US Gambling History & Expansion


According to noted gambling law expert I. Nelson Rose, gambling has gone through three waves of expansion in the US. The first wave of gambling, before the US was founded, was when lotteries were used to finance the settlement of the first colonies. The second happened during the 1800s when gambling was often tolerated (though not always legal) as we began to “go west.” And the third wave began when Nevada legalized casinos (again) during the Great Depression in 1931.1

During the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, several forms of gambling were legalized in various regions of the country. These included horse tracks, charity bingo and other social games. Then, in 1963, New Hampshire legalized a state lottery.1

Over the ensuing decade and a half, 11 more states (for a total of 12) legalized lotteries; however, Nevada remained the only state with legalized casino-style gambling until New Jersey began to allow it in Atlantic City in 1976 (with the first casino opening in 1978).1

Another decade of relatively slow expansion transpired, with Nevada remaining the quintessential gambling capital of the country. Then, in 1988, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed by the federal government.

Prior to the IGRA, the federal government had no official structure to regulate gaming. Based on a 1987 supreme course ruling, the IGRA provided that Native American Tribes, as sovereign political entities, were allowed to operate gaming establishments without having to adhere to state regulations. The IGRA has led to countless law changes, lawsuits and political lobbying from dozens of interested parties, ranging from casino conglomerates to politicians, and remains a subject of much political debate.2

Indian Casinos across the country began to open gaming establishments – often Bingo Halls at first – and by the mid-90s, many Indian Casinos offered slot machines and other forms of casino gambling. And the dominoes began to fall.

And as casinos became integrated into society, states began to legalize more forms of gambling in an effort to increase tax revenues. By 2006, people could legally gamble, in one form or another, in 48 of the 50 states. And even in the two states which did not offer legal gambling (Hawaii and Utah), gambling was easily accessible over the internet or – in the case of Utah – with an often short drive to the state border.

During the 21st century, gambling has been one of the country’s fastest growing industries. In 2011, the National Council on Problem Gambling reported that legalized gambling generates about $100 billion per year in total revenues nationwide. And nowhere has the growth of Gaming been more prevalent than in California. As the country’s most populous state and one of the largest economies in the world, California now has more than 160 casinos, card rooms, racetracks and lottery districts which generate billions of dollars a year in revenue.

Comments are closed.