Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Frank Scoblete
The 100 Most Significant Events of the 20th Century in Casino Gambling16 December 2000
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.
[ 1.] 1900 (give or take): Charles Fey invents and markets his "Liberty Bell" slot machine. This is a three-reel machine that becomes the prototype for all slot machines to come. It is the original "one-armed bandit." Fey's machine ushers in the era of slots. How does it work? Each reel has 10 symbols or stops, and thus there are 1,000 different combinations (10 x 10 x 10 = 1,000) to be made with those three reels. The winning symbol, the Liberty Bell, had one to a reel on the first two reels and two on the third reel. Therefore there is only a two in 1,000 chance to hit it (1 x 1 x 2 = 2).
[ 2.] 1904 -1911: Over a seven year period, William Nelson Darnborough from Bloomington, Illinois, hammers the Monte Carlo casino at roulette, winning close to a half million dollars. He is a wheel watcher who can anticipate with an unusual degree of accuracy where the ball will land. He can also anticipate with a high degree of accuracy where the money will land as well -- in his pocket!
[ 3.] 1905: The first major hotel is opened in Las Vegas. Called the Hotel Las Vegas, it has 30 rooms and an incredible view of ... nothing.
[ 4.] 1905 -1906: In 1905 Charles Fey's Liberty Bell slot machine and an apron are stolen from a Powell Street saloon in San Francisco. Since there are no patents on gaming devices, Fey tries to keep his device out of competitor's hands by installing the machines in business establishments himself (probably screwed down tightly) but it doesn't stop this cunning thief. A year after the theft, in 1906, Herbert Mills creates the Mills Novelty Company which becomes the early leader in slot machine development and distribution up to and including World War II. Suspicion naturally falls on Herbert Mills as the slot (and apron) thief because the word is that Mills likes to cook. Mills copies Fey's mechanism and within two years his company introduces a three-reel, staggered-stop, automatic-payout slot machine called, creatively enough, the Mills Liberty Bell. Some experts believe that the Powell Street theft puts Mills into the slot business, a business his company dominates for over 30 years.
[ 5.] 1907: Riley Grannan builds his dream casino in the desert of Nevada. Long before Bugsy and Benny and Billy, this lone prophet in the wilderness sees the potential for gambling profit in the great desert of the southwest. He buys land for $40,000 and starts to build "an honest casino" -- and a year later he drops dead, proving in those days honesty might not have been the best policy and never work too hard in the heat. The desert isn't ready for an honest casino or any big casino at this time. But it will be in the future. The life of Riley is a teaser, a prelude to an opus that will culminate with Nevada being the fastest growing state in the union at the turn of the 21st century. With air-conditioning and honest games to boot!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of Frank Scoblete