Legalized Gambling Through the years, gambling has become America’s pastime. Over 60 million Americans make some sort of wager every day.1 When compared to other recreations(in billions of dollars) in 1990, gambling institutions made 2.2 more than magazine sales, 8.3 more than book sales, 20.9 more than theaters, and a whopping 21.8 more than movies.2 This number has increased to this high level because of the growth in the amount of legalized gambling establishments and the accessibility to these establishments, both of which increases the number of gamblers. The compulsive or pathological gambler affects society most. According to Stuart Winston, The compulsive gambler is the backbone of gambling. Without the compulsive gambler, there would be no Las Vegas, no Off Track Wagering.
Two thirds of the race tracks in America would close. The attendance of sporting events would drop 50%, and T.V. wouldn’t bother with sports beyond championship events…The compulsive gambler bets a piece of his life everyday, and a piece of his family’s. The other 45 million people who gamble are having fun.(Out of the 60 million who gamble every day)3 These gamblers often resort to crime to pay off their debts and anger. Even though legalized gambling has changed through time, and has been “accepted” in America today, it remains detrimental to society, and should not be legal anywhere. American gambling can be traced back to the early years of the nation.
Different forms of gambling, such as lotteries, remained popular until 1890, when U.S. jurisdiction made lotteries and all other forms of gambling illegal by direct prohibition.4 Gambling had become more and more a “low life” thing to do. These low lifes, called “rowdies”, would bet or take a bet on anything. Most tried to look different from everyone else by wearing thick imitation gold chains, a dyed black mustache, a velvet coat, and long hair. New York City alone had about 30,00 people earning a living from gambling in the 1890’s. The casino’s were plush and usually had a buffet with alcohol.
The operation made a lot of money, most from cheating. Each casino would hire “agents” to come in and claim winning keno numbers, afterwards giving most of it back to the casino. Counterfeit money was also handed out to the few people who happened to win. Any protest from a loser and he would end up with a black eye. Oscar Handlin said, “An individual may sometimes take away substantial sums of money, but in the long run the banker must win.”5 Essentially, gambling hurt society in the early years of America. For the next 25 years, gambling became unpopular again because of reports of cheating and changing American values.
Anything thought of to be harmful to society became illegal. For example, alcohol became illegal by Prohibition. The reintroduction of gambling resulted in the return of corruption and fraud. By the mid 1920’s, state after state abolished its anti-gambling laws. Gambling had become more and more accepted because of churches holding bingo sessions and legitimate racetracks being built.
In 1931, gambling became totally legalized in Nevada to replace the money the state was getting from depleted ore rich mountains.6 Organized crime started to turn toward gambling as their main source of income after Prohibition ended in 1933. These criminals made most of their money bootlegging alcohol during Prohibition, so once alcohol prices went down, they needed another way to make a lot of money fast: gambling.7 Organized crime started getting more involved with gambling once Las Vegas started to boom. Bugsy Siegal, a half insane murderer who was sent to Nevada to enforce mob control of the race wire services, opened up the first hotel/casino in Las Vegas. His hotel, the Flamingo began a long period of gang involvement in Las Vegas. In 1947, the Desert Inn opened, run by a gang from Cleveland. A savage group of people, including the infamous Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, established the Desert Inn in 1947.
Lansky, the brains of this group, was a genius with numbers, while Luciano, the brute of the group, was a genius for finding Lansky. 1952 brought the opening of the Sahara by some run-out’s from Oregon. The Sands, with Frank Sinatra as a headliner, opened in 1953, funded with Chicago mob money. This was the first attempt at bringing big time entertainment out to Las Vegas to draw people to casinos. Tony Stralla, a hoodlum from California, opened the Stardust in 1955.
The Stardust towered over the rest of the hotels on the strip and had more luxuries inside.8 Each hotel became bigger than the next and all made a lot of money. Much of the money was “skimmed” off the top and sent around the country to different mob headquarters before taxes could be taken out. By the late 1950’s, federal accusations such as the Kefauver expose and investigations by the Treasury Justice, showed the mobs involvement in Las Vegas and the ways they were stealing money from the government such as skimming.9 Once again, the public saw decided gambling was bad after, the news of corruption and fraud, just like in the 1890’s10 Today, everyone has given gambling, a booming corporate industry, another chance. Squeaky clean owners, such as Steve Wynn and Donald Trump, own numerous casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Each has been portrayed by the media as “good guys” who just happen to be making a lot of money through gambling.
They advertise gambling as a legitimate business, with corporate style offices staffed by corporate style employees and have stocks representing their company on the stock market.11 Each new hotel/casino is bigger and nicer than the next, just like in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. They bring in big-time gamblers with complimentary amenities, such as free air-fare and suites. Middle class gamblers are lured to casinos by free food. For lower class gamblers, owners provide free transportation.12 Outside of Las Vegas, growth can be seen even more. State lotteries, riverboat casinos, bingo parlors, and Indian Reservation casinos can be seen all across the country.
More and more states are legalizing forms of gambling each year. The gambling cycle is still rising and may never come down. This recent resurgence in gambling tried to clear its image, but problems still exist. The growth in gambling venues has greatly increased the chances for an average person to gamble legally. This growth, in turn, has exponentially increased the number of gamblers.
By the year 2000, 95% of Americans will live within a 3-4 hour drive of a casino.13 Today, the only two states without any kind of legal gambling are Hawaii and Utah.14 Because of this, the amount of money gambled legally in 1993 was 2,300% higher than the amount wagered in 1974.15 From 1982-1990, Americans increased their amount of money they gambled over twice as much as their incomes increased.16 Despite the growth of this new “clean” gambling industry, the results of gambling remain frightfully dangerous. Casino owners, while no longer street hoodlums, are still mercilessly preying on the weakness of their clients. The owners of these gambling institutions have two rules: get the people to start playing and keep them playing.17 They make their casinos more enticing for the average person by making themselves look like good citizens. Casino owners make donations to local charities and schools and run lucrative adds sounding as if making money at their casino will be easy and fun.18 The industry has also stayed up with the times making betting easier, more appealing, and more exciting.19 Harrah’s casino spends thousands of dollars each year to see whether fresher air, wider aisles, and back supports can increase gambling. The Hilton in Las Vegas even went so far as to release a scent called “Odorant 1”, produced by Alan Hirsch, a Chicago neurologist.
This scent made the air smell “fresher”, in a slot machine pit. These slot machines saw 45% more action than usual.20 Why do these casinos want each person in their casino to stay longer, and to bet more money? Because the odds are in favor of the house, and the more money gambled, the more the house will make. CEO and President of Claridge’s Casino in Atlantic City, Bob Renneissen, said, “Our goal is not to get more out of a customer in three hours but to get him to stay for four hours.”21 In lotteries and horse racing the house earns the same percentage from the wagers, no matter what the outcome is. This fact ensures that more money is wagered the more money is made. In casino’s, each game has a certain percentage of winning.
Sports books get 10%, craps gets .6-1.4%, roulette gets 5.2%, blackjack receives 2-15%, and keno gets a whopping 20%. In 1980, a math genius named Jess Marcum calculated that a craps player who made just a one dollar bet every bet for two months straight would have a one in two trillion chance of winning $1000 before losing $1000. In contrast, if that person only plays for 25 minutes and bets $200 every time, they would increase their odds to 1.15 to 1.22 Basically, the longer the gambler stays, the more money the house will take in. The casinos of today do not need blatant fraud and corruption, like their predecessors, to make large sums of money. As long as a casino remains popular, it will make money.
The recent resurgence in gambling has created more problems …