The Unlikely Origins of the Roulette Wheel

Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece, a popular game among soldiers involved drawing symbols on the inside of their shields, laying the shield face down on the ground, and placing an arrow next to it. They would then spin the shield and bet on what symbol would stop in front of the arrow. 

Ancient Rome

Wheel of Fortune, or Rota Fortunae, was another popular wheel-based game in Ancient Rome and is said to be one of the earliest ancestors of roulette. At the time, a wagon wheel was used, supported horizontally by a pin on which an arrow was fixed. The wheel was divided into different sectors on which Roman soldiers could bet as the wheel would spin. This game underwent several changes in the centuries that followed while maintaining similar rules. 

Another Italian influence on modern roulette could be found in the lotto reale, which consisted of a folding table that had 36 pockets. People would then bet on the numbers, as well as on red and black and other combinations similar to modern roulette bets.

The mystery continues

You may have heard that roulette was invented by a monk or – even more unlikely – a man who later killed himself because he invented a game that could not be won. Some stories even say that roulette is the “devil’s game,” seeing as how all the numbers on the wheel add up to 666. But we assure you that no evil is at play here! Unlike these old legends and wives’ tales, the origin of the roulette wheel is far less gloomy, yet perhaps even more intriguing…

The clue to this mystery is all in the name – roulette being a French word, meaning “little wheel” – proving that the game is most definitely of French origin. There is much speculation on the actual inventor of the wheel. Introduced to the French aristocracy in the 18th century, there are a number of legends surrounding how the game came to be. 

The two most popular theories involve a mathematician and a French entrepreneur. First, Blaise Pascal was attributed with the invention of the wheel. At the time, Pascal was trying to develop a perpetual-motion machine, and a mistranslation of his geometry treatise called “roulette” in relation to the Italian word “rulletta,” meaning curve, made for a perfect backstory. Next, the owner of casinos in Bad Homburg and Monte Carlo, François Blanc, was given merit for the innovation of the structure of the game when he removed the double-zero box in 1843. Unfortunately, the game had already been around for more than a century, rendering that yet another false legend.

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