When I was a roulette dealer (also known as a croupier), I watched people lose a lot of money. But one of my regular players, whom I’ll call Sam, won $80,000 over several months.
After I quit my job I met him in a coffee shop and he told me exactly how he did it: by discovering and exploiting a biased wheel.
Of the 40 or so states that have casinos, many allow roulette tables, so even without going to Vegas you might be able to make money by taking advantage of a biased roulette wheel. Here’s what you need to know — though as always, when you gamble, you risk losing your money.
A Quick Primer on Roulette
Check out a roulette wheel diagram and rules if you’re unfamiliar with the game. Basically, a tabletop wheel with numbered pockets spins around one direction. The croupier spins a ball in the other direction, and it eventually drops into a pocket. You can make many types of bets, but the simplest is to bet on a number “straight up,” for which you are paid 35 to 1 if you guess right, plus you keep your original bet. For example, if you bet one chip and win, you’ll receive 36 chips.
You’ll find two common types of wheels. The American style has pockets numbered 1 through 36, plus 0 and “00” for a total of 38. European roulette wheels, which you’ll find in some American casinos, offer better odds because the payout is the same but they have only 37 pockets; they don’t have the 00.
You can probably understand where the house “edge” comes from. If the numbers are random, any one of them should come up once out of every 38 spins in the long run (on an American wheel). So if you bet a dollar on one number repeatedly, you would win $35 (and keep your original dollar) once for every 38 spins, losing the rest, for a net loss of $2 per 38 spins. But what if some numbers came up more often than they should? Time to return to our true story . . .
Finding a Biased Roulette Wheel
Sam and two friends came into the casino and worked in shifts to “chart” both of our wheels, meaning they wrote down every number that came up hour after hour, day after day. They did this while watching or playing, and after a couple of weeks they had enough spins recorded to crunch the numbers. Most casinos allow this, since most gambling “systems” result in their users losing more money.
“We found three potential numbers,” Sam told me, “and both wheels were biased.” A roulette wheel is “biased” when at least one number consistently comes up more often than it should. Each number should show up 1 in 38 spins, but some might come up more often, even over thousands of spins.
The possible reasons for this bias are many. Imperfect manufacturing can cause some pockets to be bigger than others. A loose divider can absorb the force of the ball that hits it, causing it to sink into the pocket in front more often, instead of bouncing off the divider. Bad bearings can cause a bias toward a whole section of a wheel.
Fortunately it isn’t necessary to know why a wheel is biased. The important thing is to be fairly sure that the bias is real. That’s why you’ll need to chart thousands of spins. This team had found a slight bias on one wheel and a big bias on the other. The bigger the bias, the more likely it’s real, especially when you only record a few thousand spins. The number 27 was showing up 1 in 28 spins, and the bias was still there by the time Sam had 15,000 spins recorded in his notebook.
Taking Advantage of the Biased Wheel to Make Money
Sam’s friends stopped coming after a while. My guess is that they didn’t have the self-discipline to sit there for hours betting one number, so they made too many other bets and lost money. But Sam was there most days, betting number 27 over and over. He made some other bets to avoid suspicion, and he slowly increased his standard bet to $10 over the weeks.
Let’s look at the math. If your number comes up every 28 spins (on average), and you’re betting ten dollars each time, you’ll lose $270 ($10 x 27 spins) for every time you win $350 on that winning 28th spin (you’re paid 35 to 1). That’s a net profit of $80 for each 28 spins of the wheel. Based on my own dealing speed, this strategy made Sam about $100 per hour minus the money lost on the small bets he made to hide what he was doing.
By the way, the idea has been around for a while. In 1873, Joseph Jagger’s biased wheel attack at the Beaux-Arts Casino in Monte Carlo netted him the modern-day equivalent of $3 million (adjusted for inflation). But before you run off and try this strategy, let me share a few warnings and some advice.
1. This is Real Work
Most wheels are not biased significantly. That means you could sit there for two weeks losing money and/or wasting time. In fact, it might turn out that the first four wheels you check have no bias. And you might not want to travel far to repeat your failures at other casinos. So don’t plan on this as a sure thing. It isn’t. And a bias can be fixed the day after you discover it (more on that in a moment).
If you don’t have the time for a charting 5,000 spins, you could look for sector bias, which doesn’t require as many spins to verify. This means that the ball is falling more often than it should in a certain section of the wheel. You bet the numbers in that section to exploit such a bias.
2. You Need a Big Bias
Even if you find a wheel that is biased it may not have enough of a bias to profitably exploit if you want to make more than minimum wage.
If a busy dealer does only 20 spins per hour and you have a number coming in 1 in 34 spins, with a $10 bet each time you’ll make about $11.76 per hour while at the table, or less than minimum wage considering the time you invest charting the wheel and waiting for a seat to open up. Sam would only bet a number if it came in more often that 1 in 33 spins after a few thousand trials.
3. It’s a Roller Coaster Ride
Even with a true bias, a favored number might not show up for 100 spins at some point. If that happens and you’re betting $10 each time, you’ll have lost $1,000 between wins. Do you have the stomach for that?
Sam told me he lost as much as $750 in a day, although he stuck it out and never had a losing week . . . until the end. You see, another reason you might have a losing streak is that the casino can fix or replace the wheel.
4. All Good Things Must End
The industry knows about biased wheels. They’re sometimes slow to respond because it takes time to discover a bias and roulette wheels are too expensive to replace often. I learned that casino management where I worked knew about the biased wheel, but waited to replace it because losses from other players kept the table profitable. They eventually switched the locations of the two wheels, but Sam had memorized the wood grain pattern and quickly found his lucky roulette wheel at the new table.
Finally, right after I quit and was therefore allowed to gamble in the casino, management bought a new wheel and the game was up. You see, you could do all that work charting a wheel and then a bearing repair or good cleaning might take away the bias the next day. So get to work quickly if you find this opportunity.
Your Turn: What do you think of this strategy? Have you looked for a bias in a roulette wheel? Let me know if you’re interested in more posts on this topic, and I could explain how to exploit a “dealer signature” at the roulette table.