In Casino, Martin Scorsese takes us to the heart of Las Vegas. He lays bare its past ties to organized crime and explores how huge gambling corporations have taken over the city. It is an epic story of corruption with tendrils that reach out to politicians, Teamsters unions and Midwest mobs. But it is also a movie about opulence and neon lights, about gamblers strutting their stuff at the tables or putting their luck to test on the slots.

Casino is the most successful of all gambling movies, and for good reason. The actors are all at the top of their game, especially Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone. The movie is almost three hours long but it never lags or runs out of steam. The pacing is perfect, and the script is tight.

Gambling triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. It enhances the memory of positive outcomes, and it drives people to repeat those behaviors that led to rewards. This is why casinos use dazzling light shows and joyful music to create a manufactured feeling of euphoria. It is also why they pump scented oils into their ventilation systems to keep customers comfortable and coming back for more.

However, despite the glitter and glitz, casino games are based on mathematical odds that ensure the house always wins. And while physicists have tried to beat the house using their understanding of probability and game theory, they can’t turn the tables on a rigged system.