Many strategies to beat the casino at roulette have come and gone over the years, but could science hold the answer to finally winning the game of chance?
Roulette was designed to be a game where the casino would always have a slight advantage. The odds vary from wheel to wheel, but with a standard European wheel, the player expect to lose 2.7% of their bet, or 5.26% of their bet on a US wheel with two zeroes. And unlike games like Blackjack where the odds change when each card is dealt, these odds remain constant no matter which numbers have come up in previous spins, as each one is an independent trial.
You can find various claims on the internet that purport to guarantee a win in the long run, with a combination of betting and money management strategies, but a cursory glance at the maths behind these theories will normally prove them false under real casino conditions.
Perhaps the best known strategy, the Martingale system, proposes that the player picks either red or black and continues to double their bet after every loss. In theory, this would produce a win at some point but the strategy does not take account of the table limit or that no player has infinite wealth.
Mathematics, therefore, offers little help in helping to beat the house, but physics may prove a more fruitful path to explore.
Newton’s Laws of Motion can give a good prediction of how the ball will act in the wheel, with a formula able to tell you how the ball will slow, when gravity will pull it from the rim of the wheel, and hopefully which number slot it will end up in. Each roulette wheel is different, and the obstacles that cause the ball to jump and bounce around can be problematic to calculate, but in theory it should be possible to predict where the ball will land once the spin has begun – a time when it is still possible to place bets.
It is impossible to sufficiently accurately estimate the velocity of the ball and wheel by eye, but computers today can make those calculations in a fraction of a second. If Hawkeye can accurately predict whether a cricket ball would hit the stumps within 5mm for an LBW decision in professional cricket, then predicting the final position of a roulette ball should be easy with the right technology.
Back in the late seventies, graduate student Doyne Farmer and his colleagues attempted to use cameras and computer processing to predict the outcomes of roulette, and published their experiences and results in the book “The Eudaemonic Pie”. Their experiments failed in large part due the team needing to create the technology from scratch in a DIY fashion, which led to electric shocks for the players who hid the electronics in their sweaty shoes, amongst various other issues.
In today’s world, however, technology has evolved and the camera and processing abilities needed to expand upon Doyne’s experiments are all safely housed within mid-range smartphones. With the technology in place, it would only be the casino’s security team (or the police) that would hinder those looking to beat the casino with the help of physics. Indeed, a Serbian team are believed to have pulled off the trick back in 2004. Their technology limited them to targeting sectors of the wheel rather than specific numbers, but that was three years before the first iPhone.
It is yet to be shown whether these physics-based predictions could be used in an online game of roulette, but one would expect that casinos would be wise to the issue and change their randomise their graphics accordingly. Players should already be careful to only play secure online roulette on casino sites regulated by the UK Gambling Commission, but these regulations guarantee that the spin produces a random result, where the probabilities are the same as those on a real table and the player has a fair chance of winning, not the look and motion of the game graphics. Changing the look of the ball on screen, whilst having no effect on the outcome of the virtual spin could provide casinos with a useful protection against those looking cheat the system with the help of computerised prediction algorithms.
The application of physics can, therefore, help you beat the house in roulette, but in reality maybe Einstein was right when he said “No one can win at roulette unless he steals money from the table while the croupier isn’t looking”.