Why Vegas?


By Byron Craft

Across much of the country today, gambling appears to be the natural state of things, but it wasn’t always that way. 

If you’re around fifty years of age, you’ll remember when going to the casino meant a trip to Las Vegas. Looking back, it seems almost quaint in retrospect, although just a generation ago, casinos were outlawed in 49 out of 50 states. Only Nevada allowed legalized gaming. 

Then something happened. Fifty years ago New Hampshire became the first state to have a lottery. New Hampshire started its lottery in 1964, basically because they didn’t want to have an income tax, so it was a once a week drawing for 50 cents. People drove from all over New England as well as other places to buy tickets.

Two decades later thirty-eight states had lotteries. Lotteries made gambling morally acceptable, more than ever since the money was used for education, health care and other good causes or excuses. 

In 1978, amid great controversy, New Jersey decided to authorize a casino in hopes of rejuvenating the faded resort town of Atlantic City. It was a huge deal. All of a sudden business and government interacted when it came to gambling. If you lived in the East Coast, you had about 30 million people who could go down to a casino and play. The result: they built a bunch of casinos. The ground was prepared in favor of a change for something else that we take for granted today.

When it was established that 25 to 30 percent of all gamblers in Atlantic City were from Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania politicians said, “You know what? I want the revenue back here.” So it followed that Pennsylvania legalized casino gambling, then Maryland, with Massachusetts tagging along a short while later. New Jersey opened the gambling floodgates. A 1988 federal law, The Indian Regulatory Gaming Act, allowed Native American tribes to run casinos on their land. Midwestern states allowed riverboat gambling, at first only as long as the boat was out on the water away from shore. One by one, states began to drop their opposition. 

In November of 2013, voters in New York bet on casinos to revive a struggling upstate economy. The proposition passed overwhelmingly with 57 percent of the vote. Eventually they will add up to seven casinos in a state that already has nine racetracks with video-lottery terminals and five Native American casinos. New York became the 21st state to legalize commercial, Las Vegas-style casinos.

Some dispute whether casinos spur economic activity other than related service jobs. There is no question however, that they bring money in to the state coffers. With budgets tight, elected officials see casinos as providing revenue without raising taxes. The United States directory of gaming properties includes over 1,500 casinos, horse tracks, dog tracks, resorts, and cruise ships. There are over 2,000 internet gaming sites that include online casinos, online poker rooms and online bingo halls. They offer slots, video poker, Texas Hold‘em, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, craps, and bingo, all online. According to, there is legalized gambling in some form (casinos, racetracks, bingo, etc.) in forty-six states. The four states with no legalized gambling are Hawaii, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont.

Where once gambling was seen as a shady or disgraceful activity, it is now seen as entertainment, especially among the young. Polls reveal about 85 percent of Americans currently think gambling is acceptable—even if it is not something they do themselves. It has become the ethics of tolerance.

So why do people keep coming to Las Vegas? With all the gaming competition in the U.S., let alone the rest of the world, you would think that Sin City would be in the dumper. But it’s not. Is it because: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas?” In part yes, but Las Vegas has more to offer than some state adding a handful of casinos to their revenue. Las Vegas has been internationally recognized as the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” Whether it is top dollar luxury, world-class fine dining, or vibrant nightlife that one seeks, Las Vegas certainly has something for everyone. The latter half of the 20th century has shown the city’s unprecedented arenas of success.
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