Roulette is one of the world’s most-popular casino games. However, it’s not THE most-popular casino game today.
Instead, slot machines rule the gaming industry nowadays. Once upon a time, though, roulette was the preferred option among gamblers.
In fact, Francois Blanc used it to dominate Europe’s gambling industry throughout the eighteenth century. You can learn more about Blanc below along with why roulette was so important to his gaming empire.
Who Was Francois Blanc?
Francois Blanc was an entrepreneur who lived from 1806 to 1877. He became known as both the “Wizard of Homburg” and “Magician of Monte Carlo” for his gambling prowess.
Francois and his brother, Louis, grew up in a small town in southeastern France. Their favorite time of year was when the circus rolled into town.
However, they didn’t make their fortune in circus entertainment. Instead, they laid roots in Marseilles and began working for a casino.
Louis and Francois had always dreamed of getting rich. They used their earnings from the gaming industry to start a bank in Bordeaux.
The duo started speculating with real estate and pensions through the bank. Francois and Louis used questionable practices, which would later be outlawed, to make a fortune.
French police arrested the Blancs and forced them to pay a fine for bribing local officials. The brothers served no jail time, but they did decide to leave Bordeaux for Paris afterward.
How Francois Developed Homburg Into a Popular Tourism Destination
Once in Paris, Francois and Louis Blanc went back to the gaming world. They began offering betting opportunities that floated anti-gambling laws in France.
However, King Louis Philippe outlawed gambling throughout the country and forced the Blancs to go on the move again. They opened a casino in Bad Homburg, Germany and experienced their greatest success yet.
Bad Homburg was struggling financially at the time. Francois arranged a lucrative contract with the local monarch that not only included gambling but other forms of entertainment too.
Soon, Homburg became one of the most-popular European tourism destinations thanks to its casinos, spa, theaters, and lavish hotels. However, Francois still felt that it was missing something in the gaming department.
The Invention of European Roulette
While Bad Homburg was certainly popular among gamblers, it still lagged behind Paris’ casinos. Paris, which is located approximately 600 kilometers (372 miles) to the west, offered more surrounding attractions and bigger gambling houses.
Francois needed a way to set Homburg apart from Paris and the rest of the world. In 1843, he introduced a roulette wheel with a single zero.
Other roulette variants at the time featured a single-zero and double-zero pocket. This setup, which is known as the American wheel today, gives the house a 5.26% edge.
You arrive at this house advantage by dividing the two house-friendly pockets by the total number of pockets (2/38).
Gamblers in the mid-1800s were quite experienced with this wheel. The single and double zero were standard at the time.
Francois decided to differentiate himself and Homburg from the gambling world. He introduced a new wheel that didn’t include the double zero.
Now referred to as European roulette, this game only features a 2.70% house edge. You arrive at this figure by dividing the lone house-friendly pocket by the total number of pockets (1/37).
News quickly spread of a new roulette variation that gave players a much stronger chance to win. Even more gamblers flocked to Homburg while looking to boost their chances of winning.
Legends claimed that Francois made a deal with the devil to obtain the “secrets of roulette.” Proponents pointed out how the sum of all numbers on the roulette wheel (0 through 36) add up to 666 (Number of the Beast).
But nothing satanic was really in play. The Blanc brothers just did simple math and nearly halved the roulette house advantage.
Francois Moves His Empire to Monaco
Frankfurt outlawed gambling in the early 1860s, which affected Bad Homburg and other towns in the region. The German city felt that they no longer needed casinos to draw tourists.
This decision left the Wizard of Homburg quickly searching for a way to continue his lucrative gambling operation. He found a willing partner in the Monaco royal family.
Monaco is a principality wedged in between the French Riviera and the Mediterranean Sea. It drew some tourists at the time due to its natural beauty alone—especially during the summer.
But there was just one problem: Monaco was a relatively isolated area. Few highways and no railways led to the principality.
The Blancs Make a Huge Investment
The Blanc brothers’ fortune took a hit after they were suddenly forced to abandon their casinos in Homburg. However, they did have almost 2.3 million francs left.
They used this money to set up a new establishment for gambling in Monaco. Besides building a casino, Francois and Louis improved surrounding roads and built a railway leading to the country.
Monaco’s royal family had been struggling financially before the Blancs arrived. Charles III gave Francois plenty of freedoms regarding gambling in an effort to turn things around.
The Blancs made a huge bet on Monaco by pouring all of their money into this out-of-the-way destination. They were rewarded as over 30,000 people visited the principality within its first year after the investment.
European Roulette Again Proves a Big Success
Francois was able to transform Bad Homburg into a premier gambling destination in large part to European roulette. Not surprisingly, he rolled out the single-zero wheel in Monte Carlo as well.
Many gambling houses were still offering the double-zero wheel in the 1860s. Therefore, Francois found great success by rolling out the single-zero version in Monaco.
The Blanc brothers had struggled to gain a foothold everywhere they had previously gone. Francois and Louis thought they’d found a long-term home in Homburg.
However, Frankfurt dashed these dreams by outlawing gaming. The brothers didn’t have to worry about such problems in Monaco.
The royal family held up their end of the bargain and continued allowing gambling freedoms throughout Monte Carlo. Francois’ heavy investment paid off as he and Louis made millions of francs through gaming and tourism.
The Legacy of Francois Blanc and European Roulette
European roulette didn’t stay confined to Monte Carlo forever. More and more European casinos eventually adopted this game and began offering it.
They too enjoyed a popularity increase by featuring one of the most-favorable casino games for players. Casinos in Belgium, France, Germany, and elsewhere adopted the single-zero wheel.
Eventually, though, gambling houses had difficulty separating themselves from the competition with a single zero alone. French casinos solved this problem by introducing the “la partage” rule.
La partage delivers half of your losing wager back when the ball lands on zero. However, you must place an even-money bet to qualify.
Here’s an example of how la partage works:
- You bet $10 on red/black.
- The ball lands on the zero pocket.
- You receive $5 back.
The European wheel already offers a fair house edge at 2.70%. But French roulette lowers the house advantage even more to 1.35%.
Not as many countries offer the French version. However, you can find this game in certain casinos based in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Poland.
Therefore, Francois’ European wheel started the trend of reducing the roulette house edge. The French game is the finished product of what Francois began.
Bad Homburg wasn’t exactly a casino hub before the Blancs arrived. The latter, however, transformed this German town into a major gambling destination.
They used a combination of key attractions (e.g. spa, fancy hotels) and European roulette to bring more people to Bad Homburg.
When Frankfurt banned gaming in the area, Francois and Louis packed up and headed to Monte Carlo. The European wheel proved a hit once again in a new location.
Today, you have more access to European roulette than ever before thanks to land-based and real money online casinos. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the case, though, if Francois hadn’t come up with the idea nearly 180 years ago.