My Nana Margaret told me that there were four basic types of roulette players. 

1.  Those players who realize that the house has the edge on every bet during a random game and are therefore negative about the whole thing. They certainly play but they also whine and moan and annoy everyone around them. Nana Margaret would call such types “miserable people.”

2.  Those roulette players who realized that roulette game was an unbeatable game in the long run but enjoyed the opportunity to test Lady Luck. They tend to be upbeat even if they are getting beat. Nana would call these folks the “lights of the party” even if Lady Luck were leading them on.

3.  Those who try to beat the game by attempting to find biased (“hot”) or unbalanced wheels and exploit such opportunities. Nana called these the “Pandora people” and they rely on the last thing that remained in Pandora’s Box (actually a big jar) of evils – hope! Nana says these types are “dogged” and rarely give up. 

4.  Those roulette players who know that in their lifetime, and at the casinos where they play, the chances of beating the modern wheels are remote but such a fact doesn’t bother them. They attempt to use advantage-play systems even in games where they have no advantage. Grandma would call these folks “nutty dreamers” and indeed they are. Nana liked those dreamers as long as they didn’t descend into a nightmare world. Nana would say to me to make her point clear, “Frankie, you can dream all you want but get your butt out there to work.”

Those #1 players, the moaners and whiners, I wish would retire to a knitting society or they could, at the very least, shut up. Players of the #2 stamp are nice people and fun to have dinner with. 

Players #3 and #4 are my focus for this column as they are the individuals who have the best chance, not necessarily to win, but to have a damn good time trying. They are giving the game their best shot which is all Nana would ask of them.

If It’s Hot It’s Hot

Hot numbers

In the heady days before today’s almost super-perfect roulette wheels, some obsessed players would scour the casinos looking for biased wheels with – what we now call – hot numbers displayed. These numbers would be hitting at a frequency that was way beyond the inherent probabilities of the game. 

Such hot numbers contained the hoped-for magical elixir of possibly allowing the player to turn the tables on the casinos and “break the bank” thereby bringing home the casino’s gold. Note: To break a casino’s bank merely means winning all the chips at one table. It does not mean winning all the casino’s chips at all their games. But “break the bank” certainly does sound good.

Of course, to really ascertain whether a wheel had biased numbers the wheel-watcher had to analyze many thousands of spins. Yes, thousands, and some bleary-eyed pursuers of the dream would say tens of thousands of spins had to be catalogued. 

And how does a Roulette wheel actually look like?

Roulette wheel schematic 1

Roulette wheel schematic 2

The advantage player had to hang around the roulette pits recording what was hitting – often day after day after day. (Nana: “They looked like demented stalkers if you ask me.”) That is the kind of dedication a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas exhibits when he is trying to become one with – I am guessing – the oneness.

Playing the Layout versus Playing the Wheel

Don’t get confused here. There are two types of betting strategies at roulette. Many roulette players enjoy playing layout strategies; that is, they put their money here and there on the numbers that go in chronological order on the betting layout. You can’t beat roulette just by betting the layout; that game would be random unless you got lucky. 

The only possibility to beat roulette is if you beat the wheel itself. 

The numbers on the wheel are not in chronological order as they are on the betting layout. They are scattered and spaced out in such a way that players who just play the layout will not be able to see if groups of numbers near each other are hitting more than probability would predict. Usually biased numbers hit in small or even sometimes large groupings. But you will only know this if you study the wheel.

“You aren’t going to seduce Lady Luck for very long if you are just a layout kind of guy,” Nana cautioned. 

So to get those hot numbers we have to check out the arrangement of numbers on the wheels. There are different Roulette versions, either playing with the American or European wheel.

First let’s take a look at the American wheel, also known as the double-zero wheel. There are 38 pockets in which the ball can land. Here is the basic layout of the American wheel:

American Roulette wheel illustration

Arrangement of Numbers on the American Wheel

  • There are 38 numbered pockets for the ball to land in, 1-36 and 0, 00.

  • You can see that directly (or almost directly) across from each even number is an odd number. Check out 34 and you will see that it is almost directly across from 33. Then look at 36 and it is across from 35. 

  • The numbers 18 and 19 are only separated by the number 33.

  • Pairs of odd numbers alternate with pairs of even numbers except in the areas of the 0, which splits 2 and 28, and 00 which splits 27 and 1.

  • The colors of the numbers are irrelevant to hot number play.

Something that makes our European friends happy, the best wheels are known as the French or European single-zero wheels.

European Roulette wheel illustration

Arrangement of Numbers on the French or European Wheel

  • There are 37 numbered pockets for the ball to land in, 1-36 and 0.

  • Some of the positions of the numbers are similar to the American wheel with an odd number being directly across from an even number such as 27 across from 28 but this does not prevail throughout the wheel.

  • The colors of the numbers are irrelevant for hot number play.

Hot Numbers Have to Overcome the House Edge

Now, let’s just look at the American wheel. The probability of any one number coming up is one in 38; the odds are therefore 37 to one. The payout is 35 to one. The house edge is 5.26 percent because of the short payout of a winning wager.

On the French or European wheel there are 37 numbers with a probability of one number coming up one time in 37 spins; the odds are 36 to one. The (short) payout is the same 35 to one and the house edge is 2.70 percent – a far better bet than on the American wheel. 
Each spin of the Roulette wheels is independent, so the Roulette odds of winning don’t change based on the results of the previous spin.

Yes, the player looking for a bias must be able to overcome that house edge – not an easy thing to do. 

In any short term analysis of random numbers there will be wild streaks all over the place. Some numbers will get hot; some will be cold; some will go back and forth. That’s why you need a lot of decisions to study so you know you are dealing with a real bias as opposed to, as Nana said, “the usual madness of randomness.” (I know, I know, it was bad enough that you had to study in school, now you have to study roulette spins! Hey, life isn’t fair.)

So What is a Hot Number?

If us take 3,800 and 3,700 spins for the American and European wheels respectively, we can figure out what would be strong biases and weak biases. I have rounded the numbers on this chart (“because no one likes fractions Frankie” – Nana Margaret).

Roulette hot numbers chart

Now I would probably want to double – at least double – the total number of results to have a good feeling about such a distribution as the above chart but the chart is easy to work with so we’ll work with it.

Let’s take a look at the following numbers on the American wheel and see how often they have hit in 3,800 spins (change units into your monetary equivalent):

Roulette hot numbers chart 2

The above grouping shows some seriously hot numbers. They all appear in one continuous segment of the American wheel. You’ll note that the outside numbers of 5 and 17 are the weakest and those numbers get whatever your minimum bet happens to be. 

The strong “hotties” of 7 and 20 will get 90 percent of your maximum bet. So if 50 units is your highest betting level then you bet 45 units on both of these numbers.  Number 32 is your strongest number and that will get 100 percent of your maximum bet.

The pattern of bets is this:

  • Any number in the excellent category gets a maximum bet. 

  • Any number in the good category gets 90 percent of your maximum bet. 

  • Any number in the fair category gets your minimum bet.

The caution here is that if more than 10 numbers are hot, you might have to reduce your betting levels somewhat in order not to get hammered should you lose some spins in a row. 

The fact is also this: You can bet minimum amounts on all hot numbers to extend your bankroll. There is no hard and fast betting rule. You have to keep your betting reasonable even when you have the edge. Bad streaks occur even in good situations.

You can do the exact same analysis on the French or European wheel and use the same betting method.

More than One Group of Hot Numbers

If you have more than one grouping of hot numbers then you split your betting and obviously spread to all those numbers. Here you would more than likely bet minimum amounts. But you must be sure these groupings are legitimate.

And What about Our Non-Advantage Advantage Players?  

Now what about our #4 players? Those dreamers? Obviously these players are not going to analyze, catalogue and ascertain what is really going on while they play. In fact, they are probably right about not pursuing real hot numbers – it is extremely hard to find realistic hot numbers on the modern roulette wheels. All such streaks are usually just random. (“No kidding,” says Nana.)

However, using the scoreboards at a roulette table which usually list the last 16 or 20 numbers, you pretend that those numbers that have hit more than once are hot. In those casinos that have individual scoreboards that tell you the numbers that have hit on all the wheels, you can go from wheel to wheel betting the repeating numbers.

Can you get an edge this way? No. But, as Nana Margaret says, "Playing this way can give you a sense of pursuing something real even if it is false."

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.