The probable origins of roulette

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As with many games, theories differ as to the origin of roulette. The most popular is that it was invented in 1655 by the French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, during his monastic retirement. The first game of roulette took place in a casino in Paris.

The second is very similar and simply states that it was invented by a blind French monk in order to fight against the monotony of monastic life.

According to the third theory, French Dominican monks invented roulette, based on an ancient Tibetan game that aimed to organize 3 animal statuettes into a square magic number of 666. The Tibetan game apparently originated in China but unfortunately the rules of the game have not been recorded. The monks, it seems, created the game by replacing the 37 statuettes with numbers from 0 to 36 and arranging them randomly around a spinning wheel.

Of these 3 theories, the third seems to lack foundation but the common theme is that the game was invented in a monastery in France and one can reasonably assume that this is true. Whether the monk who really invented it was Blaise Pascale is less certain.

The ancestors of roulette?

Roulette in French means ‘little wheel’ which again indicates a French origin of the game. However, if you read the many websites that present a brief history of roulette, they almost all speak of supposedly English ancestors, namely : The “Roly Poly”, the “Ace of hearts” and the “Even-Odd” and Italian ancestors, namely the “Biribi” and the “Hoca”. They all write the same thing because they copy everything they read from Wikipedia , the information of which is often approximate.

Let’s take a closer look at these hypothetical ancestors. In an excerpt from Casanova’s memoirs dated 1763, it is written: “Suddenly all the great ladies have gone mad about ‘biribi’, an ordinary game of cheating. It was strictly banned in Geneva, but that only made it more popular. “It seems that in each round, 3 numbers were drawn from a bag and Casanova continues by writing:” The board had thirty six compartments, and when you lost, you paid thirty-two times the stake; this was obviously a considerable advantage for the bank. As can be seen, although there are some similarities, there is neither a ball nor a wheel, which means that it is, according to the author’s description, more of a distant cousin than from an ancestor of roulette.

It appears that the Hoca consisted of a thirty point, thirty ball card game and was more likely a lottery type card game than a roulette-like game.

“Ace of Hearts” was, according to Brandt’s “Games, Gaming and Gamester’s Law”, another name for the game “Bone-Ace”, clearly described by Charles Cotton. It is quite simply the simplest possible gambling game, in which players bet on the value of the card the dealer will turn over. This game is not like roulette.

Even-Odd (EO) , on the other hand, was a game consisting of a wheel and a ball just like roulette but instead of numbers it only consisted of 20 sections marked with the letter E. for Even (even) and 20 others marked with the letter O for Odd (odd). Instead of zero, part of the sections was allocated to the house. The game seems to have quickly become popular around 1770 until it was banned by law around 1782. It is therefore a possible ancestor of roulette. However, there is unfortunately no reference to this game prior to roulette. So the OE can only be the ancestor of roulette if it was also called Roly Poly….

Roly Poly is either an alternate name for EO or roulette, depending on the source and interpretation. See a discussion about this below. If this is an alternate name for roulette then no ancestor of roulette is known. However, if Roly Poly and EO are one game, then EO is probably an ancestor of roulette.