The Big Six wheel is a gambling game based on a large vertical spinning wheel, similar to the wheel used on the television game show Wheel of Fortune. (The wheel used on the show is mounted horizontally, however.) The wheel is divided into sections, separated by spokes or pins. The wheel is spun by a dealer, and the winning section is indicated by a pointer mounted on a flexible piece of rubber or leather, which also rubs against the pins to impart friction and slow the wheel down.
Bettors wager on what number or symbol appears in the winning section, and are paid at odds that are based on the distribution of that symbol on the wheel. Most wheels have 54 sections. The numbers or symbols used differ according to the variation of the game.
The version most commonly seen in American casinos use pieces of U.S. currency — specifically, the $1, $2, $5, $10 an $20 bills — and two special symbols, usually a joker and the casino logo. Bets on the $1 bill pay even money, on the $2 bill pay 2-1, on the $5 bill pay 5-1, and so on. These odds are based on how many slots contain each bill. The joker and logo appearin one slot each, and pay off at odds of 40-1 or 45-1, depending on local gaming regulations and/or the generosity of the game operator.
The house advantage in this game is one of the highest in most casinos, ranging from 11.1% on the $1-bill bet to more than 24% on the joker or logo (when it pays 40-1).
This variation is base on the now-uncommon game of chuck-a-luck (also known as “birdcage”), with many similarities to sic bo. The symbols on the wheel represent combinations of three dice. Players bet on the numbers 1 through 6. If the number be appears on one of the dice, the bet is paid at even money; on two dice, the payoff is at 2-1 odds; and on all three dice, the payoff is 3-1. Because only 54 three-die combinations are on the wheel (as opposed to 216 possibile combinations on three actual dice), the house advantage on this variation is even worse than the chuck-a-luck “edge” of 7.87%.
This variety is seldom seen in casinos, but frequently seen as a carnival game, or at a charity “Monte Carlo night” fund-raiser.
Some operators will use different variations of symbols and payoffs, but they are infrequent. One known variation was used for a short time at the now-defunct Grand Casino in Gulfport, Mississippi (destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina). Called “Mississippi Derby,” a player would be on one of eight “horses” to win, place or show, as with beting in horse racing. The horses were represented on the wheel in three concentric rings, with the outer ring representing the winner, the middle ring representing the second-place horse, and the inner ring representing the third-place horse. The payoffs varied from horse to horse, depending on how many times the number appeared on the rings; odds ranged from 40-1 for the “longshot” to win, down to 1-2 for the “favorite” to show. The game was short-lived.