A casino is a place where a variety of games of chance are played and where gambling is the primary activity. Though gambling probably existed long before recorded history, the idea of a single place where gamblers could find a variety of activities under one roof did not develop until the 16th century, during a period when a gambling craze swept Europe and Italian aristocrats held private parties in places called ridotti [source: Schwartz].

Most casinos offer a wide range of games, with slots and table games the most prominent. The games are generally regulated and monitored by state governments. Casinos also hire trained employees to supervise the games and deal with cheating or other security issues. Elaborate surveillance systems provide a high-tech “eye-in-the-sky,” with cameras that watch every table, window, and doorway. The cameras can be adjusted to focus on suspicious patrons by casino security workers in a separate room filled with banks of security monitors. In addition, slot machine payouts are determined randomly by computer chips inside the machines.

Casinos are highly lucrative, and they profit from a built-in statistical advantage that is known as the house edge or vigorish. The house edge may be as low as two percent, but it adds up over time and gives the casino enough money to build flamboyant buildings with fountains, pyramids, towers, and replicas of famous landmarks.

In the United States, the typical casino gambler is a forty-six-year-old woman from a household with above-average income. Casinos are often located on American Indian reservations, which are exempt from state antigambling statutes.