For generations of Americans, casino gambling meant Las Vegas -- and the name evoked either glamour or tacky glitz, depending on the listener. In addition, a backdrop of underworld ties made the nation's gambling capital a place many were wary of visiting. But the limits are currently off. Corporate ownership of casinos and huge themed resorts designed to attract whole families have given Las Vegas a clean image.

Casino Image Gallery

people playing blackjack
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Patrons play blackjack during the grand opening of the Red Rock Casino. See more casino pictures.

Today, almost everywhere you look across the United States, it seems casinos are dotting the landscape. Casino gambling has been established in Atlantic City since 1978. In addition to the land-based casinos of Nevada and New Jersey, riverboat casinos have opened in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri while all-slots casinos are awaiting final approval in Pennsylvania. Low-limit land-based casinos are in Colorado and South Dakota, and New Orleans has one large full-service land-based casino. And Native American tribes bring casino gambling to much of the rest of the country. Tribal casinos or bingo halls have opened in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin.

A 2005 survey found that in the previous year, United States patrons made 319 million casino visits -- about seven times the 1990 total. More people visited casinos than attended major league baseball games or any other professional sporting events -- than attended arena concerts -- than attended Broadway shows. It seems casino gambling is becoming one of America's national pastimes.

Casino-goers come from all groups of the population -- 55 percent have some college education; 45 percent have white-collar jobs, 25 percent blue-collar; 17 percent are retired. The percentages of blue-collar workers are higher at newer gambling areas.

Perhaps you are considering joining the legion of casino gamblers, but you are unsure of the rules and customs. Where do you get betting chips? How much do you tip the dealer? What exactly is a "comp?" Luckily for you, this article has the answers to all of your casino gambling questions. Let's get started with a little more background information to help you decide if casino gambling is right for you.

Can You Win?

Let's be realistic -- casino gambling is best taken as a form of entertainment. In the long run, the casinos will be the winners -- those resort hotels and riverboats aren't built to drive themselves out of business by giving money away to the players.

Except for blackjack, which has odds that change continuously as cards are dealt out, casino games are designed with a fixed mathematical edge in favor of the house. In roulette, for instance, the wheel has 38 numbers -- 1 though 36, plus 0 and 00. To use the simplest example, the player may place a bet on any one of those 38 numbers. A winning bet will bring a payoff of 35-1 -- the player gets his original bet back, plus 35 times the bet in winnings. If there were no 0 or 00, that would correspond exactly to the odds of winning, but with those numbers added, the true odds are 37-1. By paying at less than the true odds, the house builds in a 5.26 percent advantage in roulette.

Does that mean it's hopeless for the player, that the house will win every time? No, for if there were no winners, there soon would be no customers. In the long run, the percentage will hold up and the casino will make its profit. But in the short term, results vary widely from the norm. The house advantages in casino games are narrow enough to produce winners -- lots of winners, in fact -- every day.

For the best chance to win -- and to limit losses -- players need to understand the games before they start to play. A blackjack player who does not know the rules of the game, the totals on which the dealer is required to hit or stand, or a basic strategy for play might as well just write the casino a check. Likewise, a craps player who does not understand the available options might make bets giving the house a 16.67 percent edge, when bets are available at the same table that limit the house advantage to .6 percent.

Learn the best bets and stay away from the worst ones, and you'll win more often. But understand that regardless of how well you play, sometimes -- the majority of times, in fact -- the house edge is going to grind down your bankroll.

Well, they call it gambling for a reason, right? If you think your ready for both the risk and excitement, move on to the next section for the tips and guidelines that will help you blend in seamlessly with the most experienced gamblers.

For more information about casino gambling, try the following links:

Gambling Percentages
Casino advantages in the major games stack up this way:
Blackjack 0 to 1 percent (basic strategy player)
2 to 5 percent (average player)
Craps 0.6 percent (pass/come with double odds)
16.67 percent (the worst proposition bets)
Baccarat/Mini-baccarat 1.17 percent (bet on banker)
1.36 percent (bet on player)
Roulette 2.26 percent on all bets but the five-number on 0, 00, 1, 2, and 3, which carries a 7.89-percent house edge

Slot Machines
Varies according to programming; average is about 4 to 6 percent on $1 machines, 7 to 10 percent on 25-cent machines, and 10 to 13 percent on 5-cent machines.

Jacks or Better video poker
0.5 percent with optimal play on a full-pay 9-6 machine
3.8 percent on a 7-5 machine
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