A casino is an entertainment venue with gambling at its core. While musical shows, lighted fountains, shopping centers and elaborate hotel themes help draw in the crowds, casinos would not exist without games of chance. Slot machines, blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat and other games generate the billions in profits that casinos rake in each year. While some games may require skill, the vast majority have built in odds that ensure that the house will win over time. This mathematical expectation is known as the “house edge,” and it accounts for most of the casino’s profit.
The precise origin of gambling is unknown, but it’s clear that it goes back a long way in history. It’s even possible that gambling predates recorded history, with primitive protodice (cut knuckle bones) and carved six-sided dice found in some of the world’s oldest archaeological sites [Source: Schwartz]. The modern casino did not become a regular feature of life until the 16th century, when a gambling craze swept Europe. Italian aristocrats began holding private parties at places called ridotti, where they could bet money and enjoy themselves. These events were not technically legal, but the aristocrats were seldom bothered by police, which did not consider gambling to be a crime.
In the 1950s, organized crime gangsters invested in casinos in Nevada, where gambling is legal. As mob money flowed into Reno and Las Vegas, these mobsters got personally involved in the business and took sole or partial ownership of casinos. Federal crackdowns and the risk of losing a license at the slightest hint of Mafia involvement mean that legitimate businesses now run most casinos.
Modern casinos attract gamblers from all over the world and make huge profits. The elegant spa town of Baden-Baden in Germany is home to one of the world’s most beautiful casinos, which was once visited by royalty and aristocracy from across Europe. Its baroque flourishes and French palace styling set a standard that many other casinos try to emulate.
Most casinos cater to high-stakes gamblers and offer them extravagant inducements. These include free spectacular entertainment and transportation, luxury hotel rooms and reduced-fare dining. These “high rollers” are a major source of casino profits, and they are often greeted with special attention and escort service as they enter the gaming areas. As disposable income grows around the world, more and more people are willing to travel and spend big money in casinos. However, something about gambling encourages some people to cheat and steal to gain an unfair advantage. This is why casinos spend a great deal of time, effort and money on security. In 2005, the average casino patron was a forty-six-year-old woman from a household with above-average income. This demographic was followed closely by older parents. While a significant percentage of casino revenues are generated by gambling, many people visit casinos simply to enjoy the luxury facilities and the entertainment provided by top-notch performers. These visitors contribute to the casino industry’s massive profits, but they do not make up a large share of its customers.