What Is a Casino?

A casino is a building where games of chance are played and money exchanged. Its luxuries may include stage shows, free drinks and expensive food. Its security measures may be technological or physical, such as cameras and trained personnel to keep out cheaters. In the past, some casinos were run by gangsters who used mob ties and intimidation to gain a competitive advantage over rivals. However, since the mob was often a criminal organization, federal crackdowns on mafia involvement have forced many casinos to abandon mob control in favor of corporate ownership and more stringent security measures.

While the game of gambling almost certainly predates recorded history, casinos as a place for patrons to find a variety of gambling activities under one roof did not develop until the 16th century. Before then, gamblers would meet in small clubs called ridotti, usually for social events. In some cases, these clubs were illegal, but the aristocracy of the time did not seem to care about such things as the Italian inquisition or the fact that gambling was essentially an activity involving money.

Like all businesses, a casino must make a profit to survive. It does this by ensuring that it will always have a mathematically determined advantage over the players, which is also known as the house edge. This advantage can be a small percentage (less than two percent) but it is enough to allow the casino to build spectacular hotels, fountains and replicas of famous landmarks. Casinos also collect a fee from the players in games that involve skill, such as poker, by taking a small commission on each bet known as the rake or vigorish.

The house advantage is calculated by mathematicians who specialize in gaming analysis. These are professionals who work for the casinos, but they do not play the games; instead, they analyze the games and calculate what percentage of the time a player will win or lose. They also look at the variance of the games, or how much the winnings or losses fluctuate over time. This information is used to determine how much a casino should hold in cash reserves.

To maximize the amount of money the house takes in, a casino must attract players and keep them there. To this end, they offer free food and drink, elegant living quarters, reduced-fare transportation and other extravagant inducements to big bettors. In addition, they use chips rather than real currency to encourage the players to continue gambling, as this makes them less concerned about losing money.

Casinos also take precautions against cheating and stealing by putting their security team in high places with a view of the entire casino floor. The dealers have the most direct contact with customers, so they are best able to spot blatant attempts at cheating such as palming and marking cards or dice. Pit bosses and table managers have a broader view of the tables, keeping an eye out for betting patterns that might indicate that a player is trying to hide information from the other players. The ceilings of casinos are covered with cameras that can be adjusted to focus on specific suspicious patrons.