When you are playing roulette, you have 2 basic choices as to which type of wheel to play on. You can either play on an American Roulette wheel that has two zero pockets, or you can play on a European Roulette wheel that has one zero pocket (check out the basic European Roulette at Playtech which is a no frills version of this game). The distribution of the numbers on the wheel is also different, as you can see on the images below, and some bets are unique to one variant over another. The wheel consists of 36 roulette numbers and either one or two zero pockets.
American Roulette versus European Roulette
In addition to this, you'll also see plenty of other variations online, but most are variations on a European roulette wheel, such as 3 Wheel Roulette, French Roulette (uses a European wheel but plays La Partage Rule) and Double Bonus Spin Roulette, for example.
It is important to understand that there are these 2 basic wheel setups, because it affects the odds that you'll get when you play.
The house edge in American Roulette is higher than it is in European Roulette, which means that the odds of you winning are lower. One of the most important roulette tips you should remember is the following: where you can, always play European Roulette. It just doesn't make sense to play on a table with a higher house advantage.
The house edge in European Roulette is 2.6%. This goes up to 5.2% if you play on an American Wheel (it goes even higher if you are crazy enough to play the 5 Number Bet).
You can get this down to 1.3% if you play on a French Roulette wheel that plays "La Partage Rule", where you get half your bet back if the ball drops into the zero pocket on an even-money bet like red or black. This is similar to the "En Prison" rule (which we haven't seen offered online, but don't worry- both rules drop the house edge by the same amount on even money bets).
So, at the risk of sounding like a broken record- if you have the choice of a European and an American Wheel, play on the European Wheel!
The Difference Between American and European Roulette is a Zero!