Long Before Las Vegas – History of Gambling in the US

It’s hard not to think of the glittering lights and non-stop pace of the Las Vegas strip when you think of gambling. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week there are people crowded around the blackjack and roulette tables hoping to hit it big. Gambling has long been a topic that leads to heated debates for a long time. However, gambling in the United States has a history that dates us back a long time before Las Vegas came around.

Gambling can be dated back to the earliest days of settlers in the 17th century. Attitudes about gambling varied by settlements as each one was founded by different members of the British colonies. The Puritans outlawed pretty much any form of gambling including dice, cards and even private tables. There was a lot of hostility towards the thought of someone who made gambling their profession. The English on the other hand, saw gambling as a pleasant and harmless distraction from everyday life and it was a popular past time. Eventually, people came to blame the problems of the new colonies on gambling and acceptance of it waned.

Once the early 19th century rolled around, gambling was still prevalent throughout the United States but it had begun to take on new forms. Lotteries were a very popular way to raise revenue for the states. The proceeds from lottery profits were used to build public works building such as schools and churches. Another form of gambling that popped up in the 19th century was horse racing. It was not nearly as large nor as organized as horse racing today but this is the first time we see gambling taking on new forms.

As the settlers of the United States moved west, so did gambling. It began to take on a more organized form in the sense of casinos. The purpose of these establishments however was not so much to raise revenue for the community but to take advantage of those making the long trek west. During this time in the 1800s, criticism of gambling on moral grounds was increasing. Scandals throughout lottery institutions and more permanent gambling casinos that were taking advantage of people were hit hard by social reform and eventually most forms of gambling throughout the country was prohibited.

When the gold rush hit California in the mid 1800s, people were itching to spend their new found wealth and gambling found its new mecca. Gambling spread through the state like wild fire and both private and public parties were relying on the revenue. Eventually, the popular mind set against gambling made its way west to California and laws were set in place to limit gambling. By the end of the 19th century, most forms of gambling were illegal but this of course did not stop people – it simply drove them out of sight of the authorities.

Limits on gambling began to subside into the 20th century and by the time the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, the public attitude towards gambling eased up significantly. All of a sudden gambling was not seen as a crime but as a way to help stimulate the economy. Forms of gambling such as bingo and horse racing saw a huge comeback during this time period. It was also during the 1930′s that gambling as an industry was formed in the state of Nevada – by organized crime professionals. There is still a fine line to walk between the crime world and the legal political world when it comes to gambling and forms of gambling other than government regulated lotteries are illegal in most states. There will surely be another shift in how gambling is viewed in this country and there will probably never be an agreement on the moral implications of such a practice but, it is sure that gambling will continue to evolve.

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