What Is a Casino?

A casino (or gambling house) is a building or room where people engage in various types of gambling activities. Casinos are often associated with luxurious or exotic locations and feature expensive decorations, furniture and lighting. They also serve food and drinks to their customers. Customers gamble by playing games of chance, or in some cases with an element of skill. The house always has an advantage over the players, and this is reflected in the odds of the game. The casino makes money by charging a commission on the bets placed, called the vig or rake. It may also give out complimentary items to its patrons, known as comps.

The modern casino is like an indoor amusement park for adults, and the vast majority of its entertainment (and profits) comes from gambling. Musical shows, lighted fountains, elaborate hotels and shopping centers all draw in the crowds, but casinos would not exist without the billions of dollars in profit raked in by slot machines, black jack, roulette, craps and keno.

Gambling almost certainly predates written history, with primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice among the earliest archaeological finds. But the casino as a place where people could find many different ways to gamble under one roof did not develop until the 16th century, when a gambling craze swept Europe and Italian aristocrats held private parties in houses known as ridotti. Although these were technically illegal, the authorities rarely bothered them [Source: Schwartz].

Most casinos offer a wide range of gambling activities and are designed to appeal to a diverse customer base. They are usually open around the clock and provide security measures to prevent theft. In addition to traditional gambling tables, most have video poker machines and other electronic games that use a card reader and touch screen. These machines are generally easier to understand than traditional table games, and they are more accessible to people who don’t want to or can’t afford to gamble with real money.

In the 1990s, casinos dramatically increased their use of technology to monitor and control gaming operations. For example, betting chips with built-in microcircuitry interact with electronic systems to allow casinos to oversee the exact amounts of money wagered minute-by-minute and to detect any deviation from expected results; and roulette wheels are electronically monitored regularly to discover and quickly correct any anomalies in their statistical behavior. In addition, casinos now routinely use surveillance cameras and computerized systems to supervise casino gaming. These systems, in combination with a trained staff that constantly patrols the casino floor and its many rooms, help reduce cheating and theft by both patrons and employees. These technological tools are especially important given the large amount of currency that is handled within casinos. Some casinos even have catwalks that enable surveillance personnel to look down, through one-way glass, on the players at the tables and slots. These security measures are not foolproof, however, and casinos are constantly being challenged by attempts to cheat and steal, both in collusion with staff members and by individual patrons.