Red or black is one of the easiest bets to make in roulette. While other bets have higher payouts, red or black is one of the highest-percentage bets on the table and the best choice if you just want the excitement of a win. But is there a way to tell if your color is going to come up? Are there signs you can use to tilt the winning percentage in your direction?
The Simple Answer
The short answer is: no. At least, not if you’re playing on a fair roulette wheel. In the long run, a fair wheel will produce an even distribution between red and black. In American roulette (with two zero pockets on the wheel), there are 18 pockets of your chosen color and 20 losing pockets, so your chance of getting a win with a red or black bet is 18 out of 38, or 47.37%. An European wheel, with only one zero pocket, tightens things up a little, with a 48.64% chance of a win. The difference between the odds of winning and losing represents the house edge — 5.26% for an American wheel and 2.7% for an European wheel.
Note that the house edge is the same for any roulette bet. Other bets may have lower winning percentages, but higher payouts that balance it out. So there’s no avoiding the edge if you play. This edge is why gimmicked roulette wheels are rare — why should the house bother with a gimmicked wheel when a fair wheel will give them a reliable profit?
Don’t Misread the Odds
There’s a natural human tendency to take these percentages as a guarantee of results. If you play 40 spins of a fair wheel, for instance, it should come up 20 red and 20 black, right? Likewise, players sometimes tend to look for trends in past results for hints of what colors might be coming up. If the wheel has produced eight black results in the last 10 spins, for instance, maybe you should bet black to go with the trend? Or maybe the wheel will need to produce some red results to balance out all that black, so you could go with red?
This belief comes up often enough that it has a name — the Gambler’s Fallacy or the Monte Carlo Fallacy, the latter name coming from the European home of roulette. It simply represents an attempt to create a pattern where none exists. Every spin of the wheel is an individual event, and it does not influence future spins. Your winning percentage for a red or black bet on each spin is the same every time, regardless of what the last 10 or 20 or 100 spins came up with.
While in the long run, a fair wheel should produce an even distribution of results, most of us don’t have the time or bankroll to play in the long run. And there’s no way to predict how those results will be distributed.
What Does All This Mean?
Since the house edge is the same regardless of how you bet, and the probabilities of a win don’t change from spin to spin, it means as a roulette player you should be suspicious of anyone peddling surefire systems to beat the wheel, because there’s no such thing. Just make your bets, enjoy your wins, and be careful with your losses!