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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: How much money do you need to play roulette?

23 June 2008

Roulette is straightforward and unintimidating. A greenhorn could watch for a few minutes then jump in and play with the best of 'em. And, depending on a person's preference, bets can be made individually or in combination over a range from those with lots of small payoffs to others having relatively few large returns.

Some know-it-alls pooh-pooh roulette because house advantage is high. At double-zero tables, edge is 5.26 percent on most bets. This is 10 times greater than proficient punters can get at blackjack or craps. However, experience or study is needed to keep the edge in these games anywhere near this low. So if you don't want to work hard having fun in the casino, you might consider trading increased edge for what roulette has to offer.

That's not all. Roulette chugs along slowly. Forty spins per hour is typical. And the gross impact of edge depends not only on the fraction of a bet the bosses theoretically earn, but on how many wagers you make during a session. Coupled with the availability of low-volatility wagers featuring frequent small payoffs, the low decision rate can keep solid citizens with modest bankrolls in the fray for prolonged sessions. The leisurely pace also adds elegance to the game without detracting from the excitement of anticipating where the bouncing ball will finally come to rest.

Here are some examples based on betting $10 per spin. They'll give you points of reference for other bankroll and bet sizes.

You could restrain your enthusiasm and put the $10 on an "outside" proposition (Red, Black, High, Low, Odd, or Even). These bets pay even-money $10 wins you $10. In Atlantic City, you'd recover half the wager when the result of the spin is 0 or 00. In most other casinos, 0 and 00 lose flat out.

On a $200 bankroll, you'd have 90 percent likelihood of still being in action after two hours in Atlantic City. Cut your stake to $100 and the probability of survival for such a session is 55 percent. Elsewhere, for 90 percent confidence in enduring for three hours, you'd need $235 in your fanny pack. With $200 and $100, your chances would be 83 and 44 percent, respectively.

You might play more creatively, seeking occasional higher payoffs while hedging with money on the outside. Maybe you drop $5 on Red and $1 on each of five Black numbers. Hitting on Red pushes since you win $5 and lose $5. Any of the selected numbers the chance is five out of 38 or 13 percent will net you $35 - $9 or $26. You'd need $275 for 90 percent confidence in riding through the downswings of a normal session in Atlantic City; $200 is good for 75 percent and $100 for 40 percent. Elsewhere, $290 is needed for a 90 percent comfort level while $200 and $100 leave you more vulnerable at 71 and 30 percent, respectively.

A bolder strategy would be to bet $1 on each of 10 numbers. Nothing's on the outside, so the game is the same wherever you play. Your chance is 10 out of 38, about 26 percent, of netting $26. You'd need $340 to be 90 percent sure of at least three hours of gambling giddiness. Prospects fall to 63 percent with a $200 buy-in and 32 percent allocating $100 to the game.

Considering how rapidly bankrolls are eroded in games with more decisions per unit time, you're not going too far overboard at roulette betting $10 per spin on a single spot and hoping fate will return $350 on a hit. You could, of course, lose 10 in a row and be quickly out of business on $100; probability is about 76 percent. Losing 20 in succession and wondering where your $200 went is also a danger; chance is 59 percent. For a 90 percent shot at surviving for three hours, you'd need a whopping $1,100. On $200, your chance is 22 percent and on $100 it's 11 percent.

You're not apt to grow rich at $10 roulette on a $100 or $200 budget. But you can have a good run for your money, with promise of a modest profit. And, wagering conservatively, you can evade the error evoked by the inimitable inkster, Sumner A Ingmark:


Along the path to wealth are strewn,

The victims of the gamblers' ruin.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.