The History of Gambling in the US: A Changing Wave


The gambling history in the US has been as complex, colorful and eventful as the history of this country has. I mean, it has not been lineal. With gambling, there wasn’t a yes or a no. Its ups and downs are basically inexistent, since it’s always been up! Always shaking and changing.

What puzzles me the most is the fact that gambling has created a history of double standards in our society. What I’m trying to say is that the parts of society in powerful positions have changed their mind regarding gambling depending on their needs.

Let’s take a look at the history of gambling during the 1930’s and notice how the Great Depression led to a major change in gambling policies that is up until today in place. Different state governments decided that gambling could give a boost to an agonizing economy and the rest is history.

  • One example is how Massachusetts decriminalized bingo in 1931 in an attempt to help churches and charitable organizations raise money. By the 1950’s, bingo was legal in 11 states usually for charity purposes only.
  • Horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering began to make a comeback in 1933. For example, in Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, and California legalized pari-mutuel betting. During the 1930’s, 21 states brought back racetracks with new laws and automated systems that made horse racing much more honest.
  • In 1931, Nevada Legalized most forms of gambling in the State which led to the construction of the great monster that Las Vegas is today.
  • Lotteries have always been very popular all over the United States. From 1894 to 1964 they were prohibited, even though they were played all over the country. One of the most well-known illegal lottery was the Irish sweepstakes which began in 1930 for the purpose of raising money for hospitals in Ireland. However, sooner or later the laws had to change. In 1964 New Hampshire was the first state to sponsor a lottery, followed by New York in 1967. New Jersey launched the first financially successful modern lottery in 1971.
  • In 1978, New Jersey became the second state to legalize casino gambling in an attempt to revitalize the rundown resort area of Atlantic City. The legalization was restricted only to Atlantic City and from then on, you can imagine the rest.

It’s interesting to observe how gambling just seems to be part of our society whether it’s allowed or not. People just love to gamble, race or compete. At the end, the more government regulated and legal it is the more control and honesty it will bring to the community. In countries like The Netherlands for example, the lottery is owned by the State and its profits used to benefit hospitals and national humanitarian causes.

Isn’t this a great idea? To use our gambling disposition for the benefit of our society?

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