Flat Bet Roulette System
Put simply, a flat betting system is one where you're playing the same bet size for game after game or spin after spin. This contrasts with a 'progressive betting' system, where you're altering the size of the bets according to what's happening in the game. Whereas a progressive betting system can and frequently will alter the odds of winning (although, unfortunately, not generally to the benefit of the player!), flat betting essentially works within the probabilities of the game. In the case of roulette, where there's almost certainly a house edge, that turns flat betting into a losing proposition over time. Those who recommend flat betting aren't usually arguing that they'll make money in the long term. What they are generally claiming, though, is that they won't lose as much as they would have when playing with a progressive betting system. And because flat betting doesn't require you to pay attention to a 'system', the experience may be all the more enjoyable for the lack of structure.
Playing the Edge
When you sit down at the roulette table, you're almost certainly giving the casino an edge. Originally, casinos would let you bet on genuine 50/50 shots. If you placed your money on either red or black, for instance, you had a 50% chance of winning or losing. Quickly, casinos realised that any sensible bettor calmly playing 50/50 odds could continue to play on and on without losing overall - essentially, the casino was providing them with free entertainment. With this realisation came the introduction of a new square, the green '0'. This suddenly tipped the odds permanently in the favour of the casinos, giving them a 2.7% edge over the player. American casinos would extend this yet further, adding a second green '00' square, and almost doubling the edge to 5.26%!
There is the odd online casino (Betfair, for instance) that offers 'no edge' roulette. As a rule, though, any player sitting down at a roulette table knows that the casino has either a 2.7% or 5.26% edge over them (depending on whether the table is European-style or American-style). Since flat-betting is essentially governed by the odds of the game, that means that flat bettors will lose at roulette over time. So the question isn't really whether or not you'll win with flat betting (you won't), but more a case of will you lose even more if playing a progressive system?
Flat-Betting vs Progressive Betting
It's easy to calculate how profitable a standard flat-betting system would be. Let's assume you always put £1 on 'Red'. On a European-style table, there are 37 squares. 18 of these will produce a win for 'Red', so this gives you a 48.65% chance of winning. There's also a 51.35% chance of losing. Of that 51.35%, you have a 48.65% chance of landing on 'Black', and a 2.7% chance of landing on 'Green' - giving the casino its 2.7% edge. If you were to spin 100,000 times, putting £1 on Red each time, the odds suggest you would win around £48,650 on the Red squares. Unfortunately, you would lose £51,350 on the Black and Green squares, leaving you with a loss of £2,700. That's painful, but certainly not an insurmountable loss given the number of spins. On an American-style table, you would clearly lose almost twice as much. Now you would win on Red only 47.37% of the time, but your £47,370 of winnings would be wiped out by your losses of £52,630, leaving you sitting on a loss of £5,260.
So, the question is, can a progressive betting system hope to beat flat betting? Well, the big name in all progressive betting systems is Martingale/Martingales. This very simplistic system has you doubling your bet each time until you win. (When you have won, you reset the bet size to the original amount, and start all over again.) It's a very popular system, because it's simple to implement, and it really does seem to make you money from the start. Unfortunately, if you play it for any amount of time, you're likely to hit a long run of chips that go against you. In these situations, the Martingale System can turn very nasty indeed. If you lose seven times in a row, for instance, your original £1 bet will need to turn into £128 if you're to make your money back - and that's assuming you win on the eighth spin. These runs aren't as unlikely as you might think. The chances of running into a losing run of seven is 1 in 128 - more than likely if you play for any period of time. A run of 13 losses is much less likely, but you'll still hit this once every 8192 spins. And if you had lost 13 times in a row, you'd be needing to lay down a chip worth £8,192 in order to get your losses back - assuming you won on the 14th attempt. Even if you have that sort of money (including existing losses on previous spins, your total risk would be worth almost twice that figure), you're highly unlikely to find a casino that will allow you to start with a £1 chip, and end with an £8,192 chip!
Assuming you have an unlimited bank roll, an understanding casino who'll let you play without any limits at all, and the desire to mechanically bet in order to make what must be a tiny sum of money in relation to your generous bank account, the Martingale System can't lose. The rest of us, though, must eliminate those high bet sizes by being prepared to cut our losses and reset the system once we hit a certain length of run against us. And at that point, the odds turn very much against us. Capping it at 10 losses, for instance, and spinning 100,000 times, regularly leads to losses in excess of £10K - often considerably more. You get similar bloodbaths with other caps. In other words, compared to a loss of £2,700, Martingale is very bad indeed.
Martingale isn't the only progressive betting system in town, though. Labouchere is a more gradual system, but can still get itself stuck up some dark alleyways, leading to carnage where it does all go wrong. You'll need some deep pockets for that one too, and though the losses aren't as great, it still adds up to a highly unprofitable (not to say impractical) system in the long run that ends up losing far more than a simple flat betting system. Systems like Fibonacci and the Oscar's Grind got close at times, but never proved themselves on a par with flat betting. The best was the D'Alembert System, which did show a profit over flat betting in some situations - even if it still wasn't able to overcome the house edge. Overall, though, flat betting works remarkably well compared to other systems, as well as being very easy to implement.
Progressive betting systems tend to produce worse results. The increase of bets isn't enough to continuously make up for the disadvantage imposed by the casino. On the other hand, when a run goes against you, those bet increases tend to exacerbate any damage. If you try and moderate the extent of that damage, the result is almost always a lower chance of winning overall. When it comes to progressive vs flat betting, the latter wins time after time again, simply because it doesn't magnify the destructive effect of the all-important house edge.
The Advantages of Flat Betting Systems?
So should you go for a flat betting system or not? Well, frankly, yes. If you're a newcomer, you should almost certainly try flat betting. You are likely to lose over time, but the odds are only slightly against you, making it quite likely that you'll end up any session with a profit. Flat betting is easier on the nerves, as you won't ever end up having to place large bets that you're uncomfortable with. Every bet is the same, so you shouldn't have any problems with tension or discipline.
Of course, it is important to set your original bet at the right price. Putting down 5% of your betting fund at any one time is likely to result in some crazy sessions where you can be up or down significant amounts at any one time - if you're looking for an adrenaline-fuelled few minutes, 5% might well be a good choice. 1% or 2% of your betting fund, though, would make for a gentler game that allows you to get used to the rules and mechanics. We would very much recommend the latter approach.
A flat betting system (which essentially amounts to no system at all) is very easy to implement, since there's no strategy to follow. That's a big advantage for newcomers. Some players, though, will enjoy the process of following a system. Martingale is fairly dull, but a system like Labouchere, where you're crossing off numbers as you go, or Fibonacci, where you're running up or down a sequence of numbers, can have a certain fascination that adds interest to an otherwise rather dull session.
The biggest advantage of flat betting is that, quite simply, it's realistic. Progressive systems hold out the hope that you can win over the long term. In truth, though, this is rarely, if ever, the case, since the casinos have an in-built advantage over you. Worse than that, studying systems and placing significant sums with the expectation of making a good profit will probably end with you losing your entire betting fund, and the false confidence created by 'unbeatable' progressive betting systems can be the death of your bank. Flat betting acknowledges that you're unlikely to win long-term, and treats roulette as a negative but fun proposition - the 2.7% edge is the price you pay for a night's entertainment. If you play in that spirit, you'll find flat betting as entertaining and profitable as any system.
Simple to implement
No having to think about bet size, so less stressful
No big losses
Arguably the least costly way of playing roulette
You will lose over time. That's all but guaranteed by the system.
While it offers more freedom, some will prefer the extra intellectual challenge posed by following a system.