What Is a Casino?


A casino is a public place where gambling takes place and where a variety of games are offered. It may be a large, lavish hotel and entertainment complex – like the Bellagio in Las Vegas – or a small, privately owned establishment that offers only a few games. Casinos often offer other luxuries that attract patrons, such as fine dining options and dramatic scenery. But even without the flashy decorations and glamorous people, a casino is still a gambling establishment.

Gambling likely predates recorded history, with primitive protodice and carved six-sided dice from the earliest archaeological sites [Source: Schwartz]. But casinos as we know them did not appear until the 16th century when gambling crazes spread throughout Europe. Italian aristocrats gathered in private clubs called ridotti to gamble and socialize. Although technically illegal, these clubs evaded the Inquisition by focusing on gambling rather than religion or politics.

During the twentieth century, casino owners became more choosy about whom they accepted as customers and concentrated on providing perks to high-spenders. These perks are known as comps and include free rooms, meals, drinks and shows. The comps are designed to encourage gamblers to spend more money and develop a loyalty to the casino.

Today’s casinos are a much more sophisticated and upscale environment than the mob-run venues of old. Many have also moved from land to water, with riverboats and cruise ships putting gambling on the itinerary. Many are found on American Indian reservations, which are exempt from state antigambling laws. However, research shows that casinos do not necessarily bring economic benefits to the communities they serve. In fact, studies indicate that the cost of treating problem gambling and lost productivity due to gambling addiction more than offset any income a casino generates.