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The 100 Most Significant Events of the 20th Century in Casino Gambling

17 March 2001

By Frank Scoblete

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.

It's gambling.

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.

Here goes:

[ 66.] 1984: Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin cause a huge ruckus at The Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. They insist that the blackjack dealer deal the cards from her hands and not use a shoe as is required by the New Jersey state law. After much badgering and verbal abuse, the dealer relents and deals the cards by hand. The Golden Nugget is subsequently fined 25 thousand dollars, the dealer is sacked, and Sinatra in a fit of pique declares he will never perform in New Jersey again. However, the lure of the shore - and the big money from all the whales that attend his concerts - salves his wounded ego and he returns to perform many concerts at the Sands. Shortly thereafter Steve Wynn sells the Golden Nugget and vows he's never coming back to Jersey either. But at the turn of the century, Wynn is building what promises to be the "in" mega-resort in Atlantic City for the first quarter of the 21st Century. Doesn't anyone keep their vows anymore?

[ 67.] 1984: Mike Caro publishes Mike Caro's Book of Tells: The Body Language of Poker. While most poker books concentrate on the math of the game and reading your cards right, Caro's book explains how to read the people you are playing against. A seminal work on the human side of poker...and why are your eyebrows knitting up like that? Do you have a good hand?

[ 68.] 1984: Luddites beware! Slot machine revenues outpace table games for the first time in recorded history. Yes, this is the year that the slots become king in Nevada, and, no fooling, this is also the year that slots become King of the Queen of Resorts, Atlantic City, as well. As the century closes, and the millennium dawns, slots account for anywhere between 65 and 90 percent of casino revenue, depending on the casino and the venue.

[ 69.] 1985: Nevada outlaws "devices" (including concealed computers) which had previously been legal. The perfect basic strategy in blackjack is to count every card that comes out of the deck or shoe and weigh it based on its real mathematical effects on the remaining cards in the deck or shoe and then bet accordingly. No human can do the math fast enough. But computers can. And, in fact, the redoubtable Ken Uston (and others) took such computers into the casinos and began using them. However, once Nevada Governor Richard Bryan signs into law Senate Bill #467 which becomes effective on July 1, 1985, it becomes a felony violation of the cheating statutes for any person in a casino "to use or possess with intent to use any device" which would assist in "projecting the outcome" of a game, "keeping track of the cards played" in a game, "analyzing the probability of the occurrence of an event" related to a game, or "analyzing the strategy for playing or betting" to be used in a game. Though many legal experts believe the anti-device law to be unconstitutionally vague (since card counting itself could be considered a "device," as could a pencil and paper used to keep track of results at baccarat or roulette, let alone simple pocket calculators used in making decisions at the sports book), the law has been copied verbatim into the gaming regulations of many other states.

[ 70.] 1986: Thomas A. Bass publishes The Eudaemonic Pie. Can a team of computer geeks beat the roulette wheels in Las Vegas? Yes, they can. Stirring adventures of a group of young men who employ one of the first computer tracking devices against the roulette wheel. Bass' roulette team is one of the reasons that "devices" are banned by the law. [Out of print.]

Frank Scoblete
Frank Scoblete is the #1 best selling gaming author in America. His newest books are Slots Conquest: How to Beat the Slot Machines; Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Hold'em, Omaha Hi-Lo and Pai Gow Poker!; Beat Blackjack Now: The Easiest Way to Get the Edge; Casino Craps: Shoot to Win!; Cutting Edge Craps: Advanced Strategies for Serious Players; Casino Conquest: Beat the Casinos at Their Own Games! and The Virgin Kiss.

Frank and Casino City Times columnist Jerry "Stickman" teach private lessons in dice control. Frank's books are available at Amazon.com, in bookstores or by mail order. Call 1-800-944-0406 or write to Frank Scoblete Enterprises, PO Box 446, Malverne, NY 11565. Frank can also be reached by email at fscobe@optonline.net.

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