Beneath the flashing lights and free cocktails, casinos stand on a bedrock of mathematics, engineered to slowly bleed their patrons of cash. For years mathematically inclined minds have tried to turn the tables, using their knowledge of probability and game theory to exploit weaknesses in a rigged system. But most of them have ended up with the same conclusion: the best way to beat a casino is simply not to play.

Originally, casino meant a dance hall or public assembly space, but it came to refer to establishments that offered a variety of gambling games, particularly card and table games like poker and blackjack. Some also offer a range of other games, such as bingo and keno, in addition to sports betting. The house always takes a fee for these games, known as the rake.

In the early days of Las Vegas and Reno, casino owners sought funds from organized crime figures who could afford the high risk. Mob money flowed steadily into Nevada and the other gambling meccas, and gangsters even took sole or partial ownership of some casinos and exerted considerable influence over operations, especially with threats of violence against employees.

These days, the mob is largely gone, replaced by wealthy real estate investors and hotel chains with deeper pockets. But the underlying truth is that a casino is a business, and like any other business it must make a profit. That profit is built into the games by design, through a combination of house edge and variance.