A casino is a place where people gamble by playing games of chance or, in some cases, skill. Most games give the house a mathematical advantage, or expectancy, over the patrons. This is especially true in games such as blackjack, where the house makes its profit by taking a percentage of each pot or, as in poker, by charging an hourly fee to the players. However, it is possible for a player to lose more than the amount of his bets; thus, the casino is not guaranteed to make a profit every day.
Most casinos have security staff to protect the interests of their patrons and property. This staff includes dealers, pit bosses and other employees who monitor the games for blatant cheating, such as palming, marking or switching cards or dice. They also keep track of the money being wagered and note betting patterns that could signal cheating. Most casinos have bright and often gaudy floor and wall coverings, such as red, which is thought to stimulate the senses and make patrons lose track of time. In addition to general security, many casinos have sophisticated technology that electronically supervises the games themselves. For example, betting chips have built-in microcircuitry that enables them to be monitored minute by minute; roulette wheels are electronically monitored frequently so any statistical deviation from expected results can be discovered quickly.
During the late 1980s, several American states amended their antigambling laws to allow casinos. The first American casinos opened in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and on Native American reservations. Other casinos were opened on riverboats, as well as in some European countries. The legalization of gambling in the United States has resulted in a proliferation of these establishments throughout the country and worldwide.
Casinos are a major source of revenue for states and localities, but they also contribute to gambling addiction. They also reduce property values in surrounding neighborhoods and have a negative effect on nearby businesses, such as restaurants and hotels. Casinos are also a significant contributor to crime, especially in the form of theft and drug trafficking.
In the past, gangsters controlled many casinos; however, large real estate investors and hotel chains soon realized that they could make more money from these gambling operations than the mob could. These investors bought out the mobsters and, because of federal crackdowns on mafia involvement in casinos, most modern casinos are run by legitimate businessmen. The only ones still tied to the mob are a few small casinos on Indian reservations, but even these have been decreasing in number as more legitimate enterprises have stepped in. The new casinos are located in urban areas and near airports, which facilitate travel to and from them. These days, most of the larger casinos are owned by investment banks. These companies purchase the licenses and operate them on behalf of their clients. The smaller ones are often owned by private investors.