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What Is a Casino?

A casino is a gambling establishment that offers an array of games of chance. Unlike lotteries and Internet gambling, casinos depend on patrons’ actual wagering to generate billions of dollars in profits each year. Although lighted fountains, shopping centers, exotic hotels and elaborate musical shows may help draw in gamblers, the casino experience revolves around playing games of chance like blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat and slot machines.

Gambling predates recorded history, with primitive proto-dice — cut knuckle bones and carved six-sided dice — found in archaeological sites. But the casino as a place where patrons could find many different types of gambling under one roof did not develop until the 16th century during a gambling craze in Europe. Known as ridotti, these private clubs were often held at the residences of wealthy Italian nobles and offered an array of gambling options ranging from card games to horse races to gaming on religious holidays.

In a 2002 poll of people who admitted to gambling activities, respondents were asked what type of gambling they most enjoyed. Card games (including poker, blackjack and roulette) topped the list with about 30 percent of the votes. Other popular games included craps, bingo and keno.

Modern casinos rely on stimulating atmospheres, high-tech surveillance and customer service to attract and keep gamblers. For example, a player’s card is swiped before every game to track his or her betting patterns and tally up points that can be exchanged for free or discounted food, drinks or shows. These “comps” are a key source of revenue and also build a database that can be used for mail marketing.