1864 to 1931
Gaming was a part of Nevada's culture even before the state's inception. Many prospectors traveled to the area to search for gold in the Sierra Nevada and brought their games of chance with them. However, in the early 1860s, President Lincoln appointed Nevada Territory Governor James Nye, who held a vigilant stand against gambling, encouraging the territorial legislature to ban games of chance.
In 1861, the territorial legislature instituted stiff penalties for running and participating in any game of chance. The measure was not very successful, though, and when Nevada became a state in 1864, the first legislature attempted to legalize and regulate gambling instead, only to fail. As a compromise, penalties for gambling were dramatically reduced with operators being punished mildly and players not at all.
In 1869, the Nevada State Legislature finally succeeded in decriminalizing certain forms of gambling, and Nevada's gaming laws witnessed few changes until 1909 when the Progressive Movement finally succeeded in passing legislation banning nearly all games of chance in the Silver State. During the next few years, gaming laws relaxed, initially allowing specific social games and "nickel-in-the-slot machines" paying out drinks, cigars and sums of less than $2. By 1919, all cities and counties throughout the state were licensing card rooms that permitted social games such as bridge and whist, and during the 1920s, Reno became the state's gambling capital, with both legal card rooms and clubs offering illegal games.
As the country entered the Great Depression, Nevada's conflicted feelings about gambling were finally reconciled. In 1931, freshman Nevada State Assemblyman Phil Tobin introduced Assembly Bill 98, which allowed for wide-open gambling. On March 19, 1931, Assembly Bill 98 was signed into law by Governor Fred Balzar, making a number of games legal, and thus taking small card games and illegal betting out of back rooms and side alleys. The legislation allowed the rise of the gaming industry and the regulated modern casino we know and enjoy today.
- Nevada becomes the 36th state (October 31)
- Nevada decriminalizes certain forms of gambling
- Storey County (Virginia City) becomes the most populous county in Nevada
- Nevada criminalizes gaming and the operation of all games of chance, effective the following year
- Nevada's total population: 89,168