It was 1931, well into the depths of the Great Depression – the worst that the country had seen since the 1890s. Every state at the time, was then desperately in search of a path to economic recovery – though little hope could be found. Yet Nevada had been hit far worse than the others, since they’d been in their own depression from the end of World War I. The “silver-state” was possessed of little commerce and virtually no real industry of any kind. It was a state known for silver, sand-fleas and desert lizards. As a result, their administration was doomed to face a Depression – within a Depression.

Vegas Slots vintge-las-vegas-1931

In desperation, Governor Fred Balzar led a conference between the state’s leadership and the patriarchs of the most prominent families in Nevada, to jointly find a practical course of action – one that could effectively rejuvenate the state’s economy. It was realized, that with a national lack of discretionary money, tourism was not a valid hope. But in time, an alternate two-part plan took shape, which might readily attract crowds of visitors from all over the country. First, they’d reduce the legal residency time to six weeks, and thus – quite legally – allow for a quick divorce, for any U.S. citizen.

Their second “related” idea, was to open a “pass-time” to those who’d be awaiting legal residency – by offering legalized gambling! Although in the decades since the Civil War, legalized gambling in Nevada had been approved and rejected many times, this new need for legalized gaming became absolute. The wheels of government spun into action.

A view of Las Vegas strip in 1953 Vegas SlotsA view of Las Vegas strip in 1953

A freshman Nevada Assemblyman, Phil Tobin, immediately brought Assembly Bill 98 to the floor, which would legalize a range of casino games. It was signed into law by Governor Balzar on March 19, 1931. As a curious side-effect, however, every “backroom” gambling den in the state was suddenly “out of business” – which at once called a serious issue into focus. Gambling, at the time, had long been illegal throughout the United States, so that “illegal” dens and road-houses were everywhere. Illegal also meant “unregulated”, so that “gaffed” slots and rigged roulette wheels, were common. To put it most simply, the public saw all gaming houses as “shaddy”, by their nature. How then would Nevada prove that they “we’re the only ones to assure honest gaming, anywhere?”

This concern became the backbone of the state’s new “Gaming Control Board”, which would not only regulate, oversee and control every gaming operation in the state, but also – as widely advertised – they’d function as “the great mediator”. Their mandate was simple: “No game or, gaming operation, would be allowed to cheat any player – nor will any player be
allowed to cheat at any casino game.” In the decades that followed, an army of regulators, in plain clothes, surreptitiously eyed the operations of every casino in the state, and if a gaffed machine, or rigged wheel was found, that club would be a parking lot by the following morning.

23 Apr 2019 | Adam Shaw | 0 Comments


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