What Makes a Casino Work?

A casino is a place where people can gamble and play games of chance. Modern casinos often offer a host of additional amenities, such as elaborate hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. But at their core, casinos are places where gambling happens, and that activity is what generates billions of dollars in profits each year.

While gambling likely predates recorded history, it was not until the 16th century that a craze for casino-like gatherings came to Europe and North America. These places were called ridotti, and aristocrats would hold parties in them while they played dice, cards, chess or similar games. The ridotti largely disappeared from the scene in the mid-twentieth century, but casinos have become ever more grand and elaborate.

Today, some casinos are literally the size of cities and can be found around the world. The largest casino is in Macau, a former Portuguese colony that has gone “all in” on gaming and is often referred to as the Las Vegas of Asia. Its signature building, the Grand Lisboa, is a glittering structure that soars 47 stories into the sky and is decorated with chandeliers, sculptures and statues of legendary Portuguese figures.

Security is a big part of what makes a casino work, and it starts with employees keeping their eyes open for suspicious activities. On the floor, dealers are trained to watch for blatant cheating (like palming or marking dice) and can quickly stop a game that appears to be tilted. The pit bosses and table managers have a more sweeping view of the table, watching for stealing by patrons or betting patterns that might signal collusion between players.

Casinos also invest a lot of money in sophisticated surveillance systems. For example, cameras in the ceiling allow security workers to monitor everything that’s happening on the casino floor at once and can be focused on suspicious behavior by simply pressing a button. Some casinos even have catwalks in the ceiling that allow security to look down through one-way glass on tables, doorways and other spaces.

A casino makes its money by taking a percentage of each bet placed by a patron. This edge can be small, but over time it adds up to millions of dollars in profits for the casino. Those profits are then used for extravagant inducements to attract high-stakes gamblers. These can include free shows, hotel rooms and limo service.

Although casinos are often touted as economic engines that bring jobs and tax revenues to a community, studies have shown that they actually take money away from other forms of entertainment and cause compulsive gambling. Plus, the expense of treating problem gamblers can reverse any economic gains casinos may generate. These factors make casinos controversial in many communities.