A World without Casinos

Casinos. You love ‘em or you hate ‘em. Or maybe you’re indifferent. All sorts of casino critics spout doom and gloom stories of societal ruin, gambling addicts, and sin run amok. But humans are gambling creatures and risk takers, otherwise human civilization would not have spread beyond the cave. But what would the world look like without casinos?

People Would Gamble Anyway

You don’t need a casino to gamble. Humans have been gambling since they developed the ability to craft tools. Early human civilizations found ways to fashion tools and carve primitive dice out of animal knuckle bones, and we’ve been rolling the bones ever since. Admittedly, these early dice were more about predicting fate and divining futures. But it wasn’t long before somebody decided to place a wager on the outcome of a dice roll. Playing with fate and testing one’s luck is a powerful rush—and a primal instinct.

Other than slot machines, most gambling can be done almost anywhere. Early craps players copped a squat in New Orleans alleys and bounced dice off of dirty brick walls. In fact, one urban myth suggests that the word for craps came from the French word for toad, ‘crapaud,’ due to how the row of squatting gamblers might have appeared. Another myth suggests the name craps was a perversion of the word ‘crabs.’ Either way, people squatted and scuttled around in the dirt chasing dice and dosh. Nowadays they have a fancier venue: casinos. So casinos have contributed to the evolution of the human species, who can now proudly stand upright around the luxurious craps table, gently kissing dice for luck.

In a world without casinos, millions of crab and toad people would infest the earth.

And card games also needed no casino to find purchase. Poker grew in popularity not in casinos, but in the dusty wooden parlors of Old West saloons. The mythos is rife with imagery of Southern gentlemen, outlaws, and cowboys huddled around a card table, with aces up their sleeves and one hand on their pistols. During the pioneer days, gambling was considered to be a respectable profession, even if some of the gamblers were unsavory characters. Towns started forbidding gambling, saying that it caused crime and violence to rise. Maybe the casino was less to blame than the saloon experiment of mixing loaded firearms with loaded customers. But even if casinos weren’t built, there would still be a back room card game in every dive bar in town.

Poker legends and original Texas Road Gamblers, Amarillo Slim, Doyle Brunson, and Sailor Roberts, saw more than their fair share of seedy card rooms in gritty Southern roadhouses in the 40s and 50s. These gamblers travelled together for protection. Alone, they grew tired of being robbed outside of bars and relieved of their winnings.  So they teamed up to form a gamblers alliance of sorts. But after many years of dodgy deals in card rooms filled by mostly outlaws, they were happy to leave the violence, brawling, and robbery behind them in favor of cushy Vegas casinos.

You Can’t Regulate Human Behavior

Governments have often tried to regulate human behavior, with disastrous results. When the U.S. government banned alcohol consumption, speakeasies appeared almost overnight. Prohibition was not a success, despite the attempts by a religious minority to impose their fear of sin and the ‘evils of alcohol’ on a disbelieving public. In fact, many historians credit Prohibition with the creation of organized crime and the strengthening of the mafia. Prior to running speakeasies and bootlegging booze, the mafia mainly roughed up New York City shop owners to collect ‘protection money.’

In the Roaring Twenties, Atlantic City experienced a major boom due to town boss Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson (portrayed by Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire). People weren’t coming to the Boardwalk resort town in large enough numbers enough to see a profit, so he happily turned a blind eye to any speakeasy, brothel, or card room in town—for a piece of the action, of course. As rumor spread and word got out about his illegal operations in Atlantic City, he was not the least bit apologetic, and said:

“We have whisky, wine, women, song and slot machines. I won’t deny it and I won’t apologize for it. If the majority of the people didn’t want them they wouldn’t be profitable and they would not exist. The fact that they do exist proves to me that the people want them.”     – Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, Atlantic City

So a world without casinos would most likely be filled to the brim with Nucky Johnsons running illegal card rooms and pimping on the side. Or major mobsters in charge of all the vice in town. Casino critics cite the Las Vegas example of early casinos run by mobsters. However, they don’t mention the fact that organized crime groups invested in gambling because they no longer profited from bootlegging and speakeasies at the end of Prohibition. Once everyone could buy alcohol again, the mob no longer cornered the market. Facing pressure from the FBI, the mob decided to ‘go legit’ by investing in the budding casino town of 1930s Las Vegas.

The Casino Effect

Proponents of casinos explain the positive effects of casinos on towns in states with no income. Nevada experienced a silver boom in the late 1800s, but after the Motherlode dried up, all of those boomtowns became ghost towns. With few natural resources or large cities, the Nevada government decided to legalize gambling in 1931. Casino pioneers slowly hitched their financial wagons to the desert town of Las Vegas, and profits bloomed. Prohibition ended around the same time, and mobster Bugsy Siegel strolled into town as well.

The huge amount of employment in the construction industry always follows the building of a megaresort casino. These multi-billion-dollar behemoths take months or even years to build. Then every decade, they are torn down and rebuilt in a new form. And the casinos employ thousands of people to run, maintain, secure, and staff the hotels and gambling floors. And a large amount of side businesses pop up to serve, supply, and stock the resorts with food and drink. Also, building casinos is sometimes the only way a failing economy can support itself without raising taxes. The resulting gambling tourism brings billions in revenue.

Opponents of casinos say they bring ‘sin, vice, and corruption’ to their communities. Usually these people want to force their own beliefs and restrictions on others. They believe that sobriety, piety, and good hard work makes them happy, therefore it must make everyone happy. In addition to these laughable logical fallacies, otherwise educated individuals stoop to the lowest level: fear. According to Professor John Warren Kindt, casinos are always bad for a local economy, despite the billions in revenue they generate. “When billions of dollars are going into slot machines, where are those billions of dollars coming from?” Kindt asks. “They are no longer buying cars, refrigerators, or even food and clothing.”

So apparently, in Kindt’s world, people are so addicted to slot machines that they don’t buy the basics needed to survive. Apparently, naked, starving people will be walking miles to the casino just to feed all their money into the machines. Does the distinguished professor also visualize where these poor carless, foodless, naked wretches keep their bankrolls without pockets?

What Would Elvis Do?

Without the casinos of the 60s and 70s, poor Elvis might have had to wander around the desert for 40 days and 40 nights in search of donuts. And he most certainly would not have given us the song ‘Viva Las Vegas.’ And that is an empty, desolate world indeed. Cue: Zombie Apocalypse. While someone once said the world’s a stage, each of us playing a part, fate had Elvis playing a major part in Sin City’s image.

The excess, the food, the drugs, the endless nights crooning away on the Vegas stages cemented the King into the legend of Sin City. He inspired generations of Elvis impersonators, some of whom will marry you tonight in a drive-thru window in Vegas, no questions asked. In addition to the enduring kitsch factor of the white, sequin-encrusted jumpsuit, think of all the polyester mills and sewing labor employed to keep the Elvis industry going.

In a world without casinos, there would be no Rat Pack or Viva-Las-Vegas Elvis.   There would only be a world full of much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In addition to the one-armed bandits and card tables gently robbing the gentry, casinos also offer a wild, decadent lifestyle for rent. Casinos fuel the imagination and inspire the bacchanalian spirit within us all. In a world without casinos, we would not have the Rat Pack. And there would be much weeping and gnashing of teeth, just like in the Bible. But maybe that’s the ultimate goal of the Bible Thumpers who have wormed their way into the wormy hearts of politicians who ban casinos. If the Bible Thumpers aren’t allowed to drink, gamble, hoot, holler, sing, and fornicate in the desert, nobody can.

Those poor, deluded people. The defense rests.

Laurie Sumner

Laurie Sumner is an avid slots player and online gaming enthusiast. Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Laurie rounded up the wagons and headed west to Arizona where she studied hotel and restaurant management before landing a great job in Las Vegas. Today Laurie spends her time teaching what she learned from nearly two decades in the Las Vegas hotel industry and writing articles on the games she loves.