How to Play Roulette (and maybe win) in a Casino for Beginners

A Roulette felt found in most casinos
A Roulette felt found in most casinos

By Steve Beauregard

It’s full of either red or black colors. It’s exciting, fun and addicting. I am of course, talking about a package of Twizzlers.

But I could also be talking about roulette, which is one of the most exhilarating, and simplest games in the casino. So let’s talk about how to play it in a live casino setting with some quick basics of how to play the game. These are just the basic tips for roulette beginners; the myriad of different combinations and cross betting strategies will be for another article.

As you probably already know, roulette is the casino table game in which a dealer spins a little white ball around a wheel. The ball travels around and around the wheel, eventually landing on one of 38 numbers, ranging from 0 to 36. The object of the game is to guess which number the ball will land on.

That’s it, (basically).

To start playing roulette at a casino, bring your money with you to an empty or near-empty table. To me, it’s more fun, (especially when I was first getting my feet wet), to play at a less crowded table. It’s less stressful that way, and you have the board to yourself. You also have the dealer’s attention, in case you need help.

Now you’re at the table, here are the three steps for beginners to begin playing their first game of roulette.

1) Buy-in

To begin playing, lay down your $20 bill, or $100, or whatever, on the green felt in front of you. Be sure not to set it down on any of the boxes or numbers, otherwise it may be considered to be a bet.

Once the dealer sees your cold hard cash, he or she will convert it into chips. If two or more of you are playing, each of you will have a different color of chips. This is designed so that the dealer knows who bet on what. These unique chips are only to be used at the roulette wheel, and are not to be pocketed, or taken away from the table.

The chips you receive for, say, your $20 bill will be worth $1 each. In other words, you’ll get twenty chips. (That’s my public education math working there).

(Here’s a short video on how to play roulette for beginners)

2) Bet

Sitting there, with your twenty chips, you’ll see that the green felt before you is filled with an array of boxes containing numbers, lines, or even colored diamonds. (Go here for a discussion on Roulette strategies).

Let’s start with numbers.

Betting on Numbers

Pick a number. Any number from 1 to 36, or the 0 or 00 you’ll see in green at the top of the number board.

Betting, and winning on one of these numbers pays 35 for 1. Meaning if you put one chip down on the number 9, and the ball lands on 9, you’ll receive 35 chips, or $35 dollars, (plus the one you already bet). If the ball lands on anything else, your dollar chip will be scooped up by the dealer, and a new spin will begin.

At most casinos, you’ll find the table minimum bet to be $5. This does not mean you have to bet $5 on a number. What it means is that you have to have at least five chips on one number, or a combination of numbers during each spin.

So let’s say you put a chip on the number 9. To make the table minimum, you would need to put four other dollar chips on either the 9, or on different numbers. You could put $1 on the 9, and $4 on another number, say the 27, or you could make five different $1 bets, or other combinations adding up to $5. The point is that you have to have $5 out there for each spin, and each number has to have at least $1 on it.

Coin Flip Bets

I call these “coin flips” because they are close to being 50/50 propositions. Typically they have a $5 minimum. Unlike the harder-to-make number bets, these coin flip bets pay 1 to 1. In other words, if you have a $5 bet out there and it wins, you get your original $5 back plus $5 in winnings.

These bets include my favorite, betting on either red or black. Other coin flips include betting on whether the number will be 1-18, or 19-36, or betting on whether the number will be odd or even.

These bets are pretty clearly marked on the felt and are pretty popular. It’s the simplest bet to make, as on a color bet, you just need to pick red or black. (If the ball lands on the green 0 or 00, the red and black bets both lose).

Keep in mind, I say, “coin flips” but in reality, you have a less than 50% chance of winning on these bets. Unlike a real coin flip, a bet on either the red or black at roulette gives you a 47.37% chance of winning. The presence of the two green numbers, 0, and 00, is the difference here, ensuring there is a casino, (or “house”) edge.

A typical casino roulette wheel
A typical casino roulette wheel

Whether you are betting on numbers, colors, or a combination thereof, it’s customary, (and just plain nice), to tip the dealer a dollar chip once in a while. If you happen to win big, a bigger tip is appreciated.

3) Cash Out

When you decide to leave, you’ll ask the dealer to “color up,” which means you want to convert your special colored roulette chips into regular casino chips. Again, be sure not to take any of the unique roulette chips with you when you leave the game.

And that, is the very basics on how to play roulette in a casino for beginners. Like every other game in the casino, there’s a house edge, meaning it is not beatable in the long run. However often times lightening will strike, and when it does, it’s magic. You’ll hear that clackety clack of the ball bouncing around the wheel, seemingly in slow motion, and as you watch as it lands on your color or number, you’ll realize why roulette is such an intoxicating casino thrill ride. (Photo courtesy of Hakan Dahlstrom and Lisa Brewster via Flickr).