The story behind the first roulette wheel is not something that is easily pinned down. In fact, to tell the story most effectively several different origins need to be addressed. Some of the origins offered have the haze of occult intrigue surrounding them while others are touched by genius. Each story increases the majesty of the game and explains its popularity.
France 1655 and Blaise Pascal
One of the main theories concerning the origins of roulette, center around a historical figure and certified genius by the name of Blaise Pascal. Pascal was a scientist, philosopher, inventor, mathematician and writer involved in several discoveries of the French enlightenment at the time. It is not surprising when he created a primitive roulette wheel, as he was working towards the concept of a perpetual motion device in 1655.
666 and the Dominican Monk
The next rendition of the story comes in two forms one is a vague theory and the other is a fully formed hypothesis with some bits of actual evidence to back it up. The rumor is short and sweet: a monk built the roulette wheel out of boredom while living in a monastery. The second has the element of the monk, but is a bit more fleshed out. According to this version, the monk was a French Dominican, who constructed his game using a Tibetan game as inspiration. The original game featured 37 animal statutes and originated in China and also had a 666 emblazoned magic number square in the center. Not much is known about how the original game was played but still the fundamental elements roulette were supposedly present.
On the Theories
Each of these theories is compelling on some level, but narrowing things down is not so difficult as Pascal was living the life of a monk in a monastery at the time, and he was said to have invented the first roulette wheel there. Odds are it was Pascal who came up with the concept of the mechanism for the wheel while living at the monastery, and the Dominican monk may even have been present. As to the Tibetan wheel, and yes it does indeed exist, but in all likelihood, if Blaise Pascal was indeed the original inventor he took some of the decorative and design innovations from this wheel and did the practical construction on his own.
Earlier Shady Versions
The word roulette simply means the small wheel, solidifying the wheel’s French origins; however there was apparently a proto-roulette wheel invented in England called the “Roly Poly,” or the “Ace of Hearts” or the “Even-Odd.” Italy had two similar wheels called the “Biribi” and “Hoca.” However, on closer inspection we find that these wheels may have had some similar elements as the Pascal’s wheel we know today, but they were in fact built to cheat players. Built not with a certain amount of probability of wins are losses, as even slot machines are today but just as traps for rubes. This made those wheels nothing like the earliest versions found in France though the assumption of similarity to the “Roly Poly,” “Ace of Hearts,” or the “Even-Odd, is otherwise is understandable.