Casino features bravura set pieces and its own brand of filmmaking excitement, but the sensibility here is less exuberant than rueful, carefully attuned to institutional systems of grift. Like Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls a few years later, it presents a vision of Vegas that is simultaneously sanitized and distorted, a period piece that reflects the skepticism and disgust with the corrupt world that surrounds it.

The movie centers on Ace and Nicky, a pair of mobster wannabes who are vying for control of the Tangiers casino in Atlantic City. The movie opens with a prowling Steadicam camera that glides through the doors of the hotel and casino, giving us a glimpse at the seedy inner circle in which money counting is a fine art, and skimming off the till is a sport. In the casino itself, patrons are lured by flashing lights and the promise of big money. But the games are rigged and the gambling is risky.

Most casinos earn their profits from games of chance, including slot machines, roulette, blackjack and poker. All of these games have a built in statistical advantage for the house, which can be as low as two percent. This edge is the source of the casino’s profitability, which allows them to spend millions on elaborate hotels, fountains and replicas of pyramids, towers and other famous landmarks. Casinos also earn money from players through comps (free goods and services) such as free drinks, meals and room accommodations, and from a small percentage of their payouts in the form of a “vig” or rake.