Although its origins are still unclear, roulette was most likely inspired by the ancient and medieval philosophy concept Rota Fortunae (Wheel of Fortune) which refers to Fate.
The wheel is a symbol for the capricious nature of fate and belonged to the goddess Fortuna who spins it randomly, bringing windfalls to some, but great misfortune to others. In this way, the Wheel of Fortune is closely associated with roulette and casinos in general.
Other games that might have inspired roulette is the Italian game Biribi (Cavagnole) which was similar to lotto. There are other games historians think inspired roulette, but as we mentioned, there’s no clear-cut favorite when it comes to being a direct roulette predecessor.
Blaise Pascal – Father of Roulette
It is widely believed that French physicist Blaise Pascal is the inventor of the popular casino game. While researching cycloids, Pascal introduced the theory of probability, calculating them with the rolling of wheels. Roulette is thought to be a bi-product of Pascal’s search for a perpetual motion machine.
Before Pascal, primitive versions of roulette were introduced in Italy as early as XVII century. This is why the game was called Italian roulette in encyclopedias around 1900, with the mini version of roulette with 18 pockets called mini-roulette or German roulette.
The Rise of Single-Zero Roulette in Europe
After coming to France in the XVIII century, roulette became an instant hit in casinos. The game we know today was much more different at the time – it had a zero and double zero house pockets which were painted red and black. This confused many players, so the pockets were re-painted in green later in the XVIII century.
Due to the incredible popularity which led to even more casinos being opened, King Louis XV tried banning roulette but failed to constrain it. Later, Napoleon banned roulette everywhere except in the Royal Palace, and in 1837, the game was completely banned after Louis Phillipe closed down all French casinos. This only moved the casino frenzy to Germany (Wiesbaden and Bad Homburg), sparking the so-called Golden Era of German casinos.
Sometime around the 1840s when roulette’s popularity peaked in Bad Homburg, Francois and Louis Blanc decided to remove the double-zero pocket from their roulette in order to gain advantage over the competition. Their peculiar decision proved to be a hit, making the Bad Homburg casino incredibly popular. The removal of the double-zero pocket also gave birth to the modern version of European roulette which can now be seen at most European casinos.
After Germany imposed a ban on casinos in 1860, Monta Carlo became a European gambling capital. The Blanc brothers moved their casino there, establishing an elite gambling mecca, with single-zero roulette establishing its dominance in Europe and slowly taking over the world.
The Birth of American Roulette
Roulette spread to America later in the XVIII century – it first appeared in New Orleans, then moved up the Mississippi river expanding further to the West. The earliest versions of roulette in America had a zero and double zero pockets plus a pocket with an image of an eagle and 28 numbers.
It was quite different than European roulette and was played on a makeshift table in order to prevent cheaters from gaining an advantage over casinos and gambling dens.
The layout of the game changed as well, now featuring simplified roulette bets which allowed the game to be played at a faster pace. Even though the odds were not so favorable, American roulette remained a hit in America, and its popularity hasn’t dwindled to this day.