They came in all sizes and shapes, almost exclusively men. Some were studious, some somewhat scholarly, some devil-may-care adventurers, and they figured out a way to beat the game of roulette without actually needing loads of good luck and fortuitous bounces. They used their brains and the fact that the casinos were not really aware of the weakness that inherently existed in their roulette wheels.

But these players knew better.

They studied the wheels or paid other people to study the wheels for thousands of spins, and indeed found weaknesses in them, usually due to such wheels being biased as in unbalanced, as in some pockets were slightly bigger or smaller than other pockets, so that certain numbers came up much or somewhat more frequently than their probabilities predicted. 

It only took a slight change in probabilities to make the game favor these players and when these biased wheels said to such players in their ears, in a whisper, “Play me, my dear sir, and perhaps win a fortune. You can’t pass me up now, can you?”

Of course, those roulette players, today they are known as big number players, extracted what in our modern world would be millions of dollars in winning hits, the casinos (of course) caught on.

Sometimes it takes smart players to alert the casinos to the flaws in the casinos’ games. This happened in blackjack in the 1960s with the introduction of card counting. It happened in craps in the 1980s and 1990s by the use of controlled throws by skilled players. 

This certainly happened in the game of roulette. 

The big-number players smashed the casinos’ hopes that the roulette games were merely random exercises giving just random results. Yes, the games were random sometimes; the games weren’t at other times. The overwhelming thousands of players had no idea of how to actually beat the games so even biased wheels were not much of a problem to the casinos.

Players played their birthdays, their favorite numbers, big events in their lives, and such. None of these techniques had any merit. Good luck was good luck – and that’s all it was. Rely on luck and the casino wins now and forever.

The big-number players took it to the casinos. We know who many of them were but there were countless unknown players who also took it to the casinos.  

Oh, yes, those were the days of the big-number players; the 1800s into the 1900s. Playing big numbers continued into the 1990s.

[Please note: My wife, the Beautiful AP, and I discovered a biased wheel at a major Las Vegas casino in the early 1990s and it was a glorious session for the two of us when we realized what we had found. It took the casino a little while, merely hours, to realize what kind of wheel they had and they closed that game down but we had done some decent damage during our play. In a table with other players, we were the only ones playing those three big numbers. Casino players often have their preferred playing methods no matter what is actually happening right under their noses.

Yes, many big-number players were caught and expelled (or worse) by the casinos. Monte Carlo took many hits. The earliest big number players seemed to flock to that venue as it was the – and I mean the – Valhalla of the gambling world. That was the town to hit. And it was hit.

How to Find Big Numbers

I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is that figuring out what numbers are big numbers is relatively easy.

On the American double-zero wheel (0, 00) there are 38 pockets, numbered 1 through 36 with an additional 0 and 00. On the European single-zero wheel you still have numbers 1 through 36 with only one additional zero (0). That gives the game 37 pockets into which the ball can come to rest.

A single hit on a number pays 35-to-1 at each game. If one of your numbers hits a 35-to-1 payoff seems great even though it actually isn’t that great due to the real house edge at the games.

The American game has a house edge of 5.26 percent; the European game has a house edge of 2.7 percent. The American game will extract $5.26 for every $100 wagered by the players. The European game will extract $2.70 per $100 wagered. It is difficult to overcome either of those edges as just about any roulette player will confess.

The American game tends to dominate the field so I will use that game to go through how to look for big numbers.

The selection principle requires two ingredients from the players looking to take out the casino by beating the game. Over tens of thousands of roulette decisions, we can expect the decisions will have each number hit an average of once every 38 spins. Will that actually happen in the real world? No. 

Some numbers will dominate now and again but even with tens of thousands of decisions it will be rare to see each number hit on average once every 38 decisions. In fact, in our lifetimes we would not see that theoretical assumption happen in reality.

Still, if a wheel had a defect of some kind, you could ferret out a way to beat it.

Get That Big Number

Let us say that you have recorded 38,000 decisions on a wheel. Each number would be expected to appear 1,000 times. (In reality that would not happen. The real world doesn’t always follow our predictions.) One number has hit 2,000 times.

Let’s pretend you are betting one dollar on that number every spin. You spent $38,000 in bets but you would win $70,000 on the 2,000 times your number hit. Of course, you lost 36,000 times when your number didn’t hit, so your profit would be $34,000.

That number would be a great choice to keep betting. It is a really, really big number! 

Some version of that would be what a big-number player would hope to discover. And, in fact, the successful big-number players of the past found numbers that made them money.

So much for the good news. Now to the facts of today’s wheels.

The Bad News for Today’s Roulette Players

The past is dead when it comes to really finding roulette wheels that are biased enough to give a player a chance to win that is not just based on luck. 

Today’s wheels are sophisticated mechanisms that are constantly checked by the casinos to make sure they are actually giving the players a random game. Such a random game is bad for the players as the casino does not pay the true odds of the bets the players win. However, such a game is good for the casinos because they get to keep the money their edge on the bets makes them.

A simple unpoetic saying suffices: Random is good for the casino. Random is not good for the players.

Most casinos have computer programs that check the results of the wheels. The casinos do not want to take a chance that a wheel will go “off.” The wheels can be checked every day. No chances are being taken at the roulette game except by the players betting their hard-earned money.

Of course, random numbers will appear in different ways, different sequences. Some numbers will seem hot for a short while but they cannot be relied on to beat the game because they cannot be relied on to continue hitting. Some other number or numbers will become ascendant as the formerly hot number recedes. 

Random does not have a plan for how these numbers or what actual numbers will hit. Random has no consciousness. The numbers appear or they don’t appear. We know what the math says but the math does not control things. It merely explains things.

Random controls things, meaning (here is a fact) nothing controls things. 

We have 38 pockets that are numbered. One pocket will hit when the ball finally lands after its descent from the wheel. Short of the ball flying off the wheel (and perhaps hitting a player in the head), the game is fully dictated by those pockets and the ball traveling down the side of the wheel, often hitting the bumpers, and then bouncing and careening in and out of a bunch of pockets before it settles into one, whose number is the winner.

[Please note: What are players doing when they bet on roulette? They are hoping that they can make the game adhere to their private wishes, their individual wills. They want the game not to be random but to be controlled by their choices, their desires. They want to conquer randomness by the power of their betting choices. Does it happen? No. Even if a player picks a winner on this or that spin is irrelevant and does not mean that player has conquered the nature of the game. Our will power has no power in this case.]


Let’s Make It Simple

Since today’s roulette game is beyond our scope of winning by getting a real edge, as opposed to the players merely needing a dose of good luck to allow them to win some money, we can forget tracking 38,000 numbers or anything close to that. Why waste the time?

In fact, we are going to only look at 20 numbers. That’s the number of numbers on the typical roulette scoreboard.

We are going to look for repeating numbers and there will be, over even a short period of time, one or two or in rare occasions three repeating numbers on a 20-number scoreboard.

Those repeating numbers will be considered our big numbers. These are the numbers we will bet.

When to Stop Betting the ‘Big’ Numbers

Let us say you are betting the 19 and now one of the 19s leaves the scoreboard. Yes, there is only one of the 19s on the scoreboard right now. What should you do? You bet one more 19 and then abandon the number after that.

[Please note: I am guessing that the most numbers you will have to bet will be three. This is not that common. Having two numbers that have repeated will occur far more than you realize. Remember that with 38 numbers and 20 shown on the scoreboard, it is a better than 50/50 chance that one of those 20 numbers will repeat.]

Can This New “Big” Number System Actually Work?

Sad to say this – no, it can’t work to give you any kind of a real edge. It is a fun way to play, yes, and you won’t be spending too much money betting one, two or possibly three “big” numbers. Everybody has their method of playing the game, this could be one of yours. You aren’t increasing the house edge at the game; you are just playing the game the casino wants you to play. 

Players using the new “big” number approach will need as much luck to win as anyone else playing the game. It is always 37-to-1 for your number to hit at the American game (and 36-to-1 for it to hit at the European game) and there is nothing you can do about this.

I will admit that reality can be annoying when we consider casino play as a recreational activity. If we were living in the 1800s, we’d have a shot at maybe getting a real edge over the game of roulette. Now? Sorry, that’s not to be.

Still the new “big” number method can make play somewhat more exciting than just throwing out a bet or two with no thought behind them. Sure, thoughts can’t affect the game but it makes a player think that in some way, shape or form they are doing something positive as they play. That’s fine by me.

All the best in and out of the casino!

Frank Scoblete grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He spent the ‘60s getting an education; the ‘70s in editing, writing and publishing; the ‘80s in theatre, and the ‘90s and the 2000s in casino gambling.

Along the way he taught English for 33 years. He has authored 35 books; his most recent publisher is Triumph Books, a division of Random House. He lives in Long Island. Frank wrote the Ultimate Roulette Strategy Guide and he's a well known casino specialist.