Archive for July, 2010

Siegel Benjamin - Gambling in AmericaIt has been said that it is an ill wind that blows no good. When I heard of such an occasion on a visit to Puerto Rico, it reminded me of a similar situation in Las Vegas. I visited Puerto Rico a year or so after a tragic fire had killed scores of patrons at the Du Pont Plaza Hotel and Casino on New Year’s Eve 1986. I asked a manager of another hotel about the effects of the disaster on casino business in San Juan, expecting to hear that revenues had gone down. To my surprise, he said, “I can’t say this too loudly, but you know, that fire really helped our business”. I was somewhat stunned, but he added, “Before the disaster nobody knew that Puerto Rico had casinos; now the story about one of our casinos was on the front page of every newspaper in the world”. I was reminded that years before that tragedy in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas had been just a cowboy town with a few casino joints, hardly in the minds of anyone far away. Then on 20 June 1947 a bullet rushed through the handsome head of Benjamin Siegel, a mobster who had orchestrated the construction and the opening of the most glamorous casino of the day. The next day his murder was headline material for newspapers everywhere. Part of the story focused upon the property he had developed and the many glamorous people – mainly movie stars – who frequented his Flamingo Hotel Casino resort. Las Vegas was on the map!
In death, Benjamin Siegel, also known as “Bugsy”(although no one dared to call him that), became an indelible part of the history of Las Vegas, credited in large part for developing the Las Vegas Strip. The reality diverges somewhat from the myth. Siegel did not start the Strip, he did not own the Flamingo, and his role as the manager-builder of the property was secondary to his image as a handsome but nonetheless ruthless mobster who controlled rackets on the West Coast mainly through intimidation. But his death certainly was a bit of marketing genius for Las Vegas, although it can be certain that city promoters were not responsible for pulling the trigger on the Army carbine that did the trick.
Benjamin Siegel was born in 1905 in Brooklyn. As a youngster he became a friend of Meyer Lansky, and the two drifted into rackets, including bootlegging and illegal gambling. The engendered fear that Siegel cast upon others as he walked through his shortened life was a product of the fact that the “Bugsy and Meyer” gang gained a reputation for doing contract work for other organized crime interests.  But all need not have feared. As Siegel told builder Del Webb, who was constructing the Flamingo, “We only kill each other”. Lansky and the other New York Mob leaders chose Siegel to be the chief of their West Coast operations, specifically the wire services that carried information on horse and dog races. In California, Siegel befriended the Hollywood movie crowd, and himself became somewhat of a celebrity. He pushed himself into most local rackets. He took a piece of the action from gambling boats operating off the Pacific shore, he controlled action at dog tracks, and he had a piece of the Agua Caliente track and casino in Tijuana. Siegel also bought into several Las Vegas casinos, including the Golden Nugget and Frontier.
In 1945, Meyer Lansky and Siegel drove to Las Vegas together to check on their interests there – the casinos and the wire services – and they discussed the notion of having a new resort that could attract a real tourist crowd as opposed to the existing “sawdust” joints that throve on local and drive-in trade. They found the Flamingo. It had been the dream of Billy Wilkerson, an owner of a nightclub in Hollywood. Wilkerson shared lots of friends with Lansky and Siegel, but he did not have access to their money. His dream was stymied by a lack of financial resources. Siegel and Lansky saw an opportunity, and they took over the project. The organized crime elements in New York and Chicago invested $1.5 million into the venture. Siegel was given the task of getting it done and opening the doors.
Siegel, like Wilkerson, had financial problems with the property. World War II was ending, and materials were scarce. He paid Del Webb’s construction firm top dollar for overtime to rush the construction schedule. Many suppliers found that Siegel did not have a business sense that allowed him to keep track of inventories, and they effectively cheated him out of many dollars worth of goods. Cost overruns followed cost overruns. At the same time, Siegel was carrying on a relationship with Hollywood actress Virginia Hill. That tempestuous affair caused him to neglect work duties as well. As the mobsters back East were being hit for more and more money for construction, they became suspicious that Siegel himself was stealing from the project. They became convinced when Virginia Hill started making trips to Europe and visited Swiss banks. By the end of the project, the price tag had risen from $1 million to $6 million, and the conversations about changing management via assassination had arisen.
Siegel was allowed to survive to open the property, and he did so on 26 December 1946. The opening was another financial disaster, however. The hotel’s rooms were not finished, so guests stayed elsewhere. Bad weather precluded many celebrities from flying in from Los Angeles for the opening. And the players had a run of luck beating the house. To stop the financial hemorrhaging, Siegel closed the Flamingo. He reopened it in March 1947 when the rooms were done and the weather was better. His luck was better, too, and soon the Flamingo was turning a profit. Unfortunately, it was not soon enough for Siegel.  His mobster partners had entered the contract for his life. Virginia Hill was in Europe in June, but Bugsy decided that a trip to her apartment in Beverly Hills would beat staying in the Las Vegas heat. He was sitting in her living room reading the Los Angeles Times when three bullets flew into the window and changed the mythology and probably also the history of Las Vegas. The identity of the killer was never discovered.

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See Craps and Other Dice Games.

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Public opinion changes on a daily basis in the United States. Perception can slowly shift until practices that were once illegal, or at least taboo, become acceptable and even commonplace. This trend can be illustrated by the recent nationwide explosion of gaming and sexually oriented businesses. Like gambling, a formerly marginal activity now epitomized by glamorous and family-oriented resort casinos, segments of the sex industry have transformed themselves from seedy operations operating without license to socially acceptable and upscale operations that cater to members of both sexes. Nowhere is this transition more evident than in Las Vegas, where the nexus between the casino gamer and the “new” sex industry has replaced the nexus between the miner or military recruit and prostitution of the late 1800s.
Brothels operated openly throughout Nevada from its earliest existence. In 1881 county commissioners were given the authority to regulate and tax or prohibit brothels, and 1907 city councils were given the same authority. In 1971, the state legislature banned prostitution in any county with a population of 200,000 or more. At the time, this law applied only to Clark County, where Las Vegas is located.  Actually most of the brothels had been effectively closed because of military orders first issued in 1942 from nearby Nellis Air Force Base declaring the brothels off-limits.
Historical records suggest that the law banning prostitution in Clark County was the result of two major influences. First was the potential involvement in the Las Vegas area of Joe Conforte, the notorious owner of Nevada’s largest brothel, who was opposed by the Las Vegas area gaming community. Second was the belief that maintaining a “good image” was essential for gambling and the exploding convention and tourism industries. In effect, prostitution had to give way as a perceived threat to dominant business interests.
Several, but not all, small counties throughout the state continued to allow prostitution. The economic realities of sparse tax revenues and the notion that prostitution depressurizes things – that is, takes the pressure off of wives and daughters in rural communities – helped maintain a status quo that accepted brothels in rural Nevada. In larger communities, Nevada’s brothels were simply not as powerful as the industry’s gaming community. Any conflict of interest between another Nevada industry and gaming would invariably be resolved in favor of gaming.
Legal prostitution has not grown much in the last thirty years. For example, there were thirty-three brothels open in Nevada in 1971. Today there are thirty-six brothel licenses, although three are only open part time. Most of the brothels are relatively small, and there are only a few hundred licensed prostitutes within the whole state.
When most people think about the sex industry, they usually think about prostitutes and perhaps individuals involved in the adult entertainment or pornography businesses. The scope of the sex industry is much broader, however, than a stereotypical prostitute.
The adult entertainment segment of the sex industry is nationally an $8-billion institution that is becoming a significant part of popular U.S. culture. Like gambling, the adult entertainment industry has changed dramatically over the last three decades. Technological advances such as cable television, videocassettes, and DVDs have allowed individuals access to a wide variety of adult entertainment in the privacy of their homes. Expenditures on adult entertainment are larger than those on Hollywood movies and larger than the revenues for recorded popular music. “Strip clubs” in the United States have seen even greater growth. The number of female exotic dancers grew from fewer than 15,000 in 1980 to more than 300,000 in 2000. It is apparent that the industry’s growth is linked to a changing popular culture that tolerates, if not embraces, traditional vices such as gambling and divergent sexual activities. There is no doubt that sex is being used throughout the United States to sell many consumer items and to promote television ratings.
Sex also sells in Las Vegas. Topless reviews are still common at major strip casinos, but more economically significant are “gentleman’s clubs” and high-priced outcall and escort services. Las Vegas has maintained its reputation as Sin City. This reputation is based, in part, on a belief that the community has a diverse and extensive sex industry. There is no doubt that the Las Vegas sex industry substantially contributes to the local economy. There are approximately 1,500 to 2,000 illegal prostitutes and between 2,000 and 2,200 active exotic dancers who work and live in the metropolitan area. These numbers often swell on key convention and prize-fight weekends to nearly 3,000 illegal prostitutes and nearly 3,500 exotic dancers.
Prostitution did not disappear from Las Vegas (when it was legislatively banned) in 1971. Illegal prostitution still flourishes despite efforts by local police departments to keep it under control, particularly in the Las Vegas Strip area. The county has implemented an “order out” ordinance that strongly discourages prostitutes from working in or near the Strip casinos. This ordinance has forced low- to medium-level prostitutes who had traditionally worked the Strip’s bars and streets into walking high crime areas elsewhere.
It is estimated that street prostitutes in Las Vegas each make between $25,000 and $60,000 per year. Outcall entertainers average between $65,000 and $100,000 per year, depending upon skill and work schedule. Most outcall entertainers work up to four evenings per week. Most do not stay in the business for more than three years. High-priced prostitutes average between $100 and $500 per client interaction. Private referral escorts cost between $500 and $10,000 per day depending upon the individual entertainer and client. The casinos often arrange the services of these women. There is evidence of one woman who was paid in excess of $250,000 for one weekend’s work by a high roller at a major casino.
The largest segment of the sex industry in Las Vegas is the gentlemen’s clubs that employ exotic dancers, commonly known as strippers. The number of gentlemen’s clubs in the United States roughly doubled between 1987 and 1992. There are now nearly 3,000 clubs in the United States employing between 250,000 and 300,000 women. The Las Vegas area has over 30 gentlemen’s clubs. Their annual revenues range from $500,000 to more than $10,000,000. These clubs span the gamut from old run-down operations to up-scale full-service operations that include food and gambling.
The growth of the local clubs has been fueled by four major developments. First is the rapid growth of convention business. This growth has created a substantive increase in the visitation of professional males aged twenty-five to fifty-four. Second has been the substantial investments made by local operators to upgrade their establishments in line with other major cities throughout the nation. Only in the last decade did the major operators make facility investments and physical changes to reflect the national trends in upscale clubs.  Third, there has been a growing acceptance of upscale gentlemen’s clubs by a larger segment of the nation’s business community. Last, the relationship between the casinos and the clubs has improved, and a codependence has developed to form a variation of the network prostitution system of the pre-1980s. This relationship recognizes that these clubs provide an entertainment venue that is sought after by many of the casinos’ key customers. The clubs provide a safe outlet for many of these important casino customers. For legal prostitution, casino customers can easily take the one-hour cab ride to visit a Pahrump brothel (outside of Clark County). Nevertheless, many casino customers believe they can procure sex at local gentlemen’s clubs. As such, casino hosts have developed relationships with individual gentlemen’s club managers to enable them to provide their customers with the services desired.
The upper tier of Las Vegas-area gentlemen’s clubs independently contract with women for their services. The dancers pay to dance at the local establishments. The fees vary significantly depending on the club’s policies and the time of day and the day of the week. Weekend nights (8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.) are generally the most expensive times for dancers to work. Additionally, high-traffic conventions such as COMDEX (a computer dealers’ exposition) increase the rates that clubs charge dancers. The typical dancer is paid between $35 and $75 per night plus tips and fees to work, but at top clubs a good dancer will make between $300 and $1,200. The number of dancers increases by over 40 percent on most weekends in Las Vegas. The majority of this weekend increase in dancers is a result of out-of-state dancers who work only the weekends. The traditional economic concept of supply and demand is clearly at work in the Las Vegas community. These services exist to satisfy the demand.
The major difference between the prostitution network today and that of 1981 is that the managers of the gentlemen’s clubs have replaced the prostitutes in the network. Additionally, these establishments have substantially more power than in the past. This is not to suggest that all exotic dancers are prostitutes. Yet, like gambling, the gentlemen’s club is about an illusion of winning. Sure, sometimes gamblers win, but mostly they lose. The dancers understand this illusion concept as well. Some dancers will perform a sex act for money, but others will not.
The casinos recognize that it is in their interest to have high-class prostitutes and escorts available – inconspicuously – for their customers.  Publicly, casinos denounce the evils of prostitution; privately, they recognize its importance to their customer base and support its continued existence. Nevada’s economy was built upon the legalization of activities that were considered vices by the rest of the United States. As the nation becomes more like Las Vegas, Las Vegas becomes more like the nation, and what once were vices are now only minor variances on the norm.

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See The Kefauver Committee.

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Grant Sawyer came to the governorship of the state of Nevada somewhat accidentally, but once in office he set about his job with defined purpose. During his eight years in office, Sawyer directed the restructuring of gambling regulation in the state, defended the sovereignty of the state against an abusive federal Justice Department, championed integration of gambling casinos, and championed civil liberties for Nevada citizens.
On 14 December 1918, Grant Sawyer was born in Twin Falls, Idaho. His parents were doctors, but they were divorced when he was very young. He remained with his mother and a stepfather in Idaho. The home was staunchly Baptist, and young Grant was encouraged to go to Linfield College in Oregon. At the Baptist college he gained a love for history and political science. He felt that the social rules imposed by the school were too much for his tastes, however, so he moved to Nevada where he could be near his father (who had moved to Fallon) and attend the University of Nevada campus at Reno. In Reno he became plugged into Nevada politics. After graduation he won the sponsorship of U.S. senator Pat McCarran and went to Washington, D.C., with a job in the U.S. Capitol. He also attained a spot in the student body at the George Washington University Law School. His stint in law school was interrupted by World War II service in the Pacific. He finished legal studies at Georgetown Law School and then returned to Nevada and politics.
Although he was certainly expected to be a McCarran loyalist, McCarran’s very conservative politics did not suit Sawyer – just as a Baptist college that banned dancing had not suited him. McCarran was allied with Senator Joseph McCarthy in his Communist witch hunts, and Sawyer simply disagreed with those politics. But national policy was not that important to his first political jobs. He moved to Elko, Nevada, where political opportunities were open. He became active in the Democratic party and was elected to the post of district attorney. In 1956 he sought a post on the University of Nevada Board of Regents. Although he was not successful in the election, he received an appointment when the size of the board was increased. In 1958 he decided to seek statewide office. His father urged him to seek the attorney general post, as the position was being vacated by the incumbent so that he could run for governor. That man was the very conservative Harvey Dickerson, a protégé of the late senator McCarran. On an impulse, however, Sawyer filed to be a candidate for governor. His political sense was right. The Democratic party in the state had turned away from McCarran conservatism, and Sawyer was a much more dynamic candidate than Dickerson could hope to be. Sawyer won the primary and then faced the very popular Republican governor Charles Russell. Russell was finishing his second term in office, however, and Nevada had never elected a governor to serve three terms. Besides, 1958 was a good year for Democrats everywhere. Sawyer was elected governor by a small margin.
Sawyer immediately put together a legislative package for reforms in gambling. His bill called for the creation of a Nevada Gaming Commission to replace the state taxation commission as the “supreme” gaming regulatory agency. The Gaming Control Board would then report to the commission. Members of both the commission and the board had to be nonpartisan and not involved in any politics. The legislation passed. At Sawyer’s direction the commission created a black book, officially called the Book of Excluded Persons. Sawyer was very aware of the work of the McClellan Senate Committee and its attacks on racketeering in gambling. He knew that federal officials were looking at Nevada, and he wanted to make sure that the federal government knew that state officials did not want organized crime interests to play an active role in casino gambling. The black book included a list of notorious persons who would not be allowed to set foot in any casino property in the state.
Sawyer was a strong supporter of Sen. Jack Kennedy in the nomination campaign and in the presidential election of 1960. He was excited to see Kennedy inaugurated and was happy to see Robert (Bobby) Kennedy selected as attorney general.  Sawyer had reason to believe that they understood Nevada and that they would support his efforts to keep the state’s gambling industry clean. It was not very long, however, before Robert Kennedy put Nevada in his sights and aimed to destroy gambling. Robert Kennedy revealed to the state attorney general a plan to deputize all fifty-six assistant attorneys general in Nevada as federal assistant attorneys general. Then Kennedy was going to conduct a simultaneous raid on the cages of all the casinos in the state. Sawyer’s civil liberties inclinations enraged him, and he was on the next plane to Washington, D.C., as soon as the Nevada attorney general reported the plan to him. There Sawyer confronted a Bobby Kennedy at his office in socks and a tennis sweater. He found Bobby to be condescending and extremely arrogant. There was no resolution of anything, and Grant Sawyer simply went to the White House and demanded an audience with the president. The president listened seriously, promised nothing, but Sawyer felt he had made his point. In a symbolic gesture one Nevada assistant attorney general was deputized by Bobby Kennedy, and there was no raid.
Sawyer did not contend that all was well with Nevada gambling. He knew that the commission and the board would have to be tough. He backed them to the hilt when they disciplined casinos for improper activities. He supported them when they revoked Frank Sinatra’s casino license because he had hosted a member of the black book at his casino and then refused to cooperate with the board when he was called to appear to be disciplined.
Nevada was selectively segregated all through its early casino era. Sawyer recognized that this was wrong, bad for business, and certainly adverse to the interests of the gambling industry in Washington, D.C. In 1963 he supported civil rights leaders in their effort to integrate the casinos. He brokered the deal that precluded a march on the casinos by African American activists, in return for the immediate opening of all casino resort facilities to persons of all races without discrimination. When it appeared that there might be race riots in Las Vegas two years later, Sawyer personally drove into the west-side neighborhoods of Las Vegas and met the residents one on one. The residents knew where he stood on civil rights matters, and they supported him in keeping the community peaceful during a troubled time.
Sawyer was also instrumental in beginning the interstate cooperation with California that led to growth limits and environmental protection policies for the Lake Tahoe Basin.
During Sawyer’s second four-year term in office, the state had a popular new lieutenant governor named Paul Laxalt. When Sawyer sought a third term in 1966, he had several disadvantages: He was running against Laxalt, and he had made important enemies due to tough policies on civil rights, gambling, and other issues. Ironically, his opposition to Bobby Kennedy spilled over into opposition to J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to tap telephone lines in the casinos searching for evidence of organized crime involvement. After Sawyer condemned the actions, Hoover let key people in the state know that Sawyer was being soft on criminals. Laxalt won a close victory.
Sawyer retired from public office. He founded the world’s largest law firm specializing in gambling law = Lionel, Sawyer, and Collins – in Las Vegas. He also became the chair of the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Sawyer died in Las Vegas on 24 February 1996.

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The Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation (SGC) was established under the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation Act of 1994. The corporation consists of seven persons appointed by the lieutenant governor of the province. Three of the persons are nominated by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. The SGC operates four casinos.
On 26 January 1996, Saskatchewan opened its first permanent casino – Casino Regina. The casino facility is located within the historic Union Station railroad building in downtown Regina. The casino provides 25,000 square feet of gaming space and entertainment space, with 500 slot machines and forty-one table games, a poker room, restaurant, lounge area, and bar.
The province added three additional casinos on lands of First Nations peoples later in 1996. The Gold Eagle Casino opened on 1 March in North Battleford. It has 8,800 square feet for gaming with 159 machines and 14 tables. The Northern Lights Casino opened on 6 March in Prince Albert. It is an 8,000 square-foot-facility with 229 machines and 15 tables. The Painted Hand Casino is in Yorktown. Its 1,500-square-foot facility with 108 slots and 16 tables opened on 14 December. The three First Nations casinos employ 414 persons. They are operated by the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority under an agreement with the provincial government.
Casino Regina has generated many positive economic benefits for the province. A report prepared by the Saskatchewan Tourism Authority and released in January 1997 (the most recent statistics available) found that on an annualized basis, the casino generated C$54.3 million in gross output, with 1,112 full-time and part-time positions and $21.5 million in wages. The impact of the casino has been equivalent to the hosting of two Grey Cup Canadian professional football championship games. The report suggested that the casino attracted 101,000 nonlocal visitors who came to Regina specifically to gamble at the casino. While visiting the casino, each one spent an average of $167. Also non-Saskatchewan visitors spent an average of three nights in Regina and spent $41 each night for lodging (Saskatchewan Tourism Authority 1996).
In all there were 1,426,000 casino visits, with only 37% of these coming from Regina residents and another 17 percent from other residents of Saskatchewan. Neighboring provinces of Manitoba and Alberta produced 42% of the visitors. Fewer than 2% of the visits were by persons from the United States or overseas (Saskatchewan Tourism Authority 1996).
When the casino was planned an agreement was negotiated with the province’s charity casinos to allow them to have slot machines. The Regina charity casino had been operating at the Exposition Park. It was first known as Buffalo Buck’s and later as the Silver Sage. It agreed to have machines and give 37 percent of the revenue from the machines to Casino Regina and the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation. In 1997 the Regina charity casino agreed to close its doors in exchange for a share of the profits of Casino Regina. Also, when Casino Regina opened its doors, the SGC made an agreement with Holland Casinos, a Netherlands government corporation, for that entity to train the staff and oversee the opening of operations. Holland Casinos received part of the casino revenues as well as a fixed fee for its services.

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The independent nation of St. Vincent is in the Windward Islands of the West Indies. It has 120,000 residents on an island of 120 square miles. It offers casino gaming at the Emerald Isle Casino, about 30 miles outside of the capital city of Kingstown.

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St. Martin is an island in the North Leeward Islands of the West Indies. The area is a shared dependency of France and the Netherlands, with the Dutch referring to their holding as Sint Maarten. Along with other tropical amenities the island offers casinos on both national sides. Most of the casino gaming, however, occurs on the Dutch side. Casinos are found in the town of Philipsburg at the Cupecoy Beach Resort, the Holland House Bay Beach Hotel, and the Maho Beach Hotel. The largest casino is at the Mullet Bay Beach Hotel. Renovated in 1984, it offers 9,000 square feet of gaming space. The other casinos each have approximately 5,000 square feet per casino.
During the season the Mullet Bay facility is extremely crowded. Players often have to wait in line in order to get a seat at one of the 26 tables (19 blackjack, 3 craps, 3 roulette, and 1 big six wheel). Additionally, there are 265 slots in the facility, which is patterned after a Las Vegas-style casino. Junket activity to St. Martin’s is restricted, as operators seem not to have the capital necessary to accommodate big high rollers. Limits are too low. Attempts to entice the high rollers with appeals suggesting that they could avoid tax-reporting requirements on the island were not too successful. The majority of gamers remain hotel guests on both sides of the island. Local residents are allowed to gamble but not on a regular basis. The gaming tax is a fixed sum paid to the government annually.

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St. Kitts and Nevis are two islands in the North Leeward Islands of the West Indies. Together they constitute one of the smallest countries in the world. Its population of 48,000 occupies 100 square miles of land. The Jack Tar Village Resort in the capital city of Basseterre has its only casino. Other casino licenses may be granted by the Minister of Finance to any bona fide person owning a tourist hotel of over 100 rooms.

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Boule

Boule is quite similar to roulette. A stationary rounded table has eighteen pockets, two for each number from one to nine. A ball is rolled into the table, which is essentially a cone in shape. The ball bounces around and falls into one of the numbers – the winning number. Players betting on the number are paid off at 7 to 1, although true chances are 8 to 1, for a house advantage of 11.11%. Players can also bet on red and black, odds or evens, high or low, for an even payoff. They lose on even bets when a five appears, making the true chances of winning only 4 of 9, for the same house advantage of 11.11%. The game was very popular in France prior to the introduction of slot machines in the late 1980s. Slot rooms and boule rooms in France do not have admission charges. The game was also played at the Crystal Casino in Winnipeg, Manitoba, through the 1990s. Until recently, it was the only game allowed in Switzerland, where the payout was only 6 to 1 for a single-number play, for a house edge of 22.22%.

Big Wheel (Wheel of Fortune or Big Six)

A big vertical wheel of fortune is a common sight at carnivals and charity casino events. The wheel of fortune is also popular in U.S.  casinos but less prevalent in casinos of other jurisdictions. The mechanical wheel is spun by a dealer who also supervises betting activity on a table in front of the wheel. The wheel’s simplicity and exposure to a gambling crowd makes it susceptible to cheating, so it would be advisable not to play the game except in a regulated atmosphere. Casinos must be vigilant to ensure that the wheel is not compromised by players.
The wheel is about five feet across from top to bottom. It has fifty-four equally spaced sections that are separated by nails that are near the rim of the wheel. A strap of leather is mounted above the wheel, and it hits the nails as the wheel spins around. The friction of contact slows the wheel, and it stops with the leather strap settling on one of the fifty-four spaces – the winning space.
The spaces are designated by denominations of dollar bills. Twenty-three sections are marked with a $1 bill, 15 with $2 bills, 8 with $5 bills, 4 with $10 bills, and two with $20 bills. Two others are marked with a joker and a flag marking. The player bets on the category of bill he or she expects the wheel to hit. He or she receives an even money payout for a successful bet on the $1 bill, although the chances of success are only 23 of 54. This gives the house a 14.8 percent edge. A bet on $5 pays 2 to 1 for a casino advantage of 16.6%; other bets give the house an edge of from 14.8 percent to 22.2%. A bet on the joker or the flag is paid at 45 to 1. These odds advantages for the house make the big wheel a bad bet for the player. The simple nature of the activity and the symbolism of the wheel of fortune have sustained a modicum of popularity of the wheel among amateur players.

Espherodromo

Legal restrictions on gambling are not often followed to the letter. In addition to those who would confront the law with blatant illegality, there are those who seek to find nonconfrontational ways around the law. The roulette form of gambling is quite popular, so where roulette is in itself illegal, there are those who will seek to find other games like roulette that might survive legal challenges. Two of those games are espherodromo and golden ten. Espherodromo appeared in the city of Bogota, Colombia, where casinos were always on the edge of the law. Therefore entrepreneurs came up with a game that certainly did not look like roulette, but in format was a roulette-style game. (See description of the game in entry for Colombia).

Golden Ten

The golden ten game was offered to players in nonauthorized settings; however, its operators were quite successful in avoiding prosecution on the basis that their game was not a gambling game. The golden ten wheel game was instead advanced as a skill game. The game gained an especially viable hold in the Netherlands in the 1980s after the government tried a crackdown on patently illegal casino gaming. Operators came up with this new game, although some suggest it was invented by Germans. The game is called golden ten because it uses a wheel with numbers in the center around a circle; one of the numbers is marked zero, and the other is marked with a big golden X. There are twenty-four numbers on the wheel, so if it were a random-ordered game, the house would have an advantage of about 8 percent, as payoffs on single numbers are 23 to 1, whereas the expectation should require a payoff of 25 to 1. But those running the wheel claimed that the numbers, although falling randomly, could be predicted by the players. Indeed, the game was also called observation roulette.
The circular bowl for the game is stationary. A ball rolled into the smooth metal bowl makes slow, descending spirals downward until it hits the center area, where it bounces into one of the numbered areas or the area marked zero or X. The metal bowl contains two concentric circles on its sides, about one-third and two-thirds of the way down the sides. The circles are simply markings on the bowl that do not affect the roll of the ball. The player makes his or her bet after the ball has passed the first circle but before it crosses the lower circle. The player can watch the ball come out of the dealer’s hand and watch it cross the first circle line. By observing the rolls over and over, the player is supposed to be in a good position to “predict” where the ball will likely land. With successful predictions, the player becomes a skillful winner, not a gambler at all. Gambling demands that chance be a material part of the play on at least a meaningful part of the play.  The casinos with golden tens provided lists of rules requiring players to make many observations before they tried playing. They wanted the players to be skillful. When legal authorities claimed it was a gambling game, the defenders of the game asked the government to prove that players were not using skill. One judge suggested that prosecuting officials would have to show that the players did not do better, or could not do better, than achieving the 92 percent expected payout. As the golden ten games closed down whenever police or government officials came into the premises, it was difficult to achieve such proofs. For over a dozen years the court officials allowed the game to be played and not harassed by the law. In the mid-1990s, judicial policies allowed a more effective enforcement of the law, and most of the games closed down permanently.
Was golden ten a skill game? When I interviewed one operator in Rotterdam on 20 July 1986, I asked whether indeed a skillful player could “beat the casino”. I was assured that one could. Truly, one could use skill and predict where the ball would fall. So I asked what would happen if a player came in and did predict over and over where the ball would fall. The operator paused a bit before replying slowly, “Well, we would have to throw him out.” (An option always open to illegal casinos). In truth they never had to do so, because no player could pick a winner by any other force than the force of luck.

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