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The 100 Most Significant Events of the 20th Century in Casino Gambling10 March 2001
What is the leisure time activity that more adult Americans participate in than any other? Going to movies? No. Playing softball? No. Golf? No. Bowling? Come on! Tennis? Oh, my aching elbow! Stamp collecting? No. Coin collecting? You're getting colder. Quilting? Sure, that's big with the truckers. Reading great literature? Ha! Ha! Ice cold. Freezing.
Think! Over 130 million people participated in this activity last year. Adult people. People with money. Yes, Virginia, I even saw a guy in a Santa Claus suit doing it last Christmas.
From kitchen poker games to sports and horse betting, to dogs and dominoes, more people gamble than do just about anything else other than eat, sleep, work and make more people.
And the biggest draw in the world of gambling is unquestionably casino gambling. The 20th Century has seen an explosion in legal casino gambling unequaled in the history of man. Las Vegas has gone from a sleepy little desert town to a sprawling metropolis. Atlantic City has been resurrected. Tiny delta counties such as Tunica have become giant pools of money. Riverboats ply the waves up and down the Midwest. And Indian casinos are changing the concept of the word reservation from a holding area for an oppressed people to: "We'll gladly take your reservation. Will that be a suite or a deluxe room, sir?"
No question, casino gambling was all the rage as our 20th Century and the Second Millennium came to a close and it does not show any signs of slowing down as the 21st Century and Third Millennium begin.
As with any activity of mankind, the people, places, and things of 20th Century casino gambling fill many volumes. Picking the top 100 events was not an easy task. I had plenty of help from a diversity of sources, many of which I list at the end of the article. Just about every gaming writer I asked to contribute his or her ideas was more than happy to help me out with this herculean effort. Not everyone wanted to be listed as a source and I have respected their anonymity. I give each and every one who helped me compile this list, whether credited or not, a sincere thank you. I couldn't have done it without them.
I am sure that for just about every event I have included, some reader can make a good argument for why I should not have included it but, instead, have included something else in its place. That's the nature of lists.
In my opinion, every event on this list has had an impact on casino gambling in some way, either directly (the creation of Megabucks), or indirectly (Howard Hughes moves to Las Vegas and buys seven casinos), or tangentially (Hoover Dam is completed). Some of the events have helped to create and promulgate casino lore, some simply made splashy headlines. But all were big in the casino scheme of things in my estimation as they have added to the mystique of casinos or casino towns.
[ 61.] 1980: The "suitcase man" arrives at Binions to make his big bet. The story of the "suitcase man" has become another modern legend of Las Vegas and it has lost nothing in the telling over a period of almost 20 years. In fact, there are at least six different versions of the story that I have heard or read and I'm sure there are several more I haven't heard or read. Here's what really happened. One William Lee Bergstrom decided to test the Binion claim that he will book any bet as long as you make it your first. Bergstrom arrives with a suitcase filled with $777,000 which he intends to bet all at once on the Don't Pass line at craps. He also brings with him a second, empty suitcase to put his win in. The shooter establishes a point of six and then sevens out two rolls later. Bergstrom takes his original $777,000 and his win of $777,000 and packs them into two suitcases and leaves. However, Bergstrom can't stay away for long. He comes back and wins a $590,000 bet, then he comes back and wins a $190,000 bet, then again he wins $90,000 and then he comes back to make his famous $1,000,000 bet (circa 1984) -- and loses! Three months later Bergstrom kills himself at a Strip hotel. Bergstrom dies $647,000 ahead. The other versions of the story have Bergstrom only returning once for that $1,000,000 bet, losing it, and heading for his room where he blows his head off. Other stories have him leaping out of the top floor window at the Tropicana hotel after losing the million. Still others have him poisoning himself or dying from an overdose of pills. While a cat may have nine lives, Bergstrom, the suitcase man, seems to have nine deaths!
[ 62.] 1981: Blackjack expert Arnold Snyder starts Blackjack Forum magazine. Still publishing, this magazine is the quarterly bible for serious card counters as it looks at all aspects of the blackjack wars in both a mathematical and a practical way. Contains lists of blackjack conditions from around the world, reports from experts in the field, and esoteric as well as practical analyses of various aspects of the game and some very fine writing as well.
[ 63.] 1982: The first "slot club" opens in Atlantic City at The Golden Nugget which then becomes Bally's Grand then The Grand and now closes out the 20th century as the Hilton. But what's in a name? Slot clubs become the rage in the 1990s - even having books written about them such as Jeff Compton's Guide to Las Vegas Slot Clubs and John Robison's Inside Atlantic City Slot Clubs.
[ 64.] 1982: Ken Uston wins his lawsuit against Atlantic City's Resorts International Hotel Casino. The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court rules that Atlantic City Casinos cannot bar skilled players from their blackjack tables. Uston was banned from playing in 1979 and he challenges the casino's right to bar him based on his ability to count cards. He claims it is a form of discrimination to ban someone because he can think. Although he wins the battle, Atlantic City casinos ultimately win the war as they quickly institute eight-deck games with poor penetration and countermeasures such as shuffling up and limiting what an individual player can bet. These counter measures will be challenged by Joseph Campione in the 1990s. Campione will win his case as well but ultimately the casinos defeat Campione on appeal and, as I write this, Atlantic City casinos are allowed by law to offer "selectively" unfavorable conditions for blackjack card counters (limiting minimum to maximum bets, limiting number of hands that can be played, etc.) while offering more favorable conditions for non-counting players - at the same table!
[ 65.] 1984: The "virtual stop" is created. Mr. Inge Telnaes receives patent 4,448,419 on May 15, 1984 and the world of slot machines will never be the same again. The title of the patent is "Electronic Gaming Device Utilizing A Random Number Generator For Selecting The Reel Stop Positions." It's a mouthful but it creates the potential for the giant jackpot games to follow. Prior to Telnaes, slots have to have four or more reels in order to have high jackpots. Players intuitively know that getting four jackpot symbols is less likely than getting three, so casinos are looking for some way to decrease the probability of hitting the jackpot from what it appears to be without revealing that the probability has actually been decreased. Another way to decrease the probability is to make the physical reel larger. At this time, IGT has also been working on a machine with huge reels to increase payouts but decrease a player's probability of hitting them. This concept is not practical because every machine would need to be a Big Bertha.
Perhaps the most important innovation since Fey's Liberty Bell slot was invented, Telnaes patents the idea of making a reel appear to have more stops than it really has. Here's how he puts it: "It should be noted that the market demands higher and higher payoffs to maintain and increase player appeal, yet the casino or operator must be assured that the probability of win and payout allows for a reasonable business profit.... It is therefore the purpose of this invention to increase the capability of the designer to include high payoffs without increased physical size of the machine....It should be noted that the players perceive larger machines as being less 'good' in terms of winning and payout chances. That is, large physical machines and a large number of reels develop an attitude in the player which affects the play and acceptance of the machine although this does not always coincide with the true mathematical reality and probability of payout of the machine....this attitude may be more influential on whether or not the machine is played than published figures showing the payoff odds. Thus, it is important to make a machine that is perceived to present greater chances of payoff than it actually has within the legal limitations that games of chance must operate." Telnaes might not win any writing awards but the slot manufacturers have given him the Nobel Prize for Creativity because without him many of the newest and most popular machines would have been impossibilities.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
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