Roulette is one of the most famous casino games on the planet. The spinning wheel is instantly recognisable, and even non-gamblers struggle to suppress a pang of excitement as they watch the ball rattle around the track. The classic table game has been in existence in its current form since 1796 and has made the transition to modern online casinos as well. But what is the science behind this iconic casino offering? Can the trajectory of a roulette ball be calculated, and what psychological aspects are involved when players make decisions?
Blaise Pascal is credited with inspiring the game of roulette which exists today. The French mathematician and physicist were trying to create a perpetual motion machine. He was unsuccessful, as this type of device would violate the first or second law of thermodynamics and would, therefore, be impossible. In his attempts, however, he came up with a wheel which went on to influence roulette.
In a real-world casino scenario, there is no set time for a roulette wheel to spin as it depends on the style of the croupier and how busy the table is. Usually, though, they tend to turn for around four minutes. Roulette has been of interest to physicists for many years because there is technically a possibility to work out an equation which would determine where the ball would land.
If a physicist knew the exact velocity and direction of the wheel, along with the point of contact of the ball and many other variables, they would be able to use Newtonian mechanics to calculate where the ball would land. With roulette being so fast-paced, though, and dealers opting for different methods each time, it would be almost impossible to work this kind of equation out in real-time.
When roulette moved to the online world, developers had to work out how they were going to represent the randomness of the game fairly. Virtual games were visually represented with computer graphics, and couldn’t rely on the same laws of physics as their real-world counterparts. For this reason, online roulette for UK casinos uses a random number generator to determine where the ball will land. The RNG used online is based on an algorithm which can create long runs of numbers which have random properties.
In addition to the physics of the roulette wheel, there is another form of science involved with the gambling game. It is interesting to examine the psychology that comes into play when players place bets on the wheel. For example, while most players know that the wheel is entirely random, they still put a heavy emphasis on the idea of lucky and unlucky streaks. Superstitions and misleading strategies can come about through confirmation bias as well after a player has conditioned themselves to associate a particular outcome with a certain way of playing. Roulette may look like a classic gambling game, but a lot is going on behind the scenes. There are many forces at play when the game is in action, which some quantum physicists have tried to solve. There are also several psychological factors which influence how people bet on the game.