Unlike the gambling establishments of the 1930s and 1940s, modern casinos look more like an indoor amusement park than a place where people play games of chance for money. The lighted fountains, musical shows and elaborate hotel themes all help draw in customers but the vast majority of casino profits still come from gambling. Slot machines, roulette, craps, keno, baccarat and blackjack are the source of the billions of dollars in profits raked in by casinos every year.
Gambling probably predates recorded history, but the modern casino as a place where people can find a variety of ways to gamble under one roof did not appear until the 16th century. In that era, European aristocrats gathered in private places called ridotti to gamble and socialize, even though technically they were breaking the law.
Today, most casinos feature a wide range of games, many of which involve little skill. The most popular are the slot machines, which offer varying bands of colored shapes that roll on reels (actual physical ones or electronic representations) and pay out a predetermined amount when the winning combination appears. Casinos use technology to make sure the odds always match up with their expected results: for example, in a machine that pays out according to an established pattern, the casino’s computer monitors each bet placed minute by minute to spot any statistical deviation.
The mafia provided the early capital for casinos in Nevada, and mob money fueled expansion throughout the country as more Americans discovered they loved to gamble. Later, legitimate businessmen with deeper pockets realized the potential of casinos, and bought out the gangsters. These days, federal crackdowns on organized crime and the prospect of losing a license at even the slightest hint of mob involvement keep mobster money out of casinos.