Roulette – When to Play American, When to Play European
Most Americans don’t come across European roulette until they travel abroad to gamble or spend some time at an online casino.
European vs. American roulette is a debate with a lot of noise surrounding it. Most guys who write about gambling will tell you to stay far away from American roulette if a single-zero European table is available. I think that’s true most of the time, but I also find value in arguing on the contrarian side of just about every issue.
I think there’s times when European roulette is most appropriate, and times when the American version of the game is worth your bankroll investment. That’s what this post is all about.
American vs. European Roulette – What’s the Difference?
The biggest difference between the two games is the number of spaces for the game’s famous bouncing ball to land in. On American roulette layouts, you’ll find 36 pockets numbered from 1 through 36 as well as two green spaced numbered 0 and 00. American roulette is often called double-zero roulette for this reason. On an American roulette wheel, the ball has 38 possible slots to land in.
European roulette has one fewer spot where the ball can land. That’s because besides the black and red slots numbered 1 through 36, the European wheel has just one green 0 space, for a total of 37 possible landing spaces.
How does the difference in numbered slots affect roulette odds? Let’s look at the same bet on each wheel for an idea of which game gives you better odds. On an American wheel, an even money bet such as a bet on black has about a 47.4% chance of winning. That same bet on the European wheel has about a 48.6% chance of winning.
It isn’t just those 1:1 payouts that are more likely – every bet on the European wheel has better odds than its counterpart in the American game. The effect is most significant on even money bets, though you also gain about 0.8% edge on dozen and column bets in European roulette.
Overall, American roulette gives the casino an edge of 5.26%, while the European wheel favors the house by just 2.7%. It’s surprising to some people that a small change like the addition of a single slot can have such a big impact on player odds, but the math checks out.
Other Differences Between European and American Roulette
First-time players of European roulette often remark on the difference in the number layout. It’s true, the numbers on the European wheel are laid out in a different order than the numbers on the American version. This doesn’t have any meaningful impact on the game’s odds, so most people don’t talk about it. But it does look different, and you may notice the first time you switch.
There’s at least one other important difference between the two games, and this one does have an impact on house edge. In most European roulette games, a rule called “en prison” reduces the house edge on even money bets. Here’s how it works – when a player makes an even money bet such as black/red or odd/even, and the result is the green 0 space, that bet is said to be imprisoned (“en prison”) and gets another chance on the next spin.
You won’t find this rule on American wheels – and that’s a shame. It would make the game more advantageous to the player and raise the standards of play in American casinos.
Good Reasons to Choose European Roulette
The best and most obvious reason to gravitate toward the single zero roulette table you’ve somehow managed to find – your money will (theoretically) last longer. This is only true if you’re sticking to the best bets in the game (the even money bets) and not taking long shot wagers and chasing your losses. Obviously, playing roulette against an edge of 1.7% is preferable, bankroll-wise, to playing against an advantage above 5%.
Another feather in the cap of Euro roulette – the “en prison” rule that gives the casino even less of an edge on those already-excellent even money wagers. Euro roulette has a few other house rules, depending on where you play, that may interest advantage players. This is really an addendum to the first reason to choose the Euro game, since we’re basically still talking about how the rules of the European game make it preferable to the American version.
If you’ve never tried playing on a single-zero table, having the experience is worth a small investment. European wheels are rare enough stateside that spending a few minutes trying your hand at the European roulette wheel is worth it. Also, drop us a line and tell us where you found it. We’ll try it out, write up a review, and name-check you if you want.
Good Reasons to Avoid European Roulette
The best and most obvious reason for avoiding the European version of roulette is that it’s simply not available. For most Americans, the easiest way to play a single zero roulette game is online, and not everybody is up to the task of choosing an online casino, opening an account, funding it, and going through all of that to play a digital version of roulette. It’s just not everybody’s cup of tea.
If a player just doesn’t like the European game for whatever reason – maybe they don’t understand the rules, or maybe they’re just familiar with the double-zero game, there’s absolutely no reason they should force themselves to play it. There are tons of double zero tables in America for them to play.
Good Reasons to Choose American Roulette
There might be 1 European roulette wheel for every 99.99 American double-zero roulette wheels in US casinos. It’s a rare find. Choosing American roulette may be the default position for US casino players since they’re unlikely to find a single-zero wheel. I’ve seen two or three such games in my entire gambling career over the past few decades, and many of them had other rules or limitations which made them almost as bad a bet as the traditional American double-zero game.
Roulette players who really like to make the 5 Numbers bet won’t have that chance on the European layout – that’s because there’s no 00 space to make up the final of the 5 Numbers. I hate the 5 Numbers bet, and its house edge of 7.9%, but if a player really loves to make it, they’ll leave the Euro game feeling a little hollow. It’s just not an option. So, they should choose the American game.
For online players who have the choice of American or European roulette, it’s sometimes the case that earning bonuses from your online casino may be restricted on the better-odds European game. Choosing to play the double-zero American roulette game may be a matter of economics – if you can clear your bonus cash faster playing American roulette, it makes sense to choose that game over the (technically superior) European roulette.
Good Reasons to Avoid American Roulette
Obviously, some people avoid American roulette because the game’s odds are long relative to the European game. Advantage players looking to squeeze every penny they can out of their bankroll would choose a 1.7% edge over a 5%+ edge every single time. When you consider the two games from a purely odds-based perspective, American roulette is the ugly sister.
Bettors used to the European game and its slightly different layout and rules may react more strongly to the lack of “en prison” and the presence of other strange (to them) wagers that they aren’t familiar with. A gambler used to the casinos of England or France may really not like the American layout just because its unfamiliar.
Obviously, the American version of roulette is designed to put more money in the casino’s pocket over time compared to the single-zero European game. Everyone knows that, and I’m not going to try to argue against that.
However, I think there’s plenty of good reasons to bite the bullet and play the American version of the game. At the end of the day, playing roulette is an entertainment investment, and people enjoy different things for all kinds of reasons.
My advice is that you try both versions of the game and choose the one that suits the context you find yourself in. You may be a little out of luck if you’re looking to play European roulette in the US, and the same goes for fans of double-zero roulette outside of America, so you’ll often be stuck with your choice, like it or not.