Las Vegas Gambling

Throughout its turbulent history the United States has vacillated between total or partial prohibition to regulation of the gambling and gaming industries.

The Puritans and the Punters

As far back as the 1600’s the early settlers were split as to their stance on gambling. There were the normal settlers, who happily indulged in gambling, as they had always done in England – it was considered a ‘gentlemanly pursuit – and then there were the Puritans, who had left England to start a new, better life. Gambling was not part of the plans for the Puritans.

Gambling soon began to cause serious problems in the colonies, reflecting a lifestyle of sloth and vice. It was generally frowned upon, and either went underground or ceased altogether.

The colonies began to cost England a lot of money, and in an effort to raise funds to sustain these far flung settlements, lotteries were introduced. This idea was flawed, however, as large amounts of money were leaving England, much to the disgust of the local population, and lotteries soon ceased.

Their popularity continued in the US however, and lotteries were used to raise money for some of the earliest and most prestigious universities in America – Harvard, Yale and Columbia were all established and sustained with the help of lottery winnings. Gambling on the horses was also big at that time, but casino gaming started relatively slowly.

Gambling in the Deep South

By the 1800’s gaming was again a popular pastime particularly in the south, and New Orleans soon established itself as the gambling capitol.

Professional gamblers, known as ‘sharps’, or ‘sharpers’, put the lid on the growth of the industry as they were innately dishonest, and the general public soon took umbrage, and pushed the sharps out of the south. Lynch mobs were even formed, and many professional gamblers lost their lives due to the lure of filthy lucre.

Added scandals in the industry and religious beliefs led to a complete turnaround. Lotteries and many other forms of gambling were banned in most states by the 1840’s.

Then came the heady days of the Californian Gold Rush, and with so much money around, all forms of gambling began to flourish and authorities turned a blind eye, and even legalised it in some states.

San Francisco replaced New Orleans as the primary gambling destination, and all was well until the industry was again wracked by unscrupulous operators. Public sentiment changed yet again and by 1860 all banking games (where a player bets against the house) were banned. By 1910 all forms of gambling were a no-no.

Gambling never ceased, it merely went underground and the illegal gaming houses began to flourish. Tragedy struck in the form of the Great Depression and contrary to what one might have expected the ‘powers to be’ saw gambling as a means of sparking the shattered economy. In 1931 the State of Nevada legalised gambling, and the rest is history!