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A casino is a gambling establishment that houses games of chance like roulette, slot machines, blackjack and craps. They also feature a wide variety of other activities to entertain and delight guests including restaurants, stage shows and dazzling scenery. Despite these luxurious additions, casinos would not exist without games of chance and the billions in profits they bring in every year. The history of casinos, how they operate and the dark side of this business are explored in this article.

Gambling probably predates recorded history, with primitive protodice and carved knuckle bones showing up in some of the earliest archaeological sites. But the modern casino as we know it did not emerge until the 16th century, when a gambling craze swept across Europe. Italian aristocrats especially loved to play games of chance at private parties called ridotti, where they could gamble without worrying about legal authorities.

Something about gambling encourages people to cheat, steal and scam their way into a jackpot rather than simply trying their luck at random. That’s why casinos spend a lot of time and money on security. Security begins on the floor of the casino, where casino employees keep a close eye on patrons and their activities. Dealers are trained to spot blatant cheating techniques, such as palming, marking and switching cards or dice. Pit bosses and table managers have a broader view of the game, watching for betting patterns that might indicate cheating or collusion. And a higher-up person keeps an eye on everything from the security room, known as “the eye-in-the-sky” because of the cameras that monitor every table, window and doorway.

Mob money helped give the casinos in Reno and Las Vegas their seamy reputation, but as the mob’s racketeering activities declined, legitimate businessmen stepped in to buy up casino operations. Real estate investors and hotel chains, which have deep pockets and can withstand the potential loss of a gaming license at even the slightest hint of mob involvement, now run the vast majority of casinos. They can afford to hire enough security to ensure that a mobster’s fingerprints are never on any casino operation.

The most famous casino in the United States is in Las Vegas, where casinos thrive on a blend of glitzy entertainment and gambling revenue. The city’s economy is nearly completely dependent on casinos, and it is a mecca for anyone who loves to try his or her luck at games of chance. Besides slot machines, casinos offer a variety of other casino activities such as horse racing, card games and bingo. They also offer restaurants and free drinks. Casinos have become a major source of revenue for many cities and states, but critics say that they shift local spending from other forms of entertainment and that the high cost of treating problem gambling and lost productivity more than offsets any economic gains that casinos might generate.