If you’ve ever played roulette, you know the thrill that comes with each spin of the wheel. But have you ever stopped to think about what’s actually going on inside that wheel? Learning about the anatomy of a roulette wheel can help you understand the game and place your bets with confidence.
Whether you want to buy your own roulette wheel or improve your odds at the casino, read this guide for a brief history, an anatomical overview, plus essential maintenance tips of the roulette wheel.
The History of the Roulette Wheel
The origin of today’s modern roulette wheel traces back to 17th century France, where the wheel was invented by a mathematician named Blaise Pascal.
The modern version of the game emerged in the mid-19th century when Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc introduced the single zero roulette wheel in Bad Homburg, Germany in 1842. This new version of the game quickly became popular among gamblers across Europe. It then made its way to the United States in the early 19th century.
In America, the double zero wheel overtook the single zero wheel in popularity and is almost exclusively in use at American casinos, events, and home game rooms today.
The Parts of a Roulette Wheel
Here are the main components of a roulette wheel:
The Roulette Ball
The roulette ball (or pill) is usually made of synthetic teflon, delrin plastic, or ivorine, and it’s calibrated to a specific size and weight to ensure consistent gameplay. Hard materials like glass, metal, stone could damage the wheel and should not be used. The size of the roulette wheel determines the size of the roulette ball you will use:
- Use a 15mm ball with 18 – 22 inch wheels
- Use an 18mm with 25 – 32 inch wheels
- Use a 20mm ball with 25 – 32 inch wheels
- Use a 22mm ball with 30 – 32 inch wheels
The solid bottom or base of the roulette wheel is typically made of wood. It’s important that the bowl be exactly balanced as it supports all of the components above. Any slight imbalance can result in predictable or biased results.
The spindle or shaft is the stationary part of the roulette wheel that attaches the moving part of the wheel to the base. It’s usually made of metal, and is attached to the base with ball bearings. The integrity of the spindle and the accuracy of the bearings are critical to ensure a balanced wheel spin.
The wheelhead is the entire moving part of the roulette wheel that spins around the spindle, including the cone and the numbered pockets that the ball falls into. It is typically made of metal. Also called a rotor.
The Ball Track
The ball track is part of the stationary bowl where the ball gets dropped and spins until it drops into a pocket. A smooth, consistent finish and precisely balanced placement of the base is critical to ensure fair play. Any flaw, even unseen, can affect results. The lower ball track is called the apron.
These small, diamond-shaped metal pieces are placed horizontally and vertically around the ball track to disrupt the trajectory of the ball, contributing to a more fair and random result. Also called pins, slats, diamonds, and stops.
The roulette wheel has either 37 or 38 numbered pockets, depending on the style. In a European style wheel, the numbers on the pockets range from 0 to 36. In an American wheel, the numbers range from 00 to 36. The pockets alternate red and black, except for the green 0 and 00 pockets which represent the house edge. The deeper the pocket the more predictable the spin since bouncing creates unpredictable results.
The frets are the small dividers that separate the numbered pockets on the wheel. They are usually made of metal, and they help to keep the ball bouncing around the wheel as it slows down until the ball slows enough to be held in place in the pocket. The frets–including the size, shape, and installation–are the main thing that affects the bounce and randomness of the ball as it comes to rest in the pocket.
Attached to the center of the wheelhead, the turret is decorative and functional. It typically contains the height adjustment for the wheelhead, which is used to ensure that the outer edge of the wheelhead is below the apron, or lower ball track, so that the ball doesn’t get hung up on the edge.
How Does a Roulette Wheel Work?
The game of roulette consists of predicting (or guessing) where a small ball will land on a spinning wheel. To play the game, players place their bets on a designated area of the table that corresponds to the numbered pockets on the wheel. Once all bets are placed, the dealer spins the wheel and drops the ball on the wheel, spinning in the opposite direction. As the ball bounces around the wheel, it loses momentum and falls into one of the numbered pockets. The final pocket position determines the winning number and color.
For more specific information about game play and the various bets read our article, How to Play Roulette.
The outcome of a roulette spin is a combination of physics and chance. The speed, direction, frets, deflectors, and overall balance all play a role in where the ball ultimately lands. The roulette wheel must be carefully calibrated and regularly inspected to ensure that the outcome of each spin is random and unpredictable.
The Difference Between American and European Roulette Wheels
One key difference between American and European roulette wheels is the number of pockets on the wheel. European roulette wheels have 37 pockets, including a single zero pocket, while American roulette wheels have 38 pockets, including both a single zero pocket and a double zero pocket. This extra pocket gives the house a slightly higher edge in American roulette, which can affect a player’s odds of winning.
Another difference between the two versions of the game is the order of the numbers on the wheel. In European roulette, the numbers on the wheel are arranged in a specific order, known as the “single-zero sequence.” In American roulette, the numbers are arranged in a different order, known as the “double-zero sequence.”
5 Maintenance Tips for Your Roulette Wheel
To ensure that a roulette wheel operates fairly and produces truly random results, it’s important for the wheel to be properly maintained and inspected on a regular basis. Here are some tips for maintaining your roulette wheel:
- Protect from Moisture: Keep the roulette wheel away from water or humidity to avoid warping or corrosion to the components. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight.
- Clean Regularly: Remove dust, dirt, and debris with a soft cloth or a brush. Gently wipe the surface and the pockets of the wheel.
- Lubricate: Apply a small amount of silicone lubricant to the wheel’s spindle to ensure smooth rotation. Avoid using excessive lubricant as it can attract more dirt and cause damage.
- Check for Damage: Inspect the wheel for any signs of damage such as loose frets, warped wood, or bent metal. If you notice any issues, contact a professional technician for repair or replacement.
- Balance the Wheel: It’s important to rebalance the wheel periodically, including adjusting the frets and leveling the wheel to ensure equal distribution of ball landing positions.
Buyer’s Guide: What to Look for in a Roulette Wheel
Consider the following factors when selecting the right roulette wheel for your home or casino-themed event:
- Wheel Type: American wheels are more common and easier to find in the US so depending on your location, this may be your only easily accessible option. European wheels offer better odds for players, so this could be a better option for home play if you have access to this option.
- Size and Portability: Determine the size of the roulette wheel based on the size of your table. Consider whether you need a portable wheel that can be easily transported or a more permanent fixture. Most casinos use a 32” wheel so if you have the space, this will give the most authentic feel.
- Quality and Durability: Check for quality materials such as wood or metal, smooth rotation, well-constructed pockets, and a balanced design. If you mean to play often or maintain your wheel for years, it’s worth investing in a durable wheel that will last for years.
- Budget: Prices can vary significantly depending on the quality, size, and additional features. Compare prices from different suppliers and consider the long-term value of the wheel.
- Authenticity: If you’re aiming for an authentic casino experience, consider wheels that closely resemble those used in professional casinos. Look for features such as a polished wooden bowl, metal frets, and a quality finishing.
- Accessories: Some roulette wheels come with additional accessories such as a table layout, chips, or balls. Determine if these extras are essential for your setup and if they are included in the purchase or sold separately.