From the glittering lights of Las Vegas to the illegal pai gow parlors in New York City’s Chinatown, about 51 million people—a quarter of all Americans age 21 and up—visited a casino last year. Musical shows, lighted fountains, shopping centers, and lavish hotels help draw them in, but casinos would not exist without games of chance. Slot machines, blackjack, roulette, and other table games provide the billions in profits that make casinos one of the biggest businesses in the United States.
Gambling probably predates recorded history, with primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice found in the oldest archaeological sites. But the modern casino as a place where people could find a variety of ways to gamble under one roof didn’t appear until the 16th century, when it became popular in Europe. Italian aristocrats would hold private parties at gambling establishments called ridotti, which were technically illegal, but rarely bothered by authorities.
By the 1950s, as organized crime began to lose ground in many other areas, legitimate businessmen realized the potential of casinos and sought funds to expand and upgrade them. Mob money flowed steadily into Reno and Las Vegas, but mobster owners weren’t content to simply finance casinos. They got involved, took sole or partial ownership, and often rigged games to their own advantage.
Because of the large amounts of money that are handled within a casino, there is always the temptation to cheat and steal, either in collusion or independently. That’s why most casinos devote a lot of time and money to security. Routines and patterns also help prevent crime. The way a dealer shuffles cards or marks the betting spots on a table follow certain patterns, making it easier for security to spot anything that isn’t quite right.