Gambling regulation in Nevada isn’t as cut and dried as one might think. While it would take at least one book to cover it in detail but here’s the backstory that set the stage for the current gaming climate in Nevada: Nevada became a state in 1865 and soon after passed a bill which decriminalized playing ‘games of chance’ and significantly reduced penalties for running such games. As one would surmise, this led to a boom in underground gambling. That lasted until 1909 when the growing ‘Temperance movement’ resulted in the prohibition of gambling and alcohol. The prohibition didn’t do much to stop the gambling or drinking but instead dramatically increased the power and finances of organized crime who continued to serve both ‘vices’ underground.
That set the state for the so called ‘Wide Open Gambling’ bill of 1931 which was signed into law by then Governor Fred Balzar. This bill was a reaction to the financial hardship caused by the Great Depression and allowed counties the ability to license gambling businesses and collect taxes and fees. In 1949, a law was passed to allow betting on horse racing and professional sports. This led to a proliferation of ‘turf clubs’ which were small race and sports books. These small books—like virtually everything in Nevada’s gaming industry—has been subsumed by the cabal of a half dozen or so major casino corporations that runs things today.
With gambling legalized a push began to ‘clean up’ the casino industry which was for all intents and purposes controlled by organized crime for decades. This introduced the Nevada Gaming Control Board in 1955 and four years later the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Gaming Control board still handles fees and licensing today. The Gaming Commission, meanwhile, rules over disputes arising from the application of Control Board laws.
This would be the status quo until 1974 when the sports betting tax was reduced to 2%. That got the major casinos into the bookmaking business led by the Stardust Race and Sports Book. In 1983, the betting tax was further reduced to 0.25%. This made Nevada and specifically Las Vegas the de facto sports betting capital of the United States though in actuality it was ‘by default’ as it was the only jurisdiction where single game betting was legal.
Today’s Nevada gaming industry is highly regulated but within that framework the ‘Silver State’ offers more gambling freedom than any other jurisdiction in the US. Casino games are legal provided they are licensed by the state Gaming Control Board. Slot machines, video poker and other gaming devices are likewise legal subject to the same licensing process. Live poker is legal though like every other form of ‘for profit’ gambling this has been taken over by the casino corporation oligarchy. Social poker and charity poker is also legal provided that no one takes a cut or turns a profit. Online poker play has also been legalized in Nevada since 2013 but only one site provides this service. That would be WSOP.com which is owned by—you guessed it—one of the half dozen or so major corporations that now run gambling in Nevada (in this case Caesars Entertainment).
The only significant form of gambling that isn’t legal is lottery betting. What’s surprising—and somewhat puzzling—is the insane popularity of lottery games among Nevada residents. Anytime the Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot reaches a certain level Nevadans rush for the border. In particular, Las Vegas residents head toward California where the ‘Primm Valley Lotto Store’ is just over the border. It’s actually part of the Primm Valley Resorts gaming complex and anytime the jackpot reaches a certain level you can expect wait times of several hours just to buy lottery tickets.
Unless you’re a lottery enthusiast there’s little doubt that at this point Las Vegas, Nevada is the best place in the country for gambling options. That might not be the case in ten years as other states like New Jersey have been more proactive in pushing the envelope for new uses of technology like online and mobile betting. Furthermore, in the wake of other states legalizing sports betting most experts think that Nevada’s days as the ‘top dog’ in this area are also numbered. On a macro level, the bad news is that Nevada has been complacent for years in their stewardship of the state’s gambling industry. The primary goal over the past few decades has been more to do the bidding of the big casino companies and the lobbying group that represents them (the American Resort Association) than to do what is best for the state’s top industry. That is showing signs of change in the face of increased competition but at this point it might be ‘too little too late’. Depending on what happens in other states, Nevada could realistically fall out of the top ten in terms of betting handle over the next ten years.
On a micro level, however, there’s still no better place for a gambling devotee on a day to day basis. This is particularly true for a sports bettor though with the consolidation of the large casino companies the number of independent lines continues to drop. Sports bets can be placed in-person at sportsbooks all over the Las Vegas Valley. There are very few properties that don’t have at least a small William Hill satellite sportsbook available for patrons. Most of the ‘big players’ including William Hill, Stations Casinos, CG Technology and the Westgate offer full featured mobile and online betting options. And thankfully, the absurd ban on kiosk wagering that should have never been implemented has been reversed. William Hill kiosks are available at all PT s Pub locations and in a growing number of other locations. Hopefully, the other sports betting providers will soon follow suit.
Slot machines, video poker and other gaming devices are legal subject to a stringent licensing process. Live poker is legal though like every other form of ‘for profit’ gambling this has been taken over by the casino corporation oligarchy. The good news is that there are plenty of poker rooms in the Las Vegas Valley. Social poker and charity poker is also legal provided that no one takes a cut or turns a profit. Online poker play has also been legalized in Nevada since 2013 but only one site (WSOP.com) currently provides this service.
The only significant form of gambling that isn’t legal is lottery betting. In fact, it’s not even legal to advertise lottery games from other states. This is a longstanding prohibition intended to protect the state’s casino industry. What’s surprising—and somewhat puzzling—is the insane popularity of lottery games among Nevada residents. Anytime the Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot reaches a certain level Nevadans rush for the border. In particular, Las Vegas residents head toward California where the ‘Primm Valley Lotto Store’ is just over the border. It’s actually part of the Primm Valley Resorts gaming complex and anytime the jackpot reaches a certain level you can expect wait times of several hours just to buy lottery tickets. You’d think there’s a way to allow Nevada residents to purchase tickets for the Powerball and Mega Millions drawings that provides the casinos a cut in the process but this has yet to transpire.