The Casino Game


Beneath the varnish of flashing lights and free cocktails, casinos stand on a bedrock of mathematics engineered to slowly bleed their patrons of cash. For years mathematically inclined minds have tried to turn the tables by harnessing their knowledge of probability and game theory to exploit weaknesses in a rigged system. But in the end the casino always wins.

In addition to their core gambling activities, casinos often feature musical shows, lighted fountains, shopping centers and hotels. But their primary draw remains games of chance, with slot machines, blackjack, poker, roulette and other games providing the billions in profits raked in by U.S. casinos every year.

Although a few casinos have skill-based games such as baccarat, the majority offer only games of pure chance or games with a small element of chance combined with strategy (e.g., blackjack). These games have a negative expected value for the player, meaning they lose money over time.

Casinos make their money by charging a commission or “vig” on these games, a percentage of the total bets placed on each game. In some cases, the house also takes a percentage of the winnings from each player. This is called a “rake.”

The house edge is the house’s advantage over players in all casino games, except for those with an element of skill such as poker and blackjack. In these games, the house’s advantage is mathematically determined, so that a player cannot win more than a predetermined amount of money over an extended period of time.

To offset this loss, casinos provide large inducements to big bettors. These may include complimentary rooms, meals and drinks while gambling, reduced-fare transportation and exotic vacations. For lesser bettors, casinos offer discounted hotel rooms and show tickets. Casinos also collect a share of the money that gamblers place in their slot machines, as well as the vig from table games.

Casinos can be fun, but they’re not for everyone. To avoid getting ripped off, gamblers should follow a few simple rules. They should never borrow money to gamble, and they should always set a budget before entering the casino. Gambling is addictive, so it’s important to know your limits. It’s also a good idea to limit your drinking and keep track of how long you’re gambling each day.

In addition to vig, casino owners rely on security measures such as cameras and electronic surveillance. Elaborate systems allow security workers to watch all the action on a casino floor at one time, and to focus in on suspicious patrons by using a high-tech “eye-in-the-sky” display. The mob used to run many casinos, but real estate developers and hotel chains with deep pockets bought out the mafia and began running their own casinos. Federal crackdowns on organized crime and the threat of losing a gaming license at the slightest hint of Mafia involvement keep the mob at bay and allow legitimate casino businesses to thrive.

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