Everyone who’s ever played roulette, either online or in a real casino, has probably wondered whether or not roulette games are rigged. The answer to this question is more complicated than a simple yes or no, because in one sense, roulette wheels are almost never rigged. But in another sense, all roulette wheels are rigged.
The difference is based on what you considered rigged.
In any legitimate or licensed casino, the wheels are checked to make sure they’re balanced correctly on a regular basis. This is done for the protection of the players, but it’s also in the best interest of the casinos. Rigged games are a sure way to get a bad reputation and lose customers.
This type of checking goes on at Internet casinos, too. But most Internet gambling venues use a random number generator program instead of an actual roulette wheel. (Live dealer casinos are an exception.) Online casinos rely on a reputation for fairness even more than land-based casinos do. People are already comfortable with playing casino games in places like Las Vegas, but they’re still nervous about playing online.
In either case, casinos have no real incentive to physically rig their roulette games. That’s because the math behind the game, in a sense, has already rigged the game in the casino’s favor.
All casino games provide the casino with a mathematical edge over the player. They don’t do this by rigging roulette wheels to have certain numbers come up more often than others. They don’t rig their blackjack decks or use loaded dice in craps, either. They just offer payouts on their bets that offer lower odds than the odds of winning.
Mathematically, over the long run, on almost every casino game, the casino is guaranteed to win a certain percentage of every bet. This percentage is called the house edge. Here’s how it works in roulette.
A standard American roulette wheel has 38 numbers on it. There’s a 0, a 00, and the numbers 1-36. Your chances of landing on any one of those numbers is 1 in 38, or 37 to 1. If you bet on a single number, then you win 35 to 1. The difference between your 37 to 1 chance of winning a 35 to 1 payout is the house edge.
Suppose you made 38 bets on a single number, and suppose you saw mathematically perfect results. You’d win one bet and lose 37 bets, right? On each of those bets you lost, you’d lose one unit, so you’d be down 37 units. On the one bet that you won, you’d be up 35 units, for a net loss of 2 units.
Does that mean the game is rigged? In a sense, yes. Mathematically, the game is unbeatable in the long run. Of course, in the short term, people can and do win at roulette, which is what keeps people coming back.
All of the gets on a roulette table exhibit this same phenomenon. Take the other end of the game, where you bet on red or black and get an even money payout. Suppose you bet red for 38 spins a row. Again, this is a mathematically perfect simulation, so you land on every single slot once.
You’ll hit red 18 times, black 18 times, and green twice. You’ll lose 20 bets and win 18 bets. Since you’re being paid off at even money on the 18 bets you won, you’ll be up 18 units, but when you subtract the 20 units you lost on the other bets, you’re down 2 units—just like you were down 2 units in the previous example.
The 0 and 00 are where the roulette table is “rigged”. The casino doesn’t have to have a button hidden on the croupier’s side of the table that controls the outcome. (You might have seen that in the movie Casablanca.) The casino makes plenty of profit over time on a roulette wheel.
The house edge is 5.26% on an American roulette wheel. If you owned a small casino with a single roulette table, and it had an average of 3 players playing 24 hours a day on it, you could predict (with a small degree of error based on variance) how much money that table would earn your business over time.
With 3 players at the table, you’ll probably see an average of 60 spins per hour on a roulette table. If those players are wagering an average of $10 per spin, you’re seeing $600 per hour per player in action, or $1800 per hour. After 24 hours, you’ll have seen $43,200 of action, of which the casino expects to win about $2272. (That’s 5.26% of $43,200.)
As you can see, the casino has no reason to rig the mechanical aspects of the game, because the math ensures their winnings over the long run.
No one can say for sure that no online roulette games are rigged. But most Internet casinos are licensed and regulated somewhere, which means their random number generators and software are audited. Since we’ve already demonstrated that the casino has a very profitable game already without rigging the results, it’s hard to imagine that a casino would bother to rig their roulette games.
Of more concern to an Internet gambler should be how quickly the casino pays out winnings. The Internet has way more horror stories about players who couldn’t get paid than it has about players who didn’t win or lose as often as they expected to mathematically.
The main point to remember is that all casino games are mathematically going to favor the house. That’s the nature of the game. If you play any negative expectation game long enough, you’ll eventually lose all of your money. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun trying to win in the short run, though. In fact, that’s the whole point of casino gambling.
So play roulette without fear that the wheel or the ball are somehow rigged. They don’t need to be rigged for the casino to show a tremendous profit over time.