is roulette all luck or skill

If there are such things as winning roulette strategies and roulette pros, why do so many players so that roulette is all luck?

There are various types of gambling which involve skill as well as luck, but on the face of it, roulette isn’t one of them. A game which revolves – literally – around a ball spinning inside a wheel and landing in a number is understandably seen by most people as a game of pure chance.

But although the choices you make as a roulette player are limited to the numbers you pick and the size of your bet, there may be more skill to roulette than you think.

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Why some say roulette is all luck

Roulette is a random numbers game, so like the lottery, it is all luck. But there’s a wheel and a ball, so there might be an edge to be gained by the very best players, right? Let’s answer the question ‘how does the game of roulette work?’

Our job as players is to predict in which numbered pocket the ball will land. Random numbers are, by definition, impossible to predict. There is no skill in choosing which numbers to go for.

To prove the point, casinos ensure that all bets at the roulette table (with one exception) carry the same house edge. They literally don’t care what you bet on. It’s all the same to them. So from a gameplay perspective, roulette is all luck.

Chart with random number games on one side and skill games on the other

Blackjack, 3 Card Poker and other games involve an element of skill and decision making. Make the wrong move and you’ll lose more on average than if you’d made the right move.

In roulette, there are no right or wrong moves. You and I can play totally different strategies and still be exposed to the same amount of house edge. It doesn’t matter how many numbers I bet on, or how much I bet, we have the same chance of winning or losing.

You will see countless mentions of winning roulette strategies (and you can see if they work in our roulette guide). They rely entirely on changing your bet size so that if the numbers go your way in the short-term, you win. Duh!

Yet whatever roulette system(martingale system or paroli) you use, every single bet you make – whether it’s 1 number, 5 numbers or an outside bet – is subject to the same house edge. There is just no escaping it. But there are skills you can learn which guarantee you the best chance of success when you play.

There is skill in roulette: It’s everywhere you look!

To answer the question of whether there is any skill in roulette, we have to look beyond the numbers. From the moment you decide to play roulette, to the moment you rake in your winnings, you’ll make many choices. Ironically, the least important is what numbers to bet on, but let’s start with it anyway!

#1: What to bet on

In European roulette, every bet has a house edge of 2.70%. No getting around it. The 1 to 1 odds you get for red or black are the same as the 35 to 1 odds you get for a single number. Both are slightly worse than the real odds of it happening, and so there is zero skill in deciding which numbers to play.

American Roulette betting grid using with labels for certain bet type

In French roulette, the skill is in knowing when the La Partage or En Prison rules are in play. If your roulette table offers these rules, you can place even money bets at just 1.35%, half the edge of all other bet types at the same table.

In American roulette, there are no bets with better odds and payouts to be found, but there is one bet with a higher house edge than the rest. The Basket or Top Line bet covers 0-00-1-2-3 and comes with a hefty 7.89% edge, far worse than the 5.26% for all other bets. It may be a very minor skill, but money saved is as good as money won.

#2: Which game type to play

In a land-based casino, you may not always get the option of which roulette to play, but you will often face 2 or 3 types of roulette when you play online. Of the 3 roulette types, French roulette has the lowest house edge, while American roulette has the worst.

You are playing the same roulette game with virtually the same numbers, and yet one of the games will cost you more in the long run. Stake £1,000 at a European roulette table and you can expect to get a return of £973. Place the same bets at an American roulette table and you’ll get £947.40 back.

That’s £25.60 you save just for knowing. You might argue the different between skill and knowledge, but in gambling games, knowledge is everything.

#3: How to manage your bankroll

You might be unluckiest player in the world, but if you manage your money well, you’ll still be in the game long after everyone else has busted their stack. Just as in life, sound financial decisions can keep you alive until the next purple patch comes along.

Good bankroll management must be a skill (and a difficult one at that), as so few players I have come across both know the theory and practice it well too.

#4: Managing your time

Player at roulette table with money and time thought bubbles, maybe even looking at her watch, and with cash notes in her hand

It may seem the least important of all the roulette skills, but knowing the right time to play, and quit, can be crucial to success or failure. Your physical and mental wellbeing play a huge role in your ability to gamble shrewdly and choosing the time of day and length of session are high up my list of soft skills I see in all smart players.

#4: Getting the best rewards

If you’re up against a house edge no matter what, your focus should turn to what side benefits you can swing when you play roulette. Picking the right casino and getting maximum value from its reward programme is a skill no professional gamblers would do without.

#5: Using advantage plays

In gambling, an advantage player is someone who takes advantage of flaws or other opportunities so they can beat the house edge.

In roulette, you can either travel the country in search of wheels with biases towards certain numbers, or use microcomputers to calculate the speed and trajectory of the ball in the hope of predicting which section of the roulette wheel the ball is more likely to choose.

Both methods require a great deal of skill in how to play roulette, be it technical expertise, research & analysis or good ol’ fashioned patience. Both are also a dying art, so I won’t factor this type of skill into my final decision.

Luck vs skill: The scores are in

In blackjack, the skill element can account for a swing of up to 15% in the house – and that’s just the basic strategy you use to make decisions during hands.

In roulette, skill in choosing which numbers to bet on – with one notable American roulette exception – makes no difference to the house edge.

But does that mean roulette is all luck and no skill? What some gamblers call meta or soft skills – the ones you use for every choice except what numbers to play – can be worth a lot of money too.

But ultimately, once you’ve learned the best strategies for selecting tables, managing your money and managing your time, roulette really is all down to the luck of the wheel.

Daniel Grant

Daniel Grant

Dan Grant has been writing about gambling for 15 years, and been fascinated by beating the odds for even longer. Now he’s on a mission to help others bet smarter and avoid the mistakes he made. When he’s not obsessing over bankroll strategy or counting cards badly, he’s hosting The OJO Show podcast.