What Is a Casino?

A casino is a facility that houses a variety of gambling activities. Slot machines, blackjack, roulette and craps make up the bulk of the billions of dollars in profit that casinos rake in every year. Casinos offer much more than gambling, however. They typically feature restaurants, stage shows and dramatic scenery to attract customers. They also add luxuries such as free drinks and hotel rooms.

Casinos are a major source of revenue for cities and states. According to the American Gaming Association, about 51 million people—a quarter of Americans over 21—visited a casino in 2002. This figure excludes visits to Native American casinos. These places earn money by charging a percentage to players who place bets. The advantage can be as low as two percent, but over millions of bets, this small profit adds up. The profits are often invested in fountains, pyramids, towers and replicas of famous landmarks.

Gambling in some form is believed to predate recorded history, with primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice found at many archaeological sites. But the modern casino, with its variety of games and elaborate architecture, did not appear until the 16th century. Italian aristocrats would gamble in private clubs called ridotti, which were technically illegal, but government officials rarely bothered the rich patrons.

As the casino industry grew, mob figures took control of some properties. But the deep pockets of real estate investors and hotel chains eventually surpassed mob money. With federal crackdowns and the risk of losing a license for any hint of Mafia involvement, legitimate businesses bought out the mobsters and separated themselves from gambling’s seamy image.