You've probably been standing in a crowd of people at a casino, watching them get tremendously excited about a little white ball speeding about the roulette wheel, and wondered how such a game was ever invited. What is the allure of roulette? Why does it have such a strange hold over people?
The word roulette is French, as you probably guessed, and it means "little wheel." It is guessed that famous French mathematician Blaise Pascal, known for his work in the field of probability, invented the device. There is no consensus however; for each person you ask, you will receive a different answer as to the origin of the roulette wheel.
The first modern roulette wheel, with its even/odd and alternating colors, was used in a Paris casino in 1796. Eventually, as with many other things, the roulette wheel was introduced to the US from the Europeans, sometime in the 1800's. The American casinos, not happy with the small edge that the house had with these European wheels, introduced the 31 pocket roulette wheel. When you hear the term "American and European wheels", this is what it refers to. The American wheel has an extra pocket, so the odds of a player winning are not as good. If you play roulette, always play with a European wheel if you wish to increase your odds of winning.
As Americans become more knowledgable about gambling and look to increase their odds of winning, we would expect that the European roulette wheel to become even more popular in American casinos. In Europe, roulette is much more popular than other games, in large part because of the better odds of winning.