The glamorous spa town of Baden-Baden first became a playground for European royalty and aristocracy 150 years ago. Today its casino is among the world’s most elegant and lavishly outfitted. It features a branch of New York’s swank Le Cirque restaurant, Hermes and Chanel boutiques, and more than its share of blackjack and roulette tables. But it’s the place’s refined tropical motif that attracts visitors with the most money to spend. According to the American Gaming Association, about 51 million people—a quarter of all Americans over 21—visited a casino in 2002. That number includes trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City shuttle buses stuffed with tourists, as well as visits to illegal pai gow parlors in the heart of Chinatown.
Casinos are a popular tourist destination because of the excitement they provide and the chance to win. But they are also lucrative businesses that make money by offering a statistical advantage to players, known as the house edge. This advantage can be as low as two percent, but over millions of bets it adds up to enough to pay for fountains, towers, replicas of famous landmarks and the bright lights that are an integral part of any casino’s advertising strategy.
Initially, only Nevada allowed gambling, but as other states legalized it, many businesses saw an opportunity to expand their operations. Some casinos are based solely on gambling, while others combine it with hotels, restaurants, retail shops or cruise ships. Some casinos are owned by private corporations while others are operated by governments, military forces or tribal groups. In the United States, most casino profits are made in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.