American Roulette Wheel Explained

For all its simplicity, requiring little thought unless you’re planning on using a betting strategy, roulette has still managed to evolve beyond its humble roots as a (non-working) perpetual motion machine. Today’s version of the game has benefitted from the creativity of casino operators, and it’s possible to find eclectic variants like multi-ball and multi-wheel…

For all its simplicity, requiring little thought unless you’re planning on using a betting strategy, roulette has still managed to evolve beyond its humble roots as a (non-working) perpetual motion machine. Today’s version of the game has benefitted from the creativity of casino operators, and it’s possible to find eclectic variants like multi-ball and multi-wheel roulette, speed roulette, and even mini versions of the game, which have just thirteen pockets for the ball to land in.

Having said that, European and American forms of roulette continue to absorb players’ attention, with the latter offering quite a few differences from the original version of the game. The American roulette game is thought to have appeared on US shores in the 19th century, although its history there isn’t quite as well-remembered as that of poker or blackjack. Still, online or offline, it’s hard to find a casino that doesn’t carry this simple game. 

Welcome to our guide to the American roulette wheel and all the strategies and probabilities you need to be aware of to get the most out of this interesting variant. 

How to Play American Roulette

Even if you’ve never been near a casino in your life, there’s a strong chance you already know how to play roulette – and, if not, it’s easy to infer the rules just from looking at the things on the table, i.e. a wheel and a ball. A croupier spins the wheel, throws the ball in after a few seconds, and then everybody waits to see which numbered pocket it rolls into. If you’ve picked that number, you win.

Of course, there are other ways to win. Like European roulette, you can make inside or outside bets. In brief, inside bets are wagers placed on one or more numbers that you can pick yourself, whereas outside bets are usually 50/50 shots based on the colour of the pocket and whether or not the number is high/low or even/odd. There’s also column and dozen bets that can be played. American roulette payouts are similar to those in the European rulebook.

American Roulette Wheel Layout

There are 36 black or red pockets on an American roulette wheel. This is the same as the European wheel. However, while European games have a single zero pocket, coloured green, American roulette has two zero pockets – 0 and 00. Overall, this means that American roulette is harder to win, as the casino has a bigger advantage. More specifically, if the ball lands in either 0 or 00, the house wins.

The ball has a perfectly equal chance of landing in any pocket on the wheel. For this reason, roulette strategies that recommend writing down results are ill-advised, like the Andrucci. It’s feasible that this idea actually comes from an incident in 1873 when a man named Joseph Jagger discovered that one of the six roulette wheels at the Casino de Monte-Carlo was not balanced correctly. Jagger ultimately won $70,000 taking advantage of this flaw.

Of course, today, casinos are much more meticulous about how their games are set up so you can be confident that every game you play at licensed casinos is fair.

American Roulette Wheel Odds & Probability

Due to the presence of an additional pocket on the wheel, American and European roulette are played with different probabilities at work. This is a minor variation, but it always favours the casino over the player. A good example involves the outside bets of red/black, odd/even, and high/low. In American roulette probability, the odds of one of these winning is 47.37%. In the European game, it’s 48.65%. 

You’ll probably have noticed that American roulette odds preclude the possibility of a true 50/50 shot at winning a bet. This is the influence of the house edge and the double-zero pocket. The probabilities attached to the other possible bets in American roulette are outlined below. Remember that you can place chips on any number(s) at all, if you’d rather use birthdays or a door number, etc.

TypeBet NameProbabilityHow to Bet
InsideColumn31.6%A column of numbers.
 Dozen31.6%1-12, 13-24, 25-36.
OutsideStraight Up2.6%A single number.
 Split5.3%Two numbers next to each other.
 Street7.9%Three consecutive numbers.
 Square10.5%Four numbers in a square.
 Double Street15.8%Two rows of three numbers.

In American roulette, you may also encounter the Basket bet, which describes a wager on five numbers in sequence, including zeros. Placing wagers on zeroes does effectively use the dealer’s advantage against them but, as the odds of winning outside bets are rather low, it has very little effect on the outcome of the game. The Basket bet has a 13.2% chance of winning.

As far as American roulette payouts are concerned, you’ll get the longest odds and highest return on the Straight Up wager, simply because you only have a 1/38 chance of the ball landing on your preferred number. All of the inside bets have significantly better payouts than outside ones, with the lowest paying (Double Street) usually listed with a 5:1 return. As with any casino game, the lower the odds, the higher the payout.

Let’s try to put all the above into practice by discussing how the experts play – with their own (or others’) roulette strategies.

American Roulette Strategy

Roulette strategy is a labyrinthian thing. Like the mathematicians that either created or inspired theories about roulette, it’s possible to dedicate vast amounts of time to the science of ‘gaming’ the American roulette wheel. Unfortunately, you can forget about any roulette system that claims to work 100% of the time or includes similarly grandiose claims. Roulette is a game of blind luck, after all. 

Despite the previous point, one of the questions that come up quite often in online searches is some variation of the phrase, ‘what number should I pick?’ Seventeen comes up quite often due to a belief that it’s a winning number in roulette (Sean Connery reportedly won on 17 in Saint-Vincent but it was later revealed to be a marketing stunt for James Bond), while the classically unlucky 13 tends to get missed out.

What about actual strategies for playing American roulette, though? Roulette strategies tend to only work over long timescales with access to an infinite bankroll. To use an example, the Martingale system requires that the player double their bet on a loss in an effort to recoup their cash as soon as possible. However, as a now-infamous game played in Monte Carlo in 1913 proved, the ball can land in black as many times as it likes. In this case, 26 times. 

Using Martingale to chase a red bet all that way would require a wager of $33,554,432, from an initial stake of just $1. Of course, with a payout of 1:1, our hypothetical gambler would win just over $67m. Much the same process, of either doubling on a win or a loss, is central to all Martingale-style systems, such as the d’Alembert, which is a much gentler strategy. In the latter, you add a single bet unit on a loss and remove one when you win.

For readers who are interested in learning more about roulette strategies to try at the American roulette wheel, the Fibonacci system, James Bond, Labouchere, and Paroli systems make for interesting reading. The d’Alembert is the least dangerous strategy for beginners. 


Q: What is the house edge in American roulette?

A: The house edge in an American roulette game is 5.26%. Compare this to the 2.7% applied by the casino at European roulette tables.