08/24/2006 11:00PM

New roulette still same old bad bet

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Roulette is one of the more popular table games for newcomers to play in Las Vegas, yet it offers some of the worst odds. Still, I was fascinated by new gaming technology offered by Shuffle Master called "Rapid Roulette." I have seen it more and more frequently on casino floors.

Rapid Roulette has completely computerized the old game made famous in movies such as "Casablanca" and "Casino Royale." There is no more common table to place bets on. And the roulette wheel and ball have been replaced by a computer generated version. Each setup has 12 seats where players use a touch screen to place bets and keep track of their chips. Cashing out is like the ticket-in ticket-out technology used in modern slot machines.

Rapid Roulette has greatly increased the speed of the game, and thus its profitability for the casino. There are many more spins per hour. Dealers no longer gather up the losing chips to stack them. And payouts are made at the push of a button.

Roulette is simple to learn and players love the chance of a quick score if you catch an inside number, which pays off at 35-1 odds. There isn't much strategy to learn other than playing things like your favorite numbers, columns, or rows; red or black; or odd or even.

The name roulette is a French term for "small wheel." In Europe, a roulette wheel has 36 numbers and a zero, which basically is the house edge. Here in the U.S., the house edge is doubled to 5.26 percent by using a zero and a double zero. I've been told there are a few European tables in town, but they are difficult to find.

The roulette take is much higher than other table games. For example, the take on perfect strategy blackjack is .5 percent; basic play blackjack, 2.5 percent; baccarat, 1.17 percent; and the pass line in craps, 1.41 percent.

The most infamous way of cheating to win at roulette comes from the chip switch.

The chip switch occurs after a player has placed a winning bet on the table. He then will try to switch, or even insert, a higher value chip into the stack. It takes the slight of hand of a master magician to succeed.

Rapid Roulette eliminates that fear. Combine that with lower costs and comprehensive tracking reports and I can understand its growing popularity with management.

Roulette is a tough game to play with any serious money, unless you can locate a single-zero table. But I will give credit to Rapid Roulette for dressing up a sow's ear into a silk purse.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."