Casinos are dazzling, opulent entertainment centers with restaurants, shopping and live shows. But despite the glitz, the billions of dollars that casinos bring in each year come from gambling – games of chance and skill played at tables and slot machines. Casinos earn profits for the companies, investors and Native American tribes that own them, as well as state and local governments that tax them. Compulsive gamblers generate a substantial share of casino profits, but their addiction also costs the public in terms of lost productivity and treatment for addiction.

While something about the glamor of casinos entices people to gamble, the reality is that most games are mathematically determined to give the house an advantage over players. This edge is often expressed as a percentage of total wagers, and is known as the house edge. In some cases, skill can offset the house edge, but for most games, the odds are fixed by the rules of each game.

Gambling is illegal in most places, and while organized crime financed some casinos during the early days of Nevada’s legalization, legitimate businessmen were reluctant to invest in an industry that had a seamy image. Casinos grew slowly until the mid-1950s, when mob money started flowing into Reno and Las Vegas. But the mobsters were not satisfied with simply providing the bankroll; they demanded sole or partial ownership of casinos and controlled them through intimidation, violence and other criminal means.

After the mobsters were driven out of town, real estate investors and hotel chains saw how much they could make from gaming, and bought out the mafia interests. They were helped in their efforts by federal crackdowns that threatened to revoke casino licenses at the slightest hint of mob involvement. Today, large corporate owners like Donald Trump and the Hilton hotel chain control many of the world’s most profitable casinos.

As they have grown in size and scope, modern casinos have developed elaborate security systems to deter crime and cheating. They employ a variety of technologies, including surveillance cameras with an eye-in-the-sky ability to watch every table, window and doorway; microcircuitry in betting chips that allows them to track each bet minute by minute; and electronically monitored roulette wheels that are alerted to any statistical deviation from expected results.

Some people travel the world specifically to visit the glamorous casinos, while others find themselves in them by accident. In any event, casinos provide a form of entertainment that is often more exciting than watching a show or shopping in a mall. And while the clinking of slots and shuffling of cards provides the soundtrack to many casino visits, there is plenty to see and do, even for those who are not tempted to try their hand at the tables.

The Truth About Casinos