Gamling on its First Half of the 20th Century

During the first half of the century, legal gambling was relatively rare in the United States.

Between 1894 and 1964, there were no government-operated or government-licensed lotteries in the United States.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, lottery proposals were introduced in the legislatures of five northeastern states. The profits were to be used for general relief and unemployment compensation, but none of these proposals succeeded.

The Irish Sweepstakes started in 1930 and remained popular until World War II, when its operation was suspended. In 1938, a national survey found that 13 percent of the population had purchased a Sweepstakes ticket.

Following the war, its popularity grew once again.

During the first several decades of the twentieth century, many religious and charitable organizations throughout the country held illegal bingo games and raffles. The first state to legalize bingo was Rhode island, followed by New Hampshire, and New York.

By 1973, thirty-four states had legalized charity bingo, which was seen as a harmless alternative to illegal betting on numbers and policy games.

A popular form of gambling during the colonial era and the first half of the nineteenth century, horse racing was adversely affected by the anti-gambling, anti-lottery sentiment of the late nineteenth century as well as by religious crusaders and opportunistic politicians running on 'reform' platforms.

In 1900, only three states (Maryland, Kentucky, and New York) permitted pari-mutuel betting. But by 1911, six states allowed betting at race tracks, and in 1930, the number was up to twenty-one.

During the Depression decade of the 1930s,states turned to racing as a source of revenues. By 1938, another eleven states had legalized (and were taxing) pari-mutuel betting.

Except for the period of 1910 to 1930, casino gambling has been legal in Nevada since 1869.

From 1931 to 1945, the licensing and control of casinos was a local (county) responsibility. There is no doubt that a large amount of criminal syndicate money from the East flowed to Nevada and funded the early 'modern' casinos.

In 1945, the state of Nevada took over licensing and tax collecting responsibilities. The industry, however, was not regulated until after 1955 when the state established a separate gaming control agency.

Besides Nevada, the only other state to legalize casino gambling, albeit briefly, was Florida. In addition to legalizing pari-mutuel betting, the state legalized slot machines in the 1930s as a source of revenue.

The experiment with slot machines ended in 1937 after religious organizations complained that those least able to afford it (poor and working-class people) were squandering their money on the machines.

While slot machines (which numbered 12,500 at one point) were destroyed with great ceremony, they continued to operate with little attention from law enforcement officials in private clubs catering to the wealthy.

Throughout the United States, illegal casinos became the target of political reformers and religious zealots. In many cases, casinos were closed down with a great deal of fanfare and media attention, only to reopen after public attention was distracted by other events.

Close