What is a Casino?

A casino is a gambling establishment that features games of chance and, in some cases, skill. A successful casino earns billions of dollars each year for the companies, investors and Native American tribes that own it. A casino can be as large as a resort or as small as a card room in a hotel, but it is most often found in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. In addition to the billions of dollars casinos bring in, they also generate taxes and other revenues for local governments.

Most casinos have a built in statistical advantage over the players, known as the house edge. The advantage can be very small–lower than two percent–but over the millions of bets placed by patrons, it adds up. This money is used for a variety of things, from musical shows and lighted fountains to expensive hotels, towers, pyramids and replicas of famous landmarks. Casinos also collect a fee from each bet, which is called the vig or rake. This money is often given to casino patrons as complimentary items or comps, and it is also used to pay for security personnel and the specialized cameras that watch over the gaming floors.

Almost as old as gambling itself, the casino is an institution that has endured many incarnations. It was a public hall for music and dancing in the 1700s, a series of gambling rooms in the nineteenth century, and in modern times has become a multi-billion dollar industry that draws people from around the world to Las Vegas and other cities to play blackjack, roulette, baccarat, keno and other games. Casinos are also found in cruise ships, racetracks, riverboats and, in some states, on Indian reservations that have legalized them.

In the 1950s, gangsters brought money and a new level of sophistication to casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. They became more involved in the day-to-day operations, took sole or partial ownership of casinos and tried to influence game results. Federal crackdowns and the fear of losing a license at even the slightest hint of mob involvement helped to defang this menace, but some casino owners were still willing to take the risk for big bucks.

Today, casino operators have become choosier about their investments. They prefer to concentrate on high rollers, who spend tens of thousands of dollars or more at a time. These patrons are usually given special rooms, separate from the main gambling floor, where they can gamble in private with their own dealers and cocktail waitresses. They are also given free luxury suites and other expensive comps, to encourage them to come back and gamble. Security measures have also improved. Elaborate surveillance systems provide an “eye-in-the-sky” view of every table, window and doorway in the casino. The camera angles can be adjusted to focus on suspicious patrons by security workers in a separate room filled with banks of security monitors. The security system can also record events for later review.

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