My newest history book about the development of the Nevada gambling industry and the influence of organized crime will be published soon. It covers the early casino period up to 1950. This early phase had a number of very distinct economic eras.
During the Roaring ‘20s, Nevada had wide-open casinos like those today in Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe, but all were illegal. The operators paid off the local police chief or sheriff.
In 1931, the State legalized gambling. It took years of cajoling the Legislature to finally convince it to make Nevada the only state to have legal casinos.
During the 1930s Great Depression economic decline, Nevada’s initial legal casinos prospered. Near Las Vegas, the huge Boulder Dam project was built by a large work force, and the State’s top casino in Reno had an incredibly effective, but wholly illegal, marketing program. It offered a full-service emporium of illegal services for financial criminals from across the country, especially for con men and machinegun-toting bank robbers.
During the early 1940s, World War II impacted the country’s whole economy. The military built bases in Nevada, and their officers, servicemen, government officials, and businessmen suppliers created a unique casino marketing era. This led to the building of the first resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, and the construction of other major new casinos throughout the State.
During the post-War period of the late 1940s, America experienced its greatest economic boom. This led to many great new casino operations in Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe. These operators would dominate the industry for decades to come. It was during this boom that Nevada introduced a new form of law enforcement, gaming control. The early policing of the State’s casinos by the original gaming authorities produced many dramatic and fascinating stories.
During this early casino period, many of Nevada’s casino owners and operators were unbelievably colorful characters, and they were challenged at their table games by some of the most fabled gamblers in history. It was a wonderful era of gambling and superstar entertainment in a unique adult playground.