Do casinos control the roulette ball?
It’s every casino gambler’s dream: being able to predict exactly where that roulette ball will land every time.
Roulette is a popular game because the payout if you hit a single-number win is big: 35 to 1! If you knew where the ball was going to end up, and put down a R1,000 bet, you would walk away with R35k in profit. Pretty impressive.
This has led to many different strategies for playing roulette – and many different theories and conspiracies over the actual working of the roulette wheel.
One of the persistent theories out there is that casinos can affect where the ball is going to land.
The OCR team laughed at the suggestion that croupiers can somehow ‘flick’ the ball, or change the speed of the wheel, or maybe use magic and magnets to put the ball in the pocket they have chosen. But then we did some digging…
Decoding the roulette wheel
Before we get started, let’s take a moment to familiarise ourselves with the roulette wheel. We all know that the table is made up of the wheel and the layout (the cloth-covered betting area). The wheel is the important part of our attention as this is where all the action, and possible foul play, will take place.
The wheel is made of several moving and static parts:
To begin a game, the croupier spins the wheel in one direction and then spins a small ball in the other direction in the ball track. As gravity takes hold the balls drops down onto the wheelhead. As it drops and bounces it is deflected off the diamond-shaped ball deflectors which cause it to randomly change direction and force before it finally comes to rest in one of the numbered pockets.
In theory, this process should result in a completely random result.
Where can the casino affect the outcome?
It is possible for a casino to ‘tilt’ a table in their favour or influence the speed of the wheel to create a more likely outcome, but this is incredibly difficult. There are stories of croupiers who have managed to train themselves to judge the speed of the wheel and the flick of their ball to hit specific areas but, once again, it is actually really difficult – if not impossible – to hit a single number every time.
The speed of the wheel CAN be influenced by the casino when they set up the table. The height of the spindle CAN be set by the casino. Croupiers MAY be able to train themselves to hit a certain section.
But as a purposeful effort to affect chance and predict an outcome in favour of the casino – it’s highly unlikely.
Why is unlikely that a casino would control the ball or the wheel?
The main reason is that roulette has quite a hefty house edge anyway so the casino will always be coming out on top and they don’t need to cheat.
Another reason is that, if the casino is able to consistently hit certain areas, the gamblers will start to recognise and target that pattern which could prove very costly to the casino.
What about ‘wheel bias’ in roulette?
Now this is a very different way of ‘controlling’ the ball or wheel.
Wheel bias refers to flaws or wear and tear on the wheel itself that can lead to the ball stopping in predictable patterns.
Roulette wheels are built just like they were hundreds of years ago. They are mechanical in nature and thus can be affected by wear and tear. The spindle can become bent meaning the wheel tilts a little in one area. The ball track can become scratched and affect how the ball drops. The frets on the pockets (the edges that separate them) can wear down leading to a ball dropping into certain groupings consistently. The diamonds can become worn, also leading to the ball behaving in a less random way than is ideal. And the wheel may even have defects from the manufacturing process like some pockets being slightly wider than others.
Any and all of these defects can make the roulette wheel predictable and ardent roulette players are always on the lookout for a biased wheel that could tilt the odds in their favour.
How easy is it to find a biased wheel?
This is the problem. It would take an average of 10,000 spins to accurately identify whether or not a wheel has bias. And nobody sits around waiting for that. There are gambling consortiums who do have ‘spotters’ tracking the winning numbers and looking for these tables, but casinos are not stupid. Not only do they know to keep an eye out for these ‘spotters’, but they also have their own surveillance and algorithms that track each wheel at their tables and, if there is even the slightest suspicion of a wheel becoming predictable, it is shut down and maintained or replaced.
In our opinion it is very unlikely that the casino can or will control the ball or wheel in a LEGITIMATE casino. It makes no sense for the casino, with its huge house edge, to want to skim a bit more at the expense of losing players.
There is a very important word up above: LEGITIMATE. Illegal casinos have no issues with conning gullible players out of their cash and, unfortunately, this means that they CAN control the wheel. From deliberately altering the pockets to purposefully tilting the spindle to installing actual magnets to stop the wheel when and where they want, there is nothing they won’t do to cheat gamblers.
So, make sure you’re playing at a legit casino and you’ll be fine.
Or will you?
Wheel bias can happen. Croupiers with too much time on their hands can develop skills when it comes to releasing the ball. The ball itself can become worn and affect the game. Thankfully, top casinos do everything in their power to ensure that the roulette table is a place of random outcomes. They change the croupiers regularly. They have more than one ball that they use. They monitor the wheel closely. They make sure that croupiers know to vary up the spin regularly.
Because they know that the biggest thrill of a casino and gambling is the element of chance and the more players that know they are on the level, the more players will stream to their tables.