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Ferris Wheel Under Black Sky during Nighttime

The Origins of Big Six Wheel

Big Six Wheel, or as it is more simply known, Big Six is a game of pure chance that has become a staple both of formal gambling establishments like casinos but also, in one form or another (especially as the Wheel of Fortune), in carnivals and charity events. 

Even if you’re not familiar with the name Big Six Wheel, you’re all but guaranteed to recognize it by sight. It’s really very famous. It’s a large wheel, standing upright (as opposed to the horizontal layout of a roulette wheel) that is split into equal segments, and attached to it is a rubber or leather pointer that uses friction to slow down the wheel once it’s spun until it lands on a certain value.

The common Big Six wheel at a casino is made up of 54 segments and within each segment is one of the following numbers (with each higher value occurring less often): 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, as well as two further wilds that occur once each. Players then bet on one or more of each of these values and if the pointer ends on a value they bet on, they get paid their bet multiplied by the number they bet on – or in the case of either of the wilds, by forty. 

You may also be familiar with the famous wheel at the center of the famous game show, Wheel of Fortune, in which contestants spin for prizes or the dice variant of a Big Six wheel most common in carnivals and amusement parks.    

But where did this famous game and its even more famous wheel originate, and when?

 

Where and When

 

Like most casino games, Big Six wasn’t developed out of nowhere but is based on a game that has been around literally since ancient times. Money wheels were first introduced as far back as ancient Babylonia, using pretty much exactly the same mechanics as what we use today. A big wheel would be spun, people would bet on where it landed and if it landed where they bet it would, they would win. It was picked up by both the ancient Greeks and Romans and has been a major gambling game in Western and near-Eastern civilization ever since. 

Big Six Wheel, however, is a much more recent invention. By all indications, it was created during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, but it’s not entirely clear who came up with it first and where, The most common theory, though, is that it was first created by the Evans company in Chicago late last century, but not in the current money wheel configuration that you’d found at most casinos, but in the dice version that can still be found from time to time in carnivals. 

 

The First Big Six Wheel

 

The dice wheel works similarly to the more common money version, but it’s not quite the same. Instead of five numbers and two wilds appearing in each of the 54 segments, each segment contains three six-sided dice in one of the over 200 combinations that three dice can form. Combinations are not necessarily unique to each segment but unlike actual dice, they come pre-configured to set combinations. 

The way it works is that players then bet on numbers 1 through 6, with no wilds being present at all. Once the pointer lands on a segment, the way winnings are determined is based on whether the number bet on appears on the dice and on how many of them. 

This is how it would look with a specific example:

 

  • Say a person bets $10 on the number 4.
  • If the pointer lands on a segment where none of the dice show a 4, he wins nothing.
  • If the pointer lands on a segment where one of the dice shows a 4, the payout is 1:1, so $10.
  • If the pointer lands on a segment where two of the dice shows a 4, the payout is 2:1, so $20. 
  • If the pointer lands on a segment where all three dice are showing a 4, the payout is 3:1, so $30.

This original version of the Big Six offered much worse payouts than the money wheels we see in casinos, but that makes sense considering that the point of one of these wheels at a carnival aren’t to draw even semi-serious gamblers but to allow visitors to the carnival to get the chance to take a spin on the wheel for a few bucks before moving onto something else. 

Carnivals are less common these days and so these dice wheels became less and less prevalent to the point that they’ve been almost entirely replaced by money wheels in actual casinos.

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