball and wheel suggest a distant cousin rather than an ancestor. On the other hand, Hoca was a game with cards and balls and was more similar to a lottery card game.

According to the book “Games, Gaming and Gamester’s Law” by Francis Frederick Brandt, Ace of Hearts was just a different name for Bone-Ace, a simple gambling card game where players placed bets on the value of the card turned up by the dealer. According to Brandt’s description, there are no similarities to roulette whatsoever.

Like roulette, Even-Odd did have a wheel and a ball, although it didn’t have numbers. It featured forty sections, twenty market E for Even, and twenty market O for odd. There was no zero, but a portion of the sections reserved for the house. The game was very popular in the 1770s but was banned in the early 1780s. This game looks like it could have been an ancestor of roulette, but the only problem is it appeared much later, at least under that name.

Some sources claim that Roly Poly could have been an alternative name not only for Even-Odd but for roulette as well. Discussions on this issue continue to this day.

Even-Odd, Roly Poly, and “Roulet”

According to available documents, the game of roulette became widely popular in the eighteenth century. The earliest records are those banning the game, like the one originating from New France, today known as Canada, where roulette was outlawed in 1758. In 1745, a legal document from England prohibited playing the game “called Roulet or Roly-Poly”.

Even-Odd is also first mentioned at the same time, in the mid-1700s. Both “roulet” and Even-Odd are mentioned together in 1801, although “roulet” is incorrectly described as a card game. A document from the late 1800s describes “roulet” as a foreign game, effectively replaced by Even-Odd at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

By the 1850s, roulette was back in England, quickly capturing the attention of players across the country. In the 1870s, roulette was often mentioned, while there’s no word on Even-Odd.

The earliest mention of Roly Poly is from 1730, although this report provides no detailed information on the game. We already mentioned the document from 1745, suggesting that Roly Poly and roulette are the same game. A book on gambling from 1824 implies the same. Boulton’s “Amusements of old London” says Roly Poly became popular in the 1740s, and suggests that Roly Poly is, in fact, Even-Odd. The only problem is that it was already popular in the 1730s, so the credibility of this source is questionable.

It’s believed that roulette most likely arrived in England from France at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Initially, it was known as Roly Poly, and after it was banned in 1745, a new game called Even-Odd appeared, bypassing the existing laws. It replaced roulette, but the return of the popular game in the nineteenth century saw the demise of Even-Odd.

Two Frenchmen, Louis and Francois Blanc, added a zero to the numbers in the nineteenth century, increasing the house advantage. After the game was banned in France, Francois opened a casino in Monte Carlo and turned roulette into one of the most popular casino games in history.

Roulette successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean, arriving in Louisiana, the gambling capital of the young United States. There, operators added double zero, creating another popular game variant, today popular in the Americas.

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