The modern casino resembles an indoor amusement park for adults. But while musical shows, shopping centers and lighted fountains help draw people inside, casinos would not exist without the games of chance that give them their billions in annual profits. Slot machines, blackjack, poker, roulette, baccarat and craps provide the thrill and excitement that make casino patrons gamble away their money. Most games have a built in advantage for the house, which can be less than two percent in some cases but adds up over millions of bets and earns the casinos the nickname “vig” or rake.

The casinos that aspire to be the best of the best offer high-end accommodations, dazzling restaurants, and world-class art displays. They also boast top-notch security and a host of amenities like spa services, golf courses and even a fleet of private jets. But despite their glamorous image, casinos have a dark side: Studies show that compulsive gambling generates a large portion of their profits and that the social costs, including addiction treatment and lost productivity, often negate any economic benefits they bring to a community.

In the early days of Nevada gaming, legitimate businessmen were reluctant to invest in casinos because they carried a reputation for illegal activities. The mobsters, however, had no such qualms. They provided the funds to open and expand casinos, took full or partial ownership, and sometimes influenced outcomes of games through intimidation and threats. These practices, which continued into the late 20th century in some states, gave casinos their seamy reputation that persists today.