The roulette wheel has long been the subject of rumor regarding its integrity.
Unlike slot machines, which are governed by microprocessor units, computer chips, and integrated circuitry, and cards and craps, which have a foundation based on mathematical probability, roulette is run by a dealer who operates all aspects of play manually, and is played on a wheel made of metal and wood. The wheel, therefore, is subject to wear and tear and the operator is subject to human frailties. The result? A possible disruption of the random nature of play.
Among the factors that make roulette vulnerable are these: Under absolutely perfect and unbiased conditions, the wheel itself would have to be flawlessly balanced, the pockets (where the ball drops) uniformly structured and surfaced, the frets (the barriers between the pockets) uniformly resilient and resistant to wear, and the dealers incapable of consciously or unconsciously controlling the ball.
The very nature of the roulette wheel, including its physical structure and the human element, makes all of the above factors subject to fallibility. This in turn paves the way for biases and inconsistencies to develop, and the opportunity for sharp players to exploit the biases, both human and mechanical.
A company based in London, England took giant strides toward eliminating some roulette wheel frailties. John Huxley brought space-age technology to the game by developing the trademark "Starburst" roulette wheel.
The company's research into developing the new wheel came about as a result of the fact that the shape of the ball pockets is the single most influential factor in how a moving ball reacts to finding its final resting place in a number. The deep pockets and steep sides (frets) of conventional wheels are subject to inconsistent wear, and over the course of years could fall victim to bias.
John Huxley first addressed this issue by producing the first low-sided wheels with shallow pockets called "low profile". The Starburst concept is statistically proven to be more random than any previous low-profile wheel.
The revolutionary concept associated with the Starburst wheel is the fact it is equipped with a solid number ring constructed out of continuous metal and cut by computer controlled machines. This technology has created incredible tolerance limits for each pocket. With no laminated pocket liners to absorb motion and fewer obstacles to trap the ball, roulette wheel performance has been dramatically improved.
Brand new roulette wheels are incredibly expensive. That's one reason why they enjoy such a long life on casino floors. A majority of them undergo refurbishing from time to time, especially in the bigger casinos, but it's still possible to find very old wheels in some of the smaller off-the-strip and downtown locations in Las Vegas.
The older wheels are the ones that may have a bias, but unless you're a regular at the particular location it is difficult to detect. Picking up bias requires "clocking" thousands of spins of the wheel, and even then you may enjoy only a slight advantage. It has always been my feeling that if a major bias existed and players started taking advantage of it, the wheel wouldn't last long on the casino's floor.
I also believe that if there was a bias and the casino's profits weren't being adversely affected, there probably wouldn't be any great rush to amend the situation, paving the way for astute players to make percentage plays and possibly cut into the built-in 5.26 percent house edge the casino enjoys over roulette players.
Short of clocking a particular roulette wheel in an attempt to pick up bias, the only way to play the game is to hope luck will be on your side. There is no skill involved, although wise money management (as always) will play a major role in whether you walk away from the table happy or sad.
This columnist's recommended means of roulette wheel attack is to play conservatively at first, using the even money and 2-1 propositions in an attempt to build up your stake. If you are successful in getting a little bit ahead of the game, then it's fun to start playing the numbers "straight up" and hope to cash in 35-1 if your number hits.