Archive for the “B” Category

Encyclopedia: Gambling in America – Letter B

Most forms of legalized gambling are permitted in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province. Pari-mutuel racing was permitted before the Canadian Penal Code was amended in 1969. Now telephone betting, offtrack betting, and intertrack betting are allowed for gamblers. At first, lottery games were conducted under the auspices of the Western Canadian Lottery Corporation, but British Columbia established its own independent lottery organization in 1985. The province has permitted bingo and raffle events for charities since 1970. Charities have been permitted to conduct casino events since 1978.

British Columbia - Gambling in America

The “dice” wheel in a British Columbia casino. Dice were not allowed in Canada until 1999.

The casino events grew quickly in number and volume of activity. In 1984, the province issued regulations that governed private companies that were offering casino management services for
charities. The charities were restricted in their ability to pay staff to operate games, but the management companies could do so. Gradually a pattern emerged of having casino events all located in permanent casino facilities that were privately owned. There are now seventeen such casino buildings. Most are in Vancouver and its suburbs. The private companies are permitted to keep 40 percent of the gaming profits from a casino event of two days; the charity gets 50 percent and the government 10 percent.  The private company pays the salaries of dealers and other gaming personnel, as well as all other costs. The charity only provides personnel to watch the cage.

British Columbia casino - Gambling in America

In British Columbia casino dice games were played by rolling balls. The editor makes his play.

Initially, the casinos could offer only table games, with roulette and blackjack being the most popular. In 1997, the casinos were allowed to install up to 300 slot machines each under a new revenue-sharing formula. Technically, the government owns all the slot machines.
Until national law removed the ban on dice games in 1999, the casinos had unique devices for sic bow, a three-dice game. The player rolled three balls into a roulette wheel that had thirty-six slots representing face-sides of the dice. Craps and sic bow are now played with actual dice.
For many years, there have been top-level discussions regarding the introduction of destination-type casino resorts. In the early 1990s, a plan to have the Mirage resorts of Las Vegas build a casino on the Vancouver waterfront was advanced by the premier of the province. Another plan called for a casino at the Whistler Ski Resort north of Vancouver. When the plans were announced publicly, there was a major outcry of protests from several citizen groups. The premier backed down, but the idea of having major casinos is still a matter of conversation in the province.
In 1997, the government, without sites being designated, again initiated a local option plan for twenty-one larger casinos. The First Nations of the province, however, were supposed to be given thirteen sites on their reserves. In the process of jockeying with persons wishing to control sites, the premier was forced to resign in 1999 when he was exposed for having taken favors from some of the applicants for site licenses. Also in 1999, slot machines were permitted in the charity casinos under local option. Additionally, a casino boat was permitted to operate off a dock in New Westminster.

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Brazil - Gambling in AmericaBrazil is by far the largest country in Latin America, with a land mass larger than that of the forty-eight contiguous states of the United States and a population approaching 180 million. The country boasts two of the largest cities in the hemisphere: Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
Although casino gambling is currently illegal in the country, the population participates in many forms of gambling, including illegal casino-type games. The wealthy, among a population with a wide gulf between the rich and poor, support the casinos of the surrounding countries with a great share of their patronage. They also frequent the casinos of the United States.
Casino gambling throve in Brazil in the 1930s and 1940s; however, it was prohibited by presidential order in 1946. Remnants of casino-type games remain. Machine gaming of a video variety is prevalent in the country’s many bingo halls. Sports betting and football pools are also popular, as are cockfighting, horse racing, and all forms of lottery games. A private and only quasi-legal lottery called jogo do bicho (“the animal game”) is played to support the activities of the Mardi Gras celebrations in Rio de Janeiro.
Through the 1990s and up to the present, there have been efforts to legalize casinos in some form. A casino bill was narrowly defeated in the 1991 session of the national legislative body. In 1995, a special committee was set up to study gambling and casino games. The issue remains controversial. Some organizations consider casinos to be a threat to their own financial interests. There is considerable political, economic, and cultural support, however, for the reconsideration of legalizing casinos.
The anticasino lobby is led by church forces advancing moral arguments. Pro-casino legalization arguments include the globalization of casino gaming, the reduction of trade barriers, the opening of markets, and the pressures and opportunities associated with multinational, integrated market groupings, such as MERCOSUL (the Southern Cone Common Market of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay). All the other members of MERCOSUL have legalized casino gaming, and Brazilian tourists often visit their gaming facilities, such as Punta del Este, Uruguay, and Mar del Plata, Argentina.
One perpetual major proposal for casino gaming legislation would allow luxury hotel-casinos in officially designated tourism zones. A government agency, EMBRATUR (the Brazilian Institute of Tourism), would determine the gaming zones. A Federal Gaming Commission would be established to ensure the integrity of the games.

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Local casino owner John Wolfram has told me how he sat in a car way out of town, on the Boulder Highway where Flamingo Road began. He was with Sam Boyd, and Sam asked him to look at the cars and count them.  Sam told John that each of those cars was worth a dollar, or some such number. A certain number of cars would pull into a casino if it were located right there. As the story goes, Wolfram said that he was not into that kind of speculation and that he would pass on the offer to buy a piece of the action. Wolfram has been successful in his own smaller casinos; in later years, he owned the Klondike at the far south end of the Strip. Sam Boyd not only was successful, but he became a phenomenon in Las Vegas gambling. But it did not start when Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino opened at the corners of Nellis, Flamingo, and the Boulder Highway; the seeds of success were planted decades before.
Sam Boyd was an “Okie,” born in Enid in 1910. His father did well as the owner of a small town taxicab company, but he died when Sam was only nine years old. Sam’s mother was a nurse who felt that to support her family, she needed a job in a more prosperous location. Eventually, the family relocated to Long Beach, California. Not only did Long Beach have better jobs for those in the medical fields, but it also offered opportunities for other people who liked to “hustle.” And Sam Boyd as a teenager came to like hustling a lot. He worked as a barker and a carnival games operator on the Pike. The lessons he learned on how to draw people into games were lessons he would use throughout his lifetime. He came to use “fun books,” flags, balloons, parties, anything to make the player feel the game was exciting. He also learned that the operator could make a lot of money if he went after the masses—a few dollars from everyone was worth the same as many dollars from a single player. After the carnival gaming experience, Sam Boyd learned all about casino games on one of the gambling ships that worked out of southern California. He dealt each game. He also became a bingo game operator.
He married Mary Neuman in 1931, and the following year their only child, Bill, was born. Sam always emphasized to Bill that his career would be much better if he received a formal college education. Bill got an undergraduate education, and then he received a law degree. His “enhanced” career began in a law office, but soon he found that he could be helpful as the attorney for his father’s casino interests, and then he could be even more helpful as a casino executive himself. He eventually helped the Boyd organization make the transition to a corporate property with interests in many locations besides Las Vegas.
In the late 1930s, Sam Boyd spent five years in Hawaii involved with a variety of bingo establishments. In those short years he came to appreciate the Hawaiian population with its Asian heritage and love for gambling. This appreciation became the nexus of his marketing efforts when he set up operations in Las Vegas several years later.
Sam came to Las Vegas in 1941, in response to a federal crackdown on gambling in California. His first jobs were in small casinos on Fremont Street. He went on to work at the El Rancho Vegas, the first casino on the Las Vegas Strip. After a tour of duty with the army in World War II, he was employed at the Flamingo, after “Bugsy” Siegel. He also worked in northern Nevada at Lake Tahoe. His son, while a student at the University of Nevada in Reno, worked with him during summers. Sam also held positions at the Sahara and the Thunderbird. Sam Boyd loved working, and he was very diligent about saving as much of his salary as possible. In 1952, he had a chance to buy 1 percent of the Sahara. Hard work habits now became a compulsion. Sam purchased more shares when the Sahara developed the Mint downtown. He kept working and saving.  In 1962, Sam, his son, and two others purchased the casino that became the El Dorado in downtown Henderson. In 1971, he became a partner in the Union Plaza casino at the end of Fremont Street. There he was innovative, as he used women as dealers at blackjack games. His goal was to build a player base. He also brought musical plays onto the property.
Sam Boyd took his money out of the Plaza so that he could become the major investor in the California Hotel just off Fremont Street. Quickly the California Hotel became the venue for Hawaiian players. His controlling interests in the California and the property in Henderson necessitated that he drive the thirteen miles that separated the two properties each day. (This distance is significant to me, as the Boyds sponsored an official minimarathon race in which I participated, between the doors of the two hotels.) It was on one of these drives that he realized there might be a market among the many cars that were on Boulder Highway each day.
Realtor Chuck Ruthe was on the board of directors of Boyd Casinos and used his expertise to put together the land deal that allowed the construction of Sam’s Town and its opening in 1979. Many establishments had previously tried to target local gamblers for their market—most were on Fremont Street, but there was also the Showboat, at the top of Boulder Highway. The Sam Boyd touch, however, made his efforts to get the local gamblers especially lucrative. His Sam’s Town ushered in a new genre of Las Vegas casino—the locals’ casino. Without Sam’s Town showing the way, it is unlikely there would have been an Arizona Charlie’s, Santa Fe, Texas, Boulder Station, Fiesta, or Sunset Station. As the 1980s went on, however, Sam Boyd realized that the old management styles would not be totally effective if Boyd’s were to expand into a public company and go into new jurisdictions. He yielded corporate power to his son and enjoyed his final years as an elder statesman representing the days of the personal touch in Las Vegas. He was able to see his company set higher goals under Bill’s leadership. Sam Boyd died in 1992 before the company entered the Tunica, Mississippi, market with the largest hotel in the state, established a riverboat in Missouri, and made a management agreement with a large casino for the Choctaw tribe in Mississippi.

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Boulder City, Nevada, is the only community in the state of Nevada where gambling is not permitted in any form. The small city of about 15,000 residents lies twenty-five miles southeast of Las Vegas and abuts the Colorado River. Boulder City was not part of Wild West mining days of the Silver State. Rather, it was a government creation, established in 1931 as a city to house workers for the building of the Hoover Dam. The Boulder Dam Project had been authorized by an act of Congress in 1928. Almost immediately thereafter, the state of Nevada and the federal government sought to exercise their separate authority over the parcel of land selected for a new workers’ community. The federal government, even in the years right before Nevada legalized casinos in 1931, recognized the state as a rogue among the members of the union. Gambling was openly operating in Las Vegas, as were houses of prostitution, which actually were in conformity with the local law. Las Vegas was also considered to be the location where violations of the national prohibition against alcoholic beverages were most apparent.  In 1929, some thought was given to making Las Vegas the base camp for the construction workers. After Secretary of the Interior Ray Wilbur visited the “sin city,” however, he recoiled at the notion of workers living among saloons and prostitutes and being tempted to spend their salaries in casinos. Wilbur declared that a “model” community be constructed closer to the site of the construction.
Secretary Wilbur invoked the provisions of the Reclamation Act of 1902 and created a 144-square-mile enclave out of unappropriated federal lands surrounding the site of the dam. The enclave included a town site for Boulder City. The city was made a federal reservation much in the same legal form as the Native American reservations of the same era. Federal law dominated city life, and Nevada law was unenforceable. A prohibition against liquor was put firmly into place and remained in place even after the 21st amendment ended national prohibition in 1933. Prostitution was strictly forbidden, as was gambling, even though it was soon made completely legal by the Nevada legislature.
Boulder City, the first “planned community” of the twentieth century, was to be an isolated oasis of morality and “quality life,” albeit surrounded by the many diversions of Nevada society. Author Dennis McBride writes that “everything was designed and blueprinted long before the first spadeful of earth was turned at the site. The government decided how many people would live in Boulder City, and which businesses would be allowed to operate” (McBride 1981, 16–17). The city was built on desolate desert lands. It transformed the lands into a hospitable environment for workers who desperately needed quarters for themselves and their families. The same consortium of companies that was chosen to build the dam built the city. They hired an architect to lay out the streets. He did so and also designated lands for parks and golf courses. The architect incorporated desert landscaping into his plan. The need for quick construction led to modifications, however, and the golf course idea was abandoned. Also, the almost unbearable heat prompted the government to bring in a landscape gardener, aptly named Wilbur Weed, to begin a project of planting grasses, shrubbery, and trees everywhere. He selected the correct species of each after much study, and miraculously, his plantings survived to bring a measure of coolness and shade to the streets of the community. The plantings also broke up the wind and dust storms that had otherwise swept through the town as a result of all the construction activity. The autocratic city managers appointed by federal authorities did not let the landscape gardener’s work go unnoticed. They decreed that all residents would have to maintain their lawn and garden areas, and if they did not, the city would do so and deduct the cost from the residents’ wages at the dam.
The government decided that Boulder City would not be just a place for workers to live temporarily but that it would be a true community. A variety of civic institutions and organizations was sponsored, and churches were invited to join the community. By 1932, four were constructed and well attended.
Dennis McBride writes that by the end of 1932, most of Boulder’s principal buildings were finished, and her institutions established. The streets were paved, the boulevards and parks landscaped. There were no more tent neighborhoods; hundreds of houses stood in monotonous rows, each identical to the next. Plaster on the new Bureau of Reclamation Administration Building, the dormitory, and the Municipal Building was smooth and white, reflecting the powerful afternoon sun. Fords, Chevys, and other working-class cars lined the streets. New stores in the business district displayed goods behind big polished windows. Arcades with graceful plaster arches shaded the downtown sidewalks…. Where before there had been barren desert, there was now a modern American city. Wives shopped in clean, well-supplied stores and ate lunch in fine cafes; their husbands worked all week, and brought home a good paycheck.  Children went to school taught by bright innovative teachers, and played on green, front lawns and in shady parks. While families in the rest of America went hungry, the people who lived in Boulder City on the federal reservation lived quiet, insulated domestic lives. Boulder today still looks remarkably like it did fifty years ago.
A fence surrounded the city, with a gate manned by guards who would only let in workers and residents, who had to carry passes. Eventually over 5,000 workers lived in the dam-building community. The decision of Secretary Wilbur to create the enclave of “clean living” had several consequences for the development of Las Vegas as a gambling Mecca. First, by banning gambling and other “entertainment” from the vicinity of the dam, Wilbur ensured that a large number of federal employees would venture into Las Vegas and support its newly legalized casinos in the 1930s. Further, the restrictions on life in Boulder City—in terms of entrance and exit from the town—precluded a development of hotel accommodations until well into the construction schedule. Only one hotel was available during construction. Accommodations developed in Las Vegas instead. Moreover, as a private center of enterprise, Las Vegas attracted a share of the capital resources that were directed into the construction project. Las Vegas became a major transportation center for materials because enterprise was not allowed to develop in Boulder City.
When the Hoover Dam project was completed, Boulder City declined in population as workers moved away. The town persisted as a government center during the years of World War II, however, as a military force was stationed in the area to guard the dam, considered by authorities to be a target for the Japanese enemy. After the war, the city began to attract workers of the newly developing casino industry of Las Vegas. In the 1950s, the residents moved to have the city removed from federal control. In 1958, for the very first time, residents were permitted to vote for local governing officials. First a commission was elected to write a home rule charter for the city. After a charter was written, it was approved by a vote of the citizens. Then in 1960, Congress passed legislation releasing the land for private sale to the citizens whose city now came under the jurisdiction of the state of Nevada. The first charter banned both gambling and hard alcoholic beverages, probably in recognition that the charter would not become effective unless ratified in an act of Congress. The state of Nevada had banned prostitution in Clark County (the county including both Las Vegas and Boulder City), so this was no longer an issue. After the city emerged as a home rule town under Nevada law, there were several attempts to legalize both alcohol and gambling. In 1958, the city charter was amended to allow the sale of alcohol both by the bottle and by the glass. In vote after vote, however, the residents have remained firm in the position that they do not want gambling. This adamant standing does not mean that residents do not frequent casinos. The residents, now 15,000 strong, patronize two major casino complexes on their borders; one at the Railroad Pass area on the road to Las Vegas and another on a private enclave of land outside the city limits on the road to the dam and the Arizona state line.
As a resident of nearby Las Vegas, I can attest that Boulder City, the state’s only nongambling city, has maintained much of the culture that was imposed upon the city by its federal mentors during the construction of the dam. The city seeks to be a quiet community with good schools and churches, a city that enjoys the very green parks and tree-lined streets cultivated by the federal government in the 1930s. The city adopted antigrowth policies in the 1960s and 1970s and maintains a policy of limited and controlled growth. The latter policies help maintain high values of residential properties. They also maintain a buffer to the urban sprawl prevalent throughout the rest of the Las Vegas metropolitan area. A small town character prevails. Within this atmosphere there are events such as the autumn art fair that attracts both artists and art patrons from throughout the southwestern United States. The city is also a tourist center, as it is the first motel area near Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead recreational area that was created with the completion of the dam in the 1930s. Visitors to the city who stay in the local motels have access to the many entertainment venues of the Las Vegas area, while at the same time they can enjoy quiet walks through uncrowded green parks beneath trees, much as if they were in a small Midwestern city.

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The remote, landlocked, mountainous country of Bolivia is not at all distinguished for its gambling activities. The preponderance of the almost 8 million citizens are of indigenous heritage and do not live prosperous lives. The country has had a lottery, as do all of the independent countries of South America, and there is pari-mutuel racing.
Although casinos do not operate within the confines of a legal framework, a large portion of the population of the national city of La Paz has nevertheless had occasion to visit local casinos. Casino owners have been operating casinos for years on a quasi-legal basis. In 1993, the president issued an executive order declaring the facilities to be illegal. A 1994 city statute in La Paz permitted lotteries, however, and local entrepreneurs used it as a ruse for opening casinos. After a federal raid had closed down thirteen of the country’s casinos, the mayor of La Paz authorized the opening of two in the city, holding that the casino games were municipally approved lotteries. The wrangling between the city and national authorities has scared off many potential foreign investors. As a result, pressure has increased for the National Congress to take action on a casino bill that was first introduced in 1991. No action was taken before the end of the twentieth century, and matters of the casino front remain in limbo.

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Blackjack - Gambling in AmericaBlackjack is the most popular card game in casinos throughout the world. The game is an American creation in its present form, although it has origins in European games such as the French vingt-un (translated as “twenty-one”) and the game trente et quarante (or “thirty-one”) as well as the English game of pontoon. The form of twenty-one used in the United States was modified in 1912 when play at some card rooms in Indiana added an additional three-to-two payoff for winners who had a “natural twenty-one,” that is, a twenty-one count on their first two cards.
The popularity of the game was greatly enhanced by the publication of Dr. Edward O. Thorpe’s book, Beat the Dealer, in 1962 (see Annotated Bibliography). The book presented solid evidence that with proper playing techniques and structures, the odds for this game can actually change and be in the favor of the player.
Blackjack is a house-banked game in which a house dealer seeks to have cards valuing 21 or a number closer to 21 (without being over 21), but higher than the values of cards held by players. The player makes an initial bet according to the house limits. A dealer gives two cards (one at a time) to each player and also takes two cards himself or herself. The blackjack table may accommodate up to seven players, each of whom individually competes with the dealer. The object of the game is to get cards totaling 21. The cards from 2 through 10 count as their number value. The jack, queen, and king each count as 10 points. An ace may count as 1 or as 11. If a hand has a value of 22 or more it is a “bust,” a losing hand for a player, and in most cases for the dealer as well. Although there are variations, in general the two player cards are dealt face up, whereas one dealer card is dealt down and one face up. The player may ask for additional cards in hopes of getting a 21, or closer to 21 than the dealer’s hand. If an extra card makes the player’s hand go to 22 or over, however, the player immediately loses the hand, regardless of what happens to the dealer’s hand. A player who is satisfied with the hand’s value and has not “busted” indicates that he or she wants no more cards. After all players are done taking cards, the dealer exposes the facedown (or hole) card. He or she takes extra cards if that total is 16 or less but stands (that is, takes no more cards) if the value of the cards is 17 or more. In some casinos, a dealer will take more cards when he or she has a value of 17, which includes an ace that is counted as an 11. (This is called hitting a soft 17).

Gambling table

A gambling table before opening hours in a Santa Domingo casino.

Winners are paid at even money; if they bet $5, they win $5, a return of $10. If both the player and the dealer have hands with the same value, it is a tie, and the player’s bet is returned to him or her. A player who busts loses even if the dealer later busts in the same hand.
The situation is altered if the player or the dealer has a natural blackjack. A natural blackjack consists of an ace and a card valued at 10 (10, jack, queen, or king). If the player’s first two cards are a blackjack, he or she wins and is paid three to two; that is, a win of $7.50 plus $5, or a return of $12.50. This win is negated if the dealer also has a two-card blackjack, in which case the play is a tie. If the dealer has a blackjack, he or she beats all players who do not also have a blackjack. In the case of a dealer showing an ace or a 10-value card, the dealer looks at his other card; if it makes a blackjack, he or she reveals it and collects the bets from the losing players without giving them the opportunity to draw cards. If the dealer is showing an ace, however, he or she first offers all players a chance to make insurance bets, which are described later.
Certain special plays and bets are allowed to the players. For instance, if both of the player’s first two cards are the same, he or she may split them into two hands by making an equal bet on the second hand. Some casinos also allow resplitting. New Jersey casinos and many in other jurisdictions, Nevada excluded, allow the player to make a “surrender” play. After the player looks at the dealer’s one card and his or her own two cards, the player may forfeit the hand immediately for only half of the original bet. The player may also like the situation so much that he or she doubles the bet. After “doubling down,” the player may be given only one more card—if he or she desires more cards. Some casinos allow a player to double down if showing cards with values of 10 or 11. Other casinos allow any player to double down.
If the dealer is showing an ace, the player may make a bet called “insurance.” This is a side bet that does not affect the main bet on the value of the player’s and dealer’s hands. The player bets up to half of his or her original bet and wins a two-to-one payoff if the dealer reveals that he or she has a natural blackjack. With this side bet, the casino has an 8 percent edge over the player, as there are sixteen ten-valued cards (which can make the insurance bet a winner) and thirty-six other cards.
The casinos may use from one to eight decks of cards for play at blackjack. As players use strategies that may depend in part upon the cards that have already been bet (counting strategies), some players like single-deck blackjack. This is a game dealt from the dealer’s hand with both of the player’s cards being dealt face down. Most casinos shy away from single-deck games as hand dealing introduces opportunities for cheating and hence requires more monitoring. In multideck games, the cards are dealt from a shoe. A shoe is a box, usually plastic, into which the shuffled decks of cards are placed. They are dealt as the dealer slides cards from one end of the box through an opening. Shoes are also used with baccarat games and other card games.
The popularity of blackjack derives from the fact that, in addition to allowing a strategy that can give the player the edge, the game is a simple game in concept but also allows for very personal strategies. As a variety of strategies and playing styles is used by players, it is not possible to assess the odds-advantage possessed by the house (casino).  In one strategy, the player seeks simply never to bust. Hence, he or she stands on any cards giving him or her a value of twelve or more, regardless of the card shown by the dealer. Under this strategy, the casino has a 6.35 percent edge over the player. If the player instead mimics the rules followed by the dealer—taking cards when he or she has a sixteen or less and holding on seventeen or more, then the casino’s edge is reduced to 5.90 percent. A more complicated, but more effective, strategy called “basic blackjack strategy” can reduce the house edge to below 1 percent, and to even, or a slight player edge, with a single-deck game. With properly executed card counting (the Thorpe strategy), the player can gain a 1 or 2 percent edge over the house.

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For over four decades, Benny Binion was a local hero in Las Vegas; actually, he was a hero among the gambling community worldwide. He was the “Cowboy Gambler,” who-like his image in bronze on a horse at Second and Ogden streets in downtown Las Vegas – always rode “high in the saddle.” His casino, Binion’s Horseshoe, gained the reputation for being the “gamblers’ casino” in Las Vegas. His casino started the World Series of Poker, and his casino was the only casino that would take a “hit” for any amount of money. Here, a hit is a single bet on a single play (see Glossary). It is a bet where both sides let it all ride, one time, one spin of the wheel, and one whirl of the dice—no next time, one time. Most casinos will limit “hits” to the normal table limits—several thousands of dollars. Binion’s had no limit. The limit was what the player was willing to lay down on the table in hard cash. Hits are risky business, because the laws of probability are based upon large numbers—large numbers of bets. One time a gambler came in with a suitcase of money. He opened the suitcase and poured $777,000 on the table. He bet on “don’t pass” on the craps table. The dice rolled a few times, and the boxman called out “don’t pass wins.” The cage prepared a stack of cash worth $1,554,000, and the gambler took the money and left. If a casino that was owned by a publicly traded corporation did something so risky, a stockowner lawsuit might just be successful. But the Binion family privately held Binion’s. And maybe they were not being too risky, because the publicity they received for paying off a bet like that was also worth a whole lot of money. Actually, the same man came back and later bet $1,000,000 and lost. So in the long run, it had been good business. Three months later the man committed suicide. He was broke, but the police said he had romantic problems, too.
I did a few shots for the PBS show “Going Places: Las Vegas.” When we went into a casino on the Strip, people were crowding the cameras, waving their hands and calling out “Hi, Mom” and the like. But when we went into the Horseshoe, we shot an interview with the poker pit directly behind us. The producers did not have to make a double take, nor did they have to wait for the place to be quiet or for a distracting guest to move on. We shot the interview and not one single bettor even lifted his eyes to observe the network cameras. The bettors were more interested in the action on the table. On the Strip, the action might have been a television camera; in the Horseshoe, the action was the next card being dealt. Over the decades that Benny Binion reigned as the cowboy gambler, and when he and his wife and sons ran the casino, other gambling entrepreneurs came to Binion’s when they wanted to gamble. It was their local casino. Called the “most popular gambler” in the United States, Binion was especially popular with his fellow casino owners. He did not cater to tourists, except the hard-core gambling kind. He had no show, no music, and no two-for-one “fun book.” He did not have people out in the streets hawking the wares, trying to get the sucker in the door. His players were not suckers. He gave the best odds on the table games, offering all the options in blackjack and giving ten times odds for even bets at craps. His machines were programmed to give the largest payouts in Las Vegas—and Las Vegas gives the best payouts of any gambling city in the world.
Benny Binion and daughter, with his $1 million collection (of money in a horseshoe). Benny Binion’s one concession to the tourists was a plastic-covered horseshoe display of one million dollars in cash; he had mounted 100 ten-thousand-dollar bills. He invited the public to come in and look and to have their picture taken with the money at no cost. When I saw that, my head began to spin numbers around, figuring that he was losing a couple hundred dollars a day just in the interest the money could be earning in a bank. But then, maybe the money was in a bank, and maybe he could not be earning the interest. The Nevada gambling regulators demand that large casinos have several millions of dollars on hand at all times in order to cover any large win that a player (perhaps with a suitcase) may have at any moment. Las Vegas builds its reputation on paying off, and the reputation could disappear quickly if there was a pattern of casinos making players wait until the “other” banks opened before they got their money. After all, when the player loses, the casino takes the money right away (well, there are credit gamblers too). The million on display may just have been part of the cage requirement, and Binion would also have been out the interest if he had had the money locked in a vault. Moreover, with the extra security (and the money was well guarded) of having the displayed million dollars, other casinos could always count on Binion’s having surplus funds. When other casinos hit a run of bad luck and their reserves fell below what the law requires, very often they would send a special security detail up to the Horseshoe to borrow a million or two, just to tide them over until the “other” banks opened. Rumor has it that Steve Wynn, as the executive of the Golden Nugget across the street from the Horseshoe, had to do just that.
Benny Binion was born in Pilot Point, Grayson County, Texas, in 1904. When he was fifteen years old, he dropped out of school and ran away, first to El Paso and then to Dallas. He got a job in the St. George Hotel, and there he learned about gambling.  When in his later years he was asked if he would do it again, he said yes, he would have had to become a gambler: “What else could an uneducated person do?” Dallas was a wide-open town, a place of opportunity. At age twenty-two, Benny opened a casino game at the Southland Hotel, and two years later he established a leadership role in the Dallas numbers games. Things in Dallas were rough, and the competition could be tough. Although the government tolerated games for a price (he paid ten dollars a gambler to the politicians in order to stay open), others wanted him closed. In two separate instances he was in gun battles over just who would stay open; he survived. Two others died and were never able to spin the wheels of fortune again. One of those times Binion received a suspended sentence; he was acquitted on grounds of self-defense the other time. During World War II he bought a casino in Fort Worth, but its time was limited. There was a crackdown on Texas gambling after the war. There had been twenty-seven casinos in the Dallas area during the war, and some felt they could stay and try to ride it out until another election could bring the right people to office. Binion did not; he packed up his family in 1946 and went to Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, Benny Binion opened a casino on Fremont Street along with Kell Houssels, a man who was actively involved in many casinos. As time went on, however, Binion felt that he was being restricted on doing things the way he wanted to do things. Houssells did not like the idea of allowing the players to have high limits. Some professional operators figure that with high limits, the players can use a system called the Martingale, which allows them to keep doubling their bets when they lose, and eventually they will win. But Binion knew (and it was a risk as to when) that streaks or runs of a wheel on black or red, odd or even very often can go five, six, seven, or more in length. Increasing the odds only allows one or two more bets against a fate of losing.
Binion broke up the partnership, and in 1951 he bought the Apache Hotel, renaming it Binion’s Horseshoe. His limits became the highest limits in town. On one occasion the Mob leaders at the Flamingo did persuade Binion that he should not try to compete with them too vigorously, and Binion lowered his keno limit for a while.
Binion’s problems with the law did not end when he came to Las Vegas. In the mid-1950s, he was convicted of income tax evasion and served forty-two months in a federal prison. When he was released in 1957, the state of Nevada suspended his casino license, and management of the Horseshoe was given to his wife and his son Jack. Jack carried on the tradition of Benny Binion when he established the World Series of Poker in 1969. The tournament has grown considerably since that time. All players must put up $10,000 to enter. The winner collects a million dollars. Amateurs from every corner of the globe come to compete with the most professional of all gamblers. I was in Birmingham, England, touring casinos, when I came upon the Rainbow. There I found a big sign and a program for Binion’s World Series. The casino ran the British Poker Championship, and the first prize was an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas with the stakes to enter Binion’s World Series.
On 1 June 1988, the Horseshoe empire spread out a bit, and the Binion family purchased the next-door Mint Casino from the Del Webb estate for $27 million. The Horseshoe casino expanded its gambling area and also gained 300 hotel rooms. Previously, the Horseshoe had fewer than 100 rooms. The Horseshoe also took over the restaurant at the top of the Mint, and it became the Steakhouse. There the finest beef, nurtured on Binion’s Montana ranch, was served. The casino was also able to expand its complimentary services with the larger facility. Over one-million-dollars worth of free food was given to selected players each month. Rarely did the casino charge a full price room rate. Most rooms were frequently occupied by very good players.
On Christmas Day 1989, Benny Binion went on to “cowboy heaven,” and he left his family in charge of the gambling on Fremont Street. Jack Binion, who was born in 1937, carried on. He also branched out, establishing the number-one riverboat casino in Louisiana and then the number-one revenue-producing casino in Tunica, Mississippi.  He has since become a partner in an Illinois riverboat. Family fights consumed the business after Benny’s wife, Teddy, died in 1994. Jack’s brother, Ted, was involved with substance abuse problems and lost his casino license. He later died suspiciously, murdered by a former girl friend and her new boyfriend, who were seeking Ted’s wealth. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal of 20 May 2000, the couple was tried and convicted of the murder in 2000. Two sisters fought Jack over control of the casino, and finally Jack sold the property to one of his sisters and devoted his full attention to gambling interests in the Mississippi Valley. The legend of the “cowboy gambler” is still found in Las Vegas under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience.

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Bingo - Gambling in AmericaBingo has been the quintessential charity game in the United States for most of a century. Expansions of the game (in terms of hours played and prize amounts) led to the court cases culminating in decisions that generated the initiation and widespread proliferation of Native American gambling in the United States. Bingo is also played in many commercial casinos. The game demands vigilance and attention from the players, who may form a collective audience of a dozen or several thousand (or more with satellite connections among several bingo halls).
Bingo is played on two basic styles of cards. A bingo card in the United States has 25 spaces: 5 rows and 5 columns. Numbers are on 24 spaces; the center space has a star or another mark, designating it as a “free space.” The columns are designated as B, I, N, G, and O. Under the respective letters are numbers between 1 and 15, 16 and 30, 31 and 45, 46 and 60, and 61 and 75. In simple games, the object is to get 4 or 5 numbers called to fill a column, a row, or a diagonal line through the center or to fill in each corner of a card. More complex games may require filling in a pattern (for example, a letter T—top row and center N column; filling the outer edge—top and bottom rows and B and O columns) or covering all 24 numbers on the card.
The second type of card, popular in Europe, is called a tombola. The card has 3 lines and 5 columns. Each individual card has 5 numbers on a line, for 15 numbers in all. Eighty-one numbers are used in the game. Each game has 2 winners. The first winner is the one who first calls “bingo” when all 5 numbers of any one line are filled. The second winner is one who gets all 15 numbers on the card filled.
Although casinos and bingo halls may offer guaranteed prizes for winners of certain games, traditionally the prize pool has been taken from player purchases of cards, making the game a pari-mutuel player-banked exercise in gambling. If two or more persons win at the same time, the prize is divided. On big cover-all games, a bingo hall may offer a big prize if the cover-all is reached within a certain number of calls, for instance, forty-five numbers. If it is not, a part of the prize pool may be carried over to another day, and the big prize increased in a progressive manner.
In many Las Vegas casinos that cater to senior citizens, bingo offers a large return to the players. That practice is used as an incentive to draw in customers who are expected to play slot machines and other games between and after the bingo games.
The numbers called at the bingo game usually appear on Ping-Pong balls that blow about in a sealed cage. When a small tunnel to the cage is opened, one ball is sucked up into an area where a caller can take it. The number on the ball is called and then recorded on a board that all can see. The ball is usually held up so that it can physically be seen as well. If a player has a win, he (more appropriately she, as more players of bingo are women than men—quite different than almost all other games) must call out “bingo” before the next number is called. The bingo card is then verified to ensure that all numbers are on it and that it contains the last number called.
The percentage payout varies considerably, depending upon the desires for an operator to get a certain return from the players by setting prizes at a certain level. The bingo game utilized today is an outgrowth of a private Italian game called lotto. This in turn was derived from a national lottery game that began in the sixteenth century. Forms of bingo (called by other names) were played in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The popularity of the game was developed in the 1920s, when movie halls used it for raffle prizes given to those attending shows.
The American card used today in bingo is traced to the 1920s.  The name bingo had been used as a reference to beans that players used to mark winning numbers.
Bingo has maintained a wide popularity due to its simplicity, its almost “pure luck” form, and the fact that it is a very social game that can be easily set up for commercial or charitable functions.

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Bill Bennett and Bill Pennington purchased the Circus Circus casino from Jay Sarno in 1974. They immediately transformed a losing property into a “winner,” as they parlayed the investment into one of the most successful casino companies in the world.
Bennett was born in Glendale, Arizona, on 26 November 1924. Following his service in World War II as a pilot, he returned to Phoenix to run a furniture store. Soon, however, a friend coaxed him into investing in a financial firm. The firm went broke and so did Bennett. Luck was on his side, however, as his friend L. C. Jacobsen was president of the Del Webb Construction Company. Jacobsen was looking for personnel who could help in the company’s newly acquired casino properties. Bennett signed on and worked his way up to a top management post with the Mint Hotel in Las Vegas. In 1971, he cashed in his stock options with Webb and entered into a partnership with Bill Pennington. The two established a company that distributed gaming machines to casinos. In 1974, they found Jay Sarno in deep financial trouble, and they helped bail him out by taking over the Circus Circus casino in a lease option deal.
Bennett and Pennington liked the Circus Circus idea, but the two saw that the property was not being managed properly. They first made plans for a tower of hotel rooms and cleaned up many carnival games that at best would be considered sleazy. Circus acts were moved away from the gambling tables. They marketed the property heavily through radio advertisements and dropped Sarno’s notion that Circus Circus could appeal to high rollers. Instead, they nurtured and developed the idea of marketing the property to middle-class patrons—lots of them.  The new owners placed a much greater emphasis on their slot machine department than it had received previously. The property also began sponsoring many sporting events. Bennett was a stunt pilot, and he rode motorcycles and speedboats. Soon Circus Circus had a hydroplane boat on the professional racing circuit.

The Circus Circus Casino dominated the Reno skyline for many years. The property was developed by William Bennett and William Pennington.

Bennett and Pennington also reached out to develop new properties. They built Circus Circus-Reno in 1978, and they purchased the Edgewater Casino in Laughlin, Nevada, in 1983. Later they added the Colorado Belle. In 1983, Circus Circus became a public company. Over the next ten years, the stock outperformed all others in the casino gambling field. Values of shares increased 1,400 percent.
The 1990s were good to Circus Circus, although the company was not always good to Bill Bennett. At the beginning of the decade, the company opened the largest hotel casino in the world. The Excalibur featured a medieval court with the knights of the round table. The facility had 4,000 rooms and was built at a cost exceeding $250 million. In 1993, the Luxor, a pyramid-shaped casino hotel with 2,500 rooms, opened, and the next year a Circus Circus casino opened in Tunica, Mississippi. In 1994, several management changes accompanied lower-than-anticipated revenues at the upscale Luxor property, and Bennett was roundly criticized by an organized opposition at an annual stockholders’ meeting. He decided to step down as chairman of the board, and then to leave the company altogether. He sold his stock for $230 million and promptly purchased the Sahara Hotel for $193 million. He knew the Sahara, as it had originally been a Del Webb casino. Now it was aging and in bad repair. Bennett invested millions more in improvements and in the construction of a new tower of hotel rooms.
Las Vegas needs dreamers and builders like Sarno, and it needs people like Howard Hughes, who will purchase properties others wish to get rid of. But it especially needs persons who take others’ dreams and convert them into reality for stockholders and customers. In the gambling industry, Bennett has not been a dreamer, but he has been one who makes dreams come true.

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The Bahamas consist of two islands with population concentrations (Nassau on New Providence Island and Freeport on Grand Bahamas Island) and many smaller islands, the closest ones lying about fifty miles off the Atlantic coast of Florida. The country was under the political control of Great Britain until 1973. Tourism has been the dominant product of the islands for most of the past century. The islands’ resorts now employ over 40 percent of the workforce. Casino properties dominate the tourist offerings.
Prior to the 1960s, there was very little gambling in the Bahamas. The Penal Code in colonial statutes declared all gambling to be illegal. In the 1920s, however, the small Bahamian Club opened in Nassau on New Providence Island, having been given an exemption by the governor. Another small casino won an exemption to operate on the tiny island of Cat Key. Efforts to establish major casino facilities had been advanced by Sir Stafford Sands as early as 1945. Sands was a private attorney seeking opportunity, but he was also the minister of finance and tourism for the island colony. The timing was not right, but Sands did not go away.
Sands was still a critical player in island politics in the early 1960s when the Castro revolution in Cuba caused many gaming interests there to look in the direction of the Bahamas. Meyer Lansky was purported to have visited Sands in 1960 with a $2 million offer for the right to have casinos. The offer may have been rebuffed, but soon Sands, in a “partnership” with two Americans—Wallace Groves (a convicted stock swindler) and Louis Chesler (a major Florida land developer and compulsive gambler)—pushed a proposal for a casino in Freeport through the Executive Council. The Monte Carlo Club at the Lucayan Beach Hotel began operations in 1964. A second casino in Freeport—El Casino—opened in 1966. Lansky had a direct interest in the property, as several of his associates in Cuba took management roles. These included brothers Dino and Eddie Cellini, who also shared management in a Lansky-controlled London casino and in a casino dealers’ school that furnished employees for casinos in England as well as the Bahamas. Initially, all casino employees had to be nonresidents, a rule that has since changed. From the beginning, no local resident has been allowed to be a player at any of the casinos in the Bahamas. A local resident is fined $500 if caught playing.
Sands was also instrumental in pulling together the principals who negotiated to establish a casino near Nassau. These included James Crosby and Jack Davis of the Mary Carter Paint Company, Wallace Groves, and Huntington Hartford, a millionaire with grandiose dreams for development of Paradise Island, which was very near Nassau. A silent partner in the organization was Lynden Pindling, whose political party had won control of the government in the parliamentary elections of 1967. It was the first time in the history of the island that the Black party had won an election. The effort to gain a license for a new property included the purchase of the license that had been held by the Bahamian Club.  In 1968, the Mary Carter partnership was reorganized as Resorts International, and they opened the Paradise Island Resort and Casino. The company had to actually move the Bahamian casino building onto their grounds to gain its license. Today the old casino facility is the restaurant within the new casino structure. Resorts International also took over the management of the El Casino in 1978. In 1983, the license for the El Casino was sold to the London-based casino company (Lonhro) that built the Princess Casino in Freeport.
A second casino in Nassau was licensed on Cable Beach in 1978. It operated as the Playboy Casino until 1983. Then the license was transferred to Carnival Cruise Lines, who opened the Crystal Casino; subsequently it has become a Marriot property. In the 1990s, the Paradise Island Resort was sold to Sun International and renamed the Atlantis. Also, the Gentings Casino company of Malaysia purchased the Lucayan Beach Resort. A fifth casino license has been given to the Club Med, which operates the Columbus Isle Casino on San Salvador Island, the location where Columbus first set foot on land in the Western Hemisphere in 1492.
Earlier patterns of organized crime involvement in Bahamas casinos have essentially been eliminated through a process of effective regulation. Moreover, the operators’ connections to other jurisdictions where they must face vigorous checks for licensing preclude connections with organized crime. The Bahamas have one of the most interesting taxation systems for casino gaming—a reverse progressive tax system. The island nation wishes to use casinos to promote tourism. Because the political leaders realize that it is expensive to market gaming to high rollers and persons who will spend considerable vacation dollars in the islands, the goal is to attract players who will stay in the hotels and take full advantage of the beaches and other tourist amenities. Larger properties have a better chance to market to these players. Also, it costs more to bring in such players than it does to advertise to low-roller day trippers who take boats from the Florida coast. Hence, the reverse-progressive tax system. Casinos pay a 25 percent tax on gaming revenues up to $10 million per year. As the earnings go up, the tax rate goes down. For earnings between $10 million and $16 million, the tax is only 20 percent. It is reduced to 10 percent for earnings between $16 million and $20 million. Annual earnings above this amount are taxed at a rate of only 5 percent. Casinos pay other fees as well.

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