The History of Gambling in North America Is Quite Interesting – Wanna Bet?

When the mining town of Deadwood sprung up in 1876, bets occurred at practically every saloon in town and gambling in casino establishments was very popular. When gambling was outlawed during the roaring twenties it still continued behind closed doors in Deadwood. The repeal of the Prohibition Act in 1935 made gambling boom once again until 1947. In 1964, Deadwood became the only city in the United States to be named a National Historical Landmark. Let’s take a closer look at the history of gambling in the United States to make us better understand its evolution:

The history of gambling in North America stretches all the way back to the 1600’s. While the Puritans banned gambling, other colonies embraced it and enjoyed card games and dice. Cock-fights, however, were not legalized initially since it wasn’t considered a suitable game for gentlemen. But why was gambling so popular throughout the early colonies? One theory is that the “frontier spirit” resembles gambling, with traits such as high expectation, risk and opportunism.
Horse racing was also widespread in the 1600’s, although not as organized as it is today. Most bets were made between the horse owners and their affiliates. In 1665 the first race track in North America was built on Long Island and a more elaborate form of horse racing grew more popular.

The English financers of the American colonies viewed gambling as a way to raise money for further expansion. They established sophisticated lotteries that included instant winners, but because of fraud allegations the early lotteries were eventually dissolved. However, all 13 original colonies ended up using lotteries to raise revenue and build universities such as Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard.
The British crown wanted to keep the lottery as a monopoly, which was wildly protested among the colonies. When the separation from England began the Continental Congress established a lottery to help finance the war, but it was abandoned due to the low number of tickets sold.

By the 1800’s, dice and card games had started to move from homes to taverns and roadhouses and the first casinos started sprouting. Gambling grew strong in the lower Mississippi Valley, where the connected waterways allowed travelers and settlers to join the melting pot of the South – New Orleans. During the same century, the opposition was raging about the fraud and dishonesty that tainted the lotteries. The anti-lottery forces prevailed and put an end to most state authorized lotteries. The prohibition led to the surfacing of several illegal lotteries and smuggling activities throughout the nation as well as illegal gambling in casinos kept inside underground facilities.

Gambling got a revival in the Far West as the mining boom occurred and restless, ambitious miners with high expectations migrated to the area. San Francisco replaced New Orleans as the center of gambling and started to grow popular among women, blacks and Chinese as well. The state of California started licensing gambling establishments to raise money in the 1850’s. Gambling laws were put in play and were initially focused on those who ran the games, and not the actual players. The first slot machine was invented in 1895 and first appeared in San Francisco. It was, however, outlawed in 1911.

Virtually all forms of gambling except for some forms of horse racing were prohibited by the states by 1910. Arizona and New Mexico even had to outlaw casinos in order to gain statehood. The gambling continued underground until the stock market crash of 1929 when the government once again started realizing that gambling would be a good source of revenue. Law enforcement agencies started a crackdown on illegal gambling on the East Coast which made many mobsters relocate their businesses to the West Coast where the reins were held looser at the time. Many organized crime syndicates invested heavily in Nevada casinos, with Las Vegas’ Flamingo as one of the most notable. Las Vegas became the destination for high rollers in the early 1950’s and hundreds of new casinos sprung up. When the Senate began investigating criminal influence in the casino industry, their findings showed that tax fraud was widespread. The following prosecutions made the mob sell their casino interests to law-abiding citizens and companies.

Legal lotteries didn’t resurface until 1964 in New Jersey. The new lotteries became successful due to their low cost and higher percentage of lottery revenue as prizes. Atlantic City became a popular tourist destination as New Jersey became the second state to legalize casino gambling in 1978. Today most states have expanded legalized gaming, including regulated casino games and lotteries. There has been an explosion of Native American casinos as well as online gaming and betting. Deadwood was the first small community in the United States to seek gambling rights as a way to maintain its historic qualities. The legalization in 1989 brought significant new revenues and development. As gambling is still evolving, what do you think the next step will be?