A casino is a place where gambling games are played. Though casinos add luxuries such as restaurants, free drinks and stage shows to draw in customers, they would not exist without the games that provide the billions of dollars raked in each year. Slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps, keno and other popular games of chance give casinos their raison d’être.
Gambling dates back thousands of years, with primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice found in ancient archaeological sites. But the modern casino didn’t emerge until the 16th century, when a gambling craze swept Europe. In Italy, wealthy nobles gathered in private clubs called ridotti to gamble and socialize. Since these places were technically illegal, they were rarely bothered by authorities. The idea spread, and gambling houses that offered multiple types of games under one roof came to be known as a casino.
Today’s casino uses technology to make sure the games are fair. In table games, chips with built-in microcircuitry interact with electronic systems to monitor the exact amounts wagered minute by minute; roulette wheels are electronically monitored regularly to spot any statistical deviations. And video cameras mounted in the ceiling keep an eye on every window, doorway and table, with their lenses adjusted to zoom in on suspicious patrons by security workers behind banks of screens.
Once upon a time, mobster families controlled most of the world’s casino business. But as real estate investors and hotel chains accumulated more money than the gangsters, they bought out their competitors and took control of their own casinos. Mob influence still exists, but federal crackdowns and the possibility of losing a casino license at any hint of mob involvement have kept many casinos out of the hands of organized crime.