Reinventing the wheel: The evolution of roulette

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Roulette has remained one of the most popular casino games since its inception in the early 18th century in France. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the table game was derived from the earlier hoca and portique, and received several modifications before its current layout and wheel structure were finalized in 1790. While it quickly became the leading casino game in parts of Europe and elsewhere, the game meaning “little wheel” in French has been supplanted in recent years by the likes of blackjack and poker as the most popular games – but it still remains a staple feature of casinos worldwide.

It is undeniable that the popularity of roulette is responsible for generating a vast amount of revenue. According to research compiled by Statista, global casino gaming revenues stood at $182.77 billion as of 2015, with roulette being voted as players’ fourth most popular casino game in the US. In recent years, the rise of high-speed internet connectivity, smart devices and relaxed regulation have led to a rapid increase in the number of online casinos around the world. The total size of the online gambling market, for instance, is expected to reach $56.05 billion by 2018 – more than double its 2009 revenues. Of this, 23 percent of the market is attributed to casino-style games such as roulette and blackjack, with poker making up 18 percent.

As explained in the rules of roulette games from 32Red, players win by successfully predicting the number, color or other outcome of the wheel spin. When the roulette wheel is spun by the croupier, a small ball is placed on it. The wheel generally contains 37 numbered pockets – although there are some variations – in which the ball could drop when the wheel comes to a stop. The best odds available are 35-1 for correctly predicting the number the wheel will land on, while red-or-black and odds-or-evens are also popular permutations, providing odds of 1-1.

With the rise of online casinos, roulette has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, as operators of the game have looked to stay competitive with flashy video slots in addition to the aforementioned poker and blackjack. As a result, many online casinos now provide many themed or gamified variations of the classic table title. Caesars Casino, for example, offers editions such as 3 Wheel Roulette and Roulette Master, while Jackpot City Online Casino features Multi-Player Roulette and Roulette Royale.

Perhaps the most significant step in the evolution of roulette, however, is the relatively recent conception of live casino. As internet speeds have become faster and more stable, and as computer processors have become more sophisticated, live streaming technologies have become a ubiquitous element of our online browsing experience. Today, the likes of sports and video games have all turned to live streaming to broadcast events live via the internet. Online casino developers and operators have also embraced the technology, giving rise to live casino games.

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Aiming to closely emulate the experience – and associated stimuli – of stepping foot into a real-life casino, leading iGaming developers including Playtech and Evolution Gaming have successfully managed to combine live streaming and optical character recognition (OCR) technologies to create a number of real-time casino games that feature human dealers and are broadcast live to players. Evolution’s Live Roulette, for example, as used by sites such as 32Red, includes HD-quality video, slow-motion replays and multiple camera angles, with the aim of providing players with a more immersive experience than previously possible.

This “immersion” is proving to be one of the hot tech and entertainment topics over the past couple of years, with virtual reality and augmented reality both gaining mainstream attention. It would appear, therefore, that VR or AR may be the next logical step in the continued evolution of roulette. Indeed, in February 2016, casino software developer Microgaming demonstrated its in-house VR Roulette to the public at ICE Totally Gaming 2016. In addition to using the Oculus Rift’s head-tracking capabilities, the demo also made use of the Leap Motion 3D controller to track a player’s hand movements – allowing them to “physically” place chips in the virtual world.

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Despite having a rich and traditional history that dates back hundreds of years, roulette has proven itself to be an adaptable game that is willing to embrace the latest technological advancements in order to survive. Over the coming years, just as it supplanted virtual video roulette – and before it, land-based games – live roulette could well give way in popularity to virtual reality roulette.

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