How about a little love for roulette?

Aug 22, 2006 12:47 AM

Roulette is a combination of Rodney Dangerfield and Cal Ripken Jr. It gets no respect.

Casino operators dote on blackjack because it’s the biggest table game, craps because it’s the loudest and baccarat because it’s the scariest. Roulette is quiet, the pace is leisurely, and the action — for the most part — is pedestrian.

But shift after shift, day after day, month after month, roulette gets the job done, and by the end of the year it always puts up huge numbers. Along the Strip, roulette is the fourth-biggest table game. Downtown, it’s No. 3. Plus, it typically holds 23% of the drop, by far highest among the major games.

Roulette has faced several assaults but hasn’t buckled. Diversity has cannibalized the market share of table game titans blackjack and craps, but roulette is holding its own.

That’s saying something, considering how dramatically poker and other games have altered the casino landscape.

Keep this in mind when assessing roulette’s modest gains: Blackjack, which has increased profits every year this decade, actually trended down last year.

Roulette wins a lot — in part, because the house enjoys a large mathematical advantage. On double-zero wheels, that edge is 5.26% regardless if the player bets one number, a group, or an even-money proposition like black or odd.

Compared to the edge in blackjack (about 0.5% with perfect basic strategy) and craps (0.6% on the pass line with double odds), roulette seems downright tight-fisted. But with a maximum payoff of 35-1, it also gives the player a chance to win a lot for a little.

Such a daunting house advantage comes with a price: Many big bettors won’t touch the game. Big Six faces a similar dilemma. It has at least an 11% edge on all bets and besides Col. Tom Parker, who else ever played that for serious dough?

Enter single-zero roulette. This wheel, which is standard throughout Europe (where roulette is king) and debuted in Las Vegas a few years ago, trims the house edge down to 1.35% on the outside and to 2.7% on all other bets. Several casinos in town offer the European wheel, enabling them to attract high-limit action.

This has taken the routine out of roulette’s bottom line. It’s no longer a grind game that relies on the inexorable laws of probability and long-run mathematics to squirrel away profits. The single-zero wheel elevates roulette to a different realm, ensuring that at least once in a while, it will steal the spotlight from the casino’s glamour games.