A casino is a building that houses gambling games. Though it’s possible that gambling predates history, with primitive protodice (cut knuckle bones) and carved six-sided dice found in the oldest archaeological sites, the casino as we know it today didn’t develop until the 16th century, when a gambling craze swept Europe. It took the form of small clubs for Italian aristocrats, called ridotti, that allowed them to indulge in their favorite pastime without worrying about legal consequences.

Today, a casino is like an indoor amusement park for adults. It may feature stage shows, lighted fountains, shopping centers and lavish hotels, but the billions of dollars that casinos rake in each year come from gambling. Slot machines, blackjack, roulette and other table games, plus baccarat, provide the action that attracts customers.

The statistical advantage that a casino has over players — the vigorish or rake, depending on the game — can be lower than two percent, but it adds up to huge profits, enough to build dazzling resorts with statues, waterfalls and replicas of famous landmarks. A casino’s security also includes cameras and surveillance equipment that track players and keep them from cheating.

While a casino can bring in local spending and generate jobs, critics point out that compulsive gamblers drain the economy by reducing other forms of entertainment and by stealing money from their families. Moreover, studies show that a community’s net economic benefit from a casino is negative, because the money spent treating problem gamblers offsets whatever benefits it brings in.