Bad luck is so often confused with the possibility that online roulette is rigged, that I want to explore whether there’s any truth in the question ‘is online roulette rigged?’. While we’re at it, we should find out if casinos can cheat at roulette, and whether they would actually do so.
It goes without saying that online roulette should never be rigged.
At PlayOJO and the UK’s other licensed casinos, I believe the games are random. But game fairness is one of the most popular topics among online gamblers, so it’s worth looking at with an impartial eye.
What does rigged mean?
A rigged game is one where the result is deliberately manipulated to benefit someone. In roulette, that someone is the house. A genuine roulette wheel should be 100% random, and anything less means it is either rigged or broken.
Note that a wheel can retain an element of randomness and still be rigged. But before we look at some of the ways a roulette wheel could be rigged, let’s tackle the most obvious (and legitimate) way a roulette game is fixed – the house edge.
House edge: The legal fix
They say the house always wins. As gamblers, we know what we’re getting into when we walk into a casino.
All casinos games including roulette have a built-in house edge which ensures that over time, the Return To Player (RTP) is less than 100%. There’s nothing sinister about the house edge. It’s the price casinos charge for providing the service, and the opportunity to play and occasionally win their money.
The house edge is baked into the roulette odds, and if you’re playing online, it’s managed by software created by developers. Wherever you play, the game mechanics including the RTP are signed off by the gaming regulator. They approve the payout for each game and demand that the game continues to pay out the stated RTP over a large sample size of games.
Roulette’s house edge comes from the payouts odds for hitting a number. The odds are slightly worse than the actual probability of it happening. It is crystal clear that there are 37 numbers on a European roulette wheel and yet the casino pays you 35 to 1 for a winning single number.
As roulette’s RTP comes from the game odds, it is much more difficult for a casino to rig the game. But for BBC-style balance, let’s try and find some feasible ways to fix a roulette game.
3 Possible ways roulette could be fixed
If you’re a shady casino looking for ways to fix a roulette game and tilt the odds even further in your favour, your options are limited. You can’t pay out the wrong amount as it would be easily spotted, so you need to influence which numbers are picked instead.
Here’s how you might do it:
- Method #1: Rigged equipment
- Method #2: Croupier skill
- Method #3: Rigged online roulette software
Let’s review each of them.
Method #1: Rigged equipment
This is the most common method of rigging a physical roulette wheel in a land-based casino or live roulette studio. There are many roulette myths and legends from decades past, but very little hard evidence that it has ever been commonplace or still happens today.
There are said to be 2 ways to rig a real roulette wheel and influence the outcome:
- Ball-tripping: The ball is dislodged from the track, or its journey down the funnel is diverted
- Magnets: They allow the croupier to attract the ball to a particular pocket or section.
Although these methods were reportedly used in underground casinos by the mob, there are no known cases in modern-day regulated casinos.
This is probably because equipment is so carefully inspected, and these methods rely on casino staff too. When more people are involved, the truth is more likely to eventually leak out, and there are more witnesses to the crime.
It’s important to note that there is a world of difference between rigged and faulty equipment. If your roulette wheel has developed a minor fault after years of use, it may have a bias towards certain numbers. But that doesn’t necessarily benefit the house.
A player who usually bets on a particular section may accidentally profit if the wheel’s bias produces more results from that section.
Faulty wheels can also be spotted by advantage players who travel the country looking for biases that improve their chances of winning.
To be rigged effectively, the casino must be able to control the outcome at will. I haven’t seen a credible, sustainable way of doing that in a real casino.
Method #2: Croupier skill
It’s something of an urban legend that some casino roulette croupiers are so skilled at their craft that they can land the ball in any number they please. You can see how it could work. If no bets have been placed on a particular number, it would benefit casinos to be able to select that number for the most profitable outcome.
It is plausible that under perfect conditions, an experienced croupier can repeat the action to land a roulette ball in a similar section. But there are still problems with this theory that croupiers can manipulate the roulette wheel results by the way they spin the wheel and ball.
But I’ll keep those tucked away for the section on why roulette is NOT rigged!
Method #3: Rigged online roulette software
Slots are programmed to pay out to a set RTP, but roulette is all about random numbers and payout odds. It doesn’t take a tech genius to fake the roulette numbers so they player loses.
The first online roulette games were single-player games run by software. No other players could spectate, and it’s easy to see how doubts and conspiracy theories about fixed online roulette games could creep in. This also goes some way to explaining the boom in live casino games like live roulette.
3 Good reasons why roulette is not rigged
We’ve seen how live and online roulette could be rigged, but in every example there are so many problems a cheater faces, starting with regulatory oversight.
- #1: Regulation
- #2: Risk and consequences of getting caught
- #3: It’s hard to pull off
Gambling is one of the most strictly regulated industries.
In major jurisdictions such as the UK, the regulator has the responsibility and power to ensure that games are fair.
In land-based casinos, owners must be fit and proper. Equipment is checked, certified and checked again. Gaming results and financial results are analysed with a fine tooth comb. The odds are stacked against any casino looking for a way to hustle its punters.
Online roulette may look like a better option for unethical operators, but online gaming licences aren’t handed out like Skittles.
Here’s what the law has to say:
- Roulette software must be made by licenced developers
- Games are tested by independent auditors to enure they’re random
- Results are recorded and checked, to make sure they match the RTP
- Audits and statistical analysis can spot unusual patterns
Independent regulators like the UK Gambling Commission have covered all bases and are constantly improving their policies and enforcement methods. With such heavy oversight, it would take an incredibly bold or stupid casino to rig a roulette game, and their scam wouldn’t last long.
#2: Risk and consequences of getting caught
In land-based casinos or live casino roulette games online, results are easy to track. Any bias or irregularities could be detected by eagle-eyed players or analysts who know how to play roulette. With so few variables, roulette is a simple game of chance and it would quickly become clear if a wheel or croupier was not delivering fair results.
Another argument is that the consequences of getting caught are far worse than the extra money a casino could earn from a rigged game. Roulette already has a nice margin for the casino.
“It’s not worth losing your licence for a few percent.”
You risk a lifetime ban from the industry, and possibly civil or legal proceedings too.
There are limits to this argument though. Insider cheating has been uncovered in major online gaming brands such as Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker. But in general it is true that where the downside risks are large and the upside limited, the juice is just not worth the squeeze.
#3: It’s hard to pull off!
Croupiers who want to pick or avoid a specific number are up against it.
First, no croupier has the ability to consistently land a ball where they choose. You would have to spin the wheel at a precise speed, start the ball in the right spot and spin it the correct speed to.
Only an automatic roulette wheel could get close to achieving those conditions. Even then, the diamonds and other obstacles embedded in the roulette wheel create extra randomness or ‘ball scatter’. This make it even harder for players to predict where the ball lands, so it’s harder for croupiers too.
Second, they would need detailed instructions on when to rig the result, and which number to choose. It is often difficult for a casino, let alone a croupier, to know the liabilities for each number before the roulette ball is spun.
There are still a few seconds to place bets after the croupier has sent the ball on its way, too. It’s a very tall order for a croupier to calculate the best and worst results from a quick scan of the inside, outside and racetrack bets. And then aim for or avoid a number and hope no one places more bets in the remaining seconds.
Third, this is not a covert method. It’s done out in the open. If a shrewd roulette player noticed, they could blow the lid on the scam. Or they could keep it to themselves, as they now have the secret to how to win at roulette!
With a high difficulty level, low success rate and high risk of detection, this method is a very poor option for a casino or croupier looking for a way to cheat.
Question #1: How do I avoid a rigged roulette game?
If you play roulette in a land-based casino, the risk of encountering rigged roulette wheels is as close to zero as it gets.
If you’re playing at a licenced, mainstream casino in the UK, you can expect random results, excellent internal security and staff who follow procedures to the T. Online casino is a different ball game, but if you follow these steps, you won’t ever encounter fixed online roulette games.
- Pick a trusted and established UK casino brand with a UKGC licence.
- Play games from different providers who also have a UKGC licence.
- Try live dealer roulette from Evolution Gaming, NetEnt or Pragmatic Play.
If you use a variety of casinos, wheels and croupiers, and follow the advice in my roulette guide, you’ll be fine.
Question #2: What should you do if you suspect a roulette table is fixed
As we’ve seen, rigged roulette wheels are difficult to run, easy to spot and therefore rare. If you have doubts about the randomness of your game, just remember that the chance that the wheel is rigged is extremely small. You are probably seeing normal results of roulette luck.
However, for your peace of mind, the sensible move is to stop playing, and choose another table or casino. If you have any evidence that the game was not being run as it should, share it with the regulator and ask them to investigate.
Question #3: Can you cheat on roulette?
Einstein famously concluded that the only way to win at roulette was to steal the chips. I believe in an honest game where the casino and player are both playing fair, and everyone’s chances of winning are the same.
Cheating on the part of the player is illegal in many countries. Some lesser types of gamesmanship or advantage play have now been made illegal by UK courts too.
- One method is past posting, where players change their bet or bet size after the ball lands. Tight security makes this approach a non-starter.
- Another method is sector targeting, where devices are used to track wheel and ball speed, and estimated the landing zone. This is technically challenging and illegal in most countries. It’s also unreliable due to the design of roulette wheels and the training that croupiers undertake.
You could collude with a croupier to get paid out on losing bets, or get paid more than you should have. Once again, this would be seen as fraud and carry severe penalties for both player and croupier. It’s also extremely difficult to execute, given internal security processes. Ultimately, cheating in casino games is both wrong and almost impossible, so don’t bother!
Some players believe that you can use roulette systems like the Martingale system or Paroli system to cheat the game. The systems are perfectly legal but the truth is, they are not profitable and casinos would love you to use them.
Just as cheating is hard for a casino to pull off, it’s the same for players too. I am convinced that cheating at roulette is so difficult and risky for both players and casinos that it’s virtually impossible for any UK roulette game to be rigged in 2020