The Forefathers of Roulette
In the French language, Roulette means “a small wheel”, thus further proving where the game originated. However, many websites that have a summary of the origin of the Roulette game, insist that the ancestors of Roulette are; English – Roly Poly, Ace of Hearts, and Even-odd – and Italian – Biribi and Hoca.
A closer look into the hypothesized ancestors comes from the Casanova memoirs in 1763. Casanova quotes “biribi” in his writings and claims that it was a regular cheating game which was outlawed in Genoa, thus making it even more popular. He goes on and explains that, the board was divided into 36 compartments, and if an individual lost, he had to pay 32 times the amount of the bet. From the author’s perception, it seems more like a distant cousin as opposed to an ancestor was playing the game.
Hoca, on the other side, seems to have been more of a card game with 30 points and 30 balls; it was more of a lottery card game and less like Roulette.
Brandt, the author of “Games, Gaming and Gamestar’s Law”, perceives “Ace of hearts” as another name for “Bone-Ace”, where Charles Cotton describes it as a gambling card game that is of an extremely simple nature. In this game, players place their stakes on the card that will be turned up by the dealer. The description of this game is also quite far from Roulette.
Even-Odd’s description comes closer to Roulette. It was a game that had a wheel and a ball. However, it had 20 sections that had been marked E for even and O for Odd, as opposed to numbers like Roulette. Unlike Roulette where a Zero is allocated to the house, part of the section was allotted for the house in Even-Odd. This game grew very popular in the 1770s until 1772 when it was outlawed by a statute in 1782. This game passes as a possible pioneer of the Roulette game; however, it lacks references that state that it was played before Roulette. The only way that Even-Odd can be termed as the ancestor of Roulette is if it can be perceived as Roly Poly.
The earliest indisputable mention of “Roly Poly” dates back to 1730. It has been mentioned in a letter from the Countess of Suffolk, “the Duchess of Marlborough takes to losing her money at Roly Poly”. Sadly, this does not give us any information regarding the game’s details.
In another book, “the Fatal Effects of Gambling”, 1824, there is a section with the title, “Description of the newly introduced game of Roulette or Roly Poly”. Act 18 Geo II of 1745 refers to “Roulette or Roly Poly” thus implying that the two are the same game.