A casino is a building that offers a variety of gambling activities, including blackjack, craps, roulette and video poker. The games have mathematically determined odds that ensure the house has a constant edge over players, regardless of skill or luck. The house advantage is known as the vig or the rake, and casinos earn a significant portion of their profits from it. In addition, casinos may charge customers for food and entertainment.
Gambling almost certainly predates recorded history, with primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice found at archaeological sites [Source: Schwartz]. But the modern casino as a place to find all kinds of gambling opportunities under one roof didn’t emerge until the 16th century, when a betting craze swept Europe. Italian aristocrats met in private rooms called ridotti to gamble and socialize, even though the activity was technically illegal.
The modern casino has a wide range of security measures to prevent cheating, stealing and other forms of dishonesty. Cameras located throughout the casino and security personnel are the most basic of these measures, but casinos also use advanced technology to monitor their patrons. For instance, “chip tracking” lets casinos oversee betting chips that have built-in microcircuitry; a computer program watches roulette wheels and alerts operators to any statistical deviation from expected results.
In the United States, Las Vegas is the largest casino center, followed by Atlantic City and Chicago. The number of casinos is growing rapidly around the world, however, as many countries legalize gambling and native American tribes open their own facilities.
Most of these casinos offer the same games, although there are some regional differences. In addition to the familiar Western games, Asian casinos tend to focus on traditional Far Eastern games, such as sic bo (which spread to several European and American casinos during the 1990s), fan-tan and pai gow. In the West, most casinos feature a mix of traditional and newer games such as keno and bingo.
Although casinos generate substantial revenues from gambling, their overall economic impact is often negative. Critics claim that they divert local patrons from other leisure activities, and that the cost of treating gambling addictions eats into any financial gains that casinos may make. Some studies also show that casinos erode property values in surrounding neighborhoods. Moreover, casinos harm the environment by contributing to water pollution, air and soil pollution. These concerns have led to campaigns in some communities to shut down or limit the growth of casinos.