May 2009
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How to win at roulette

I’ve never played casino roulette before to release a bonus.  There was a juicy risk-free play on Sporting Index’s roulette spread game for a while, but for down-and-dirty bonus whoring the house edge on roulette is usually too high to make it worthwhile.

However, I just found a weekly promotion from Gala Casinos that turns roulette into a theoretical winner.  It’s only a £10 bonus, and with a £200 play requirement you should expect to lose just over half of that (figuring a single-zero wheel with 2.7% house edge; forget about it with double-zero) but you can play it every Saturday, and you don’t need to keep depositing and withdrawing.  You can just transfer funds between casino and sports to activate the bonus code.

There’s also a blackjack bonus every Friday (£10 free for £200 in action, worth at least £8 per week) and a bunch of other random bonuses which may or may not be worth taking advantage of.

Look after those small edges and the bankroll will look after itself.

I did activate another bonus for blackjack last week.  However it could only be played at their live dealer casino and once I saw what was involved I gave up pretty quickly.

Don’t get me wrong., if you want to chill out and play some cards online it’s probably great.  The concept actually works really well.  The video and sound quality is fine, and the cards have jumbo numbers on so you can see exactly what has been dealt for yourself.  Plus, because you can see a human shuffling and dealing the cards, you can be confident that the game is fair.

Furthermore, if you were so inclined, you could count cards extremely easily.  Use a pen and paper if you want – nobody is watching.  You could even play the spotter and call in a friend as the big player to avoid detection (see the movie "21" or any of dozens of documentaries about the MIT teams for how this works).

However, if you just need to grind through 125 hands at the table minimum to clear a £25 bonus (which, relative to the amounts at stake, is much more profitable than card-counting) it’s going to take hours.

Clearly computerised gambling is going to be quicker than anything that is run by a human, but live over-the-internet gambling is much slower still.  A dealer in a casino usually doesn’t ask if you want to stand on 20, give a long speech and wait 30 seconds when offering insurance against an exposed ace, or announce the name of each winner after every hand.  I found these delays pretty painful.

Back to the roulette.  It really wasn’t much effort to play through £200 for my few quid of expected value while I was cranking up a few poker tables.  It took about ten minutes.

The quickest and lowest-variance way, I figured, would be to bet £99 on red, £99 on black and £5.50 on zero.  It works out very nicely with 50p chips in play: for a £203.50 total stake (instantly releasing the £10 bonus) you’d always get back £198 for a guaranteed loss of £5.50, netting you £4.50 profit.

I actually went for a slightly different approach, hoping to avoid instant detection as a bonus abuser.  My deception wouldn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny if a real person examined my play, but at least I wasn’t betting on the both sides of the same coin flip, which would surely raise a red flag.

I placed seven £1 outside bets: red, even, 1-18, 1st dozen (1-12), 2nd dozen (13-24), 1st column (1, 4, 7, ..) and 2nd column (2, 5, 8, …).

This combination meant that although I covered almost every number on the layout – and most of them at least once – it was still gambling.  I’d lose everything on a zero or black 33.

Or so I thought.  To meet the £200 play requirement, I had to spin the wheel with this £7 bet 28 times (plus a slightly smaller bet to make up the difference) so the odds of hitting a wipeout number were high.  Eventually a zero came – and with it an unexpected lesson in European roulette rules.

I was amazed to see £1.50 returned to me from what I thought was a completely losing bet.  Turns out that you actualy get half back on the even money bets when a zero is spun.

Shows how much I know about roulette, I’ve never heard of that before.  I don’t know how widespread this in in European casinos (Wizard of Odds has some information about this, and some variations) but I know Ashley Revell wasn’t going to get half his life savings back if a zero came.

This is fantastic news.  The rule reduces the house edge on even money bets from 2.7% to 1.35% and increases the value of this bonus from £4.60 to £7.30 – assuming that you only make even money bets.  Which, of course, I did from that point on.

It’s also opened my eyes to the possibility of exploiting roulette bonuses at other online casinos that offer the same rules.  It’s still going to be tough to find a beatable game with a 1.35% house edge, but it’s twice as feasible as I thought it was.

For what it’s worth, I made £8 today.  It’s not really worth getting excited about, but with several small bonuses available at the moment, my money is working harder for me in the Bank of Gala than any bank I can think of.