In the first few states to legalize online casino gambling, a brave new world is opening to American roulette players.
Many online venues are offering single-zero roulette, something infrequently seen in brick-and-mortar casinos. Not only that. Some are offering French roulette complete with rules that can trim the house edge to 1.35 percent.
That would please an old colleague of mine who once toured casinos with me during a trade show week. I lost touch with him years ago, but at our 1990s meet-up, Daan pointed to the table pits and asked, "Where is the roulette?"
There were only a couple of wheels among dozens of blackjack tables and a good sprinkling of craps tables.
That seemed paltry to someone whose casino experience consisted of a few outings in Europe, where single-zero roulette was more common and the game was more popular than in the U.S.
Single-zero games have a basic house edge of 2.70 percent, a far better deal than the 5.26 percent on double-zero roulette, the dominant American version.
Some online casinos give you a choice among American roulette, European roulette and French roulette. French roulette has a couple of favorable rules that enable you to cut the house edge to 1.35 percent if you stick to bets with even-money payoffs: red or black, odd or even, and 1-18 or 19-36.
The rules that give you the low house edge are called "la partage" and "en prison.".
With la partage, if you make one of those even-payoff wagers and the ball lands on zero, the house takes only half your bet.
New Jersey players will be familiar with the rule. It's the same as the Atlantic City "half-back" rule in live casinos. The difference is that in live casinos, half-back is used on double-zero wheels, so the house edge on even-payoff bets is reduced from 5.26 to 2.63 percent. Online, la partage comes on single-zero wheel and cuts the house edge from 2.70 percent to 1.35.
Imagine you bet $10 on black and the ball drops into the zero slot.
Without la partage, you lose $10. But on a French wheel, the house takes only $5 and you get $5 back. That cuts the house edge in half.
Imagine you bet $10 on black for 37 spins and each number turns up once. You risk $370. If each number turns up once on a European wheel, the 18 winners each give you back your $10 and you get $10 in winnings for a total of $360. The house keeps $10. On a French wheel, you also get $360 on your winners, but you also get $5 back when you lose to a zero. That drops your loss to $5.
If you have just a small bit of good luck and there's one more black number than usual, then per 37 spins you'd win $10 on a European wheel but $15 with French rules. As long as French rules are available within your budget limits, it makes sense to seek them out.
"En prison" is a similar concept, but it extends the process. If you make an even-payoff bet and the number comes up 0, then your bet is put in prison. If your choice is a winner on the next spin, then your whole bet is returned to you.
That also cuts the house edge to 1.35 percent. That's a giant step away from the 5.26 percent double-zero edge toward casinos' bet no-strategy, single-bet wagers such as craps (pass, 1.41 percent, don't pass 1.36 percent) and baccarat (banker, 1.06 percent, player 1.24 percent).