Ninety Years of Legalized Gambling

Yes, on this date, March 19, 1931, ailing Nevada Governor Fred B. Balzar signed into law legalizing gambling in the State of Nevada. The new law took effect immediately.
The Las Vegas Strip

The bill to make gambling legal was introduced by a Mormon!  Freshman Assemblyman Phil Tobin of Winnemucca introduced the bill in the State legislature a month earlier to legalize, as he put it,  “every gaming device known to man” in Nevada.

What a lot of people don’t know is that bill was actually meant to reverse a ban on casino gambling that had been in place in Nevada since 1909.  The funny thing was, according to the newspaper at the time, Las Vegas Evening Review-Journal, that gaming being legalized, wasn’t even the top story!!

What was the top story on the front page on his date in 1931?  Above the fold, the top story was about two California teenagers who stole a Chevrolet coupe and drove it to Las Vegas. Then came the story about a car accident that cracked a store’s plate-glass window and smashed the toolbox on one of the vehicle’s running boards.  After that, was the story about Nevada’s legalized gaming!

But Wait, There’s More!

1931 was not only the year Nevada legalized gambling (again). 1931 was also the year the State Legislature made Nevada the divorce capital of America.  In 1931, the new law stated that to get a divorce in Nevada, one of the parties had to be a resident here for only six weeks.  That is why we also became the dude ranch capital of the world.

The law was aimed at the well-to-do and wealthy Hollywood actors and bankers from California. People wanting to get a quick divorce would “move” here and for six weeks live on a ranch to establish residency.  Being a No-Fault divorce state meant that six weeks and one day later they were free to marry again!

Getting married was just as easy.  No blood tests, no waiting, just be free from the burden of a living spouse and you were free and eligible to get married the very same day! It’s still pretty much that way today!

Back to Gambling

The Oldest Casino in Nevada

Both of these laws were put in place for a simple reason.  That we, as a nation and as a state, were deep in the middle of the Great Depression and Nevada was hoping to find a way to lure people with money to visit our State.

The Dam Impact

It didn’t hurt that at the same time as we were making it easy to get a divorce and to get married as well as gamble, the Federal Government was just starting to spend the big money and hire thousands of out-of-work men to go out into the middle of the desert, into the middle of nowhere, 30 miles from Las Vegas, and start to build what would become one of the greatest man-made structures on earth:  The Hoover Dam.

Anyone thinking of getting hired on the project had to first pass-thru Las Vegas.  For many, this was as far as they got.  Those that did not get hired, either stayed in town, hoping for a break in employment or they went back home. But they were here and if they had any money at all, they were pretty sure to put some of that into the one-armed bandits. Hoping that maybe that next pull would give them the big win that would change their lives forever.

Railroad Pass Begins

Getting hired to build the Dam, usually meant that you would live in what was first a tent city, then into a shiny new modern town called Boulder City. Boulder City was a government-run community. Meaning no gambling, no alcohol ( at least that’s what the law said!)  So right on the other side of the city line, some entrepreneurial men built what is now the “oldest, continuously active gaming license” in Nevada as well as the “longest-running legal casino in the United States of America”.  The Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino (see The Proclamation)

Gaming Trivia!

  • What did it cost to operate a gaming establishment in Nevada in 1931? You had a license fee of $50 per table and $12.50 per handle for slot machines.  The county got 50 percent of the money and the city and state each took 25 percent.
  • The first Nevada Gaming License issued in Clark County (La Vegas) was awarded to a woman. Mayme Stocker and J.H. Morgan. They opened the Northern Club in 1936. The Northern Club was located in downtown Las Vegas on 15 East Fremont Street.
  • The oldest hotel and casino in Las Vegas is what is now called the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. It was also the first lodging establishment in the city to receive plumbing and having the first telephone/number in Las Vegas (dial “1”).
  • As of January of 2021, there are 466 “Non-Restricted Gaming Licenses” in the State of Nevada. Basically, that means there are 446 places where you can legally gamble in Nevada.  This DOES NOT include the “slot parlors” in your neighborhood grocery stores, convenience stores, taverns, or bars where you can only play slot machines..
  • Gaming revenue for 2019 for the State of Nevada was $18 billion. $15.5 billion of that, or 86%, came from Clark County (Las Vegas).

Posted by Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony is The Vegas Tourist! Popular Tourism Ambassador, a frequent contributor to Las Vegas forums as well as travel media and bloggers. Loves to help people discover new things to see, do and experience while visiting Las Vegas and Beyond!

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