The first Spanish settlers that traveled through the Las Vegas Valley in the early 1800s gave the place its name – “the meadows.” By 1931 the town streets were still not paved but on March 19 of that year the Nevada state legislature voted to legalize gambling. Not many people have come to Las Vegas for the desert wildflowers since then.
One of the earliest gambling entrepreneurs to arrive in Las Vegas was an old New York bootlegger named Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel who was put out of business by the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Siegel opened the Flamingo in 1946 out on a deserted stretch of Highway 91 leading out of town. In time that highway would be named Las Vegas Boulevard but the world would know it only as the “Strip.”
In those days it was accepted that the Las Vegas casinos were backed by mob money. But at the time no house offered a table limit higher than $50 so if a gambler suspected a game was not on the up and up it was easier to chalk the loss up to an evening’s entertainment rather than raise a stink about it. Especially after an unknown assassin filled Siegel up with shot from a 30 ought 6 Springfield carbine while sitting in the living room of his girlfriend Virginia Hill’s house in Hollywood.
Things began to change in 1951 when Benny Binion came to town, buying the Eldorado Club and the Apache Hotel and fashioning them into Binion’s Horseshoe. The craps rolled in Binion’s new gambling hall were on tables with a limit of $500 which quickly escalated to $10,000. On some occasions table limits were dispensed with altogether. To instill confidence in gamblers Binion’s took to displaying $1 million on its casino floor and in 1970 initiated the World Series of Poker. The Binion’s name remains a gold standard for trust in the gaming industry.
Bill Harrah never bothered to go to Las Vegas at all. When he set out from his family’s pool hall in California in 1937 to open a bingo parlor in Nevada Harrah went instead to Reno, then famous as “the Divorce Capital of the World.” The venture scarcely lasted two weeks but as Harrah turned the key for the final time on the doomed enterprise little did he know that his kaput bingo game would be the foundation for the world’s largest gaming empire.
From his perch on Virginia Street in Reno Harrah worked tirelessly to rid Nevada casinos of corruption and crime. In 1959 he succeeded in pushing the Nevada Gaming Commission through the state legislature to license and regulate gaming properties, ushering in the era of “legitimate money” and the megaresort. Kirk Kerkorian opened Caesar’s Palace – still a legendary brand – in the 1960s and today nine of the ten largest hotels in America are in Las Vegas. The biggest of the big is the MGM Grand with nearly 8,000 rooms.
The rise of the corporate age in Las Vegas culminated in 1973 when Harrah’s became the first casino company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The days when a punter worried about getting an honest game in Las Vegas had gone the way of the riverboat faro dealer. While casino operators were busy putting together required public filings the public was more fascinated with the ways gamblers were attempting to cheat Vegas.
In 1978 Las Vegas lost its half-century monopoly on legalized gambling in the United States when the tired seaside resort of Atlantic City, New Jersey – within a short drive of 50 million Americans – legalized casino gambling. Big personalities immediately staked out their territories along the country’s most famous boardwalk; first entertainment impresario Merv Griffin and then New York real estate developer Donald Trump who opened three properties in the salt air.
In 1980, 38-year old Steve Wynn came to town. Wynn was raised working in his family’s bingo operation in Maryland but made his mark in the casino world by resurrecting the iconic Las Vegas nameplate – the Golden Nugget. Wynn was a revelation in Atlantic City, catering to an upscale clientele while his competitors welcomed caravans of buses from around the East Coast loaded with pensioners clutching rolls of quarters. The Golden Nugget Atlantic City became the top grossing casino in the market.
Wynn took his high-end marketing strategy back to the Las Vegas desert and proceeded to ignite a building boom on the Strip with the opening of The Mirage. He then upped the luxury ante with each successive property. Wynn’s Bellagio, with a $1.6 billion price tag and the mogul’s own expansive collection of fine art on display, hosted the hottest card room in town. So many professional poker players today call the Poker Room at the Bellagio their home base that they refer to it as “the Office.”
When he opened The Wynn it was the first casino to feature a car dealership – Maseratis and Ferraris only, thank you very much. Sticker prices ranged from $100,000 to $2 million. At first it was free for the unwashed masses to gawk at the supercars but the showroom became so crowded it quickly became necessary to charge $10 just to walk in and kick the tires. Does this sound like an operator who is interested in rigging a slot machine or counter weighing the roulette wheel?
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act passed in 1988 and swung the doors open to full-scale casino operations on Indian lands. By the 1990s Foxwoods in Ledyard, Connecticut, bankrolled by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, was humming as the largest gambling complex in the world with six casinos, 380 gaming tables and 6,300 slot machines. Nearby the Mohegan Tribe filled its 507-acre slice of south-central Connecticut with the second largest casino in the United States boasting 6,500 slot machines and 180 table games. Then the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville, Oklahoma trumped them both with a casino floor spread across half-a-million square feet that housed 7,200 electronic games. Today 240 native American tribes are taking bets in 460 gaming facilities. Casino gambling of one sort or another can be found in 39 states, all regulated to the point where the honesty of American land-based casino operators has become a non-issue.
Meanwhile as the 21st century dawned the biggest changes in American gaming since the paving of Las Vegas streets were on the horizon – Internet gambling. To navigate this new virtual casino floor American bettors could not rely on trusted names like Harrah and Trump and Wynn. The United States Congress saw to that with the passage of the shake-in-your-boots-sounding Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006.
Nowhere in the official verbiage, however, does it actually state that it is illegal to place a wager online within American borders. Instead the punitive threats are aimed at anyone attempting to operate an online betting operation and at banks that handle online gambling transactions. So online casinos can be accessed in the United States but only with operations run out of places usually encountered only in a James Bond saga – Malta, Gibraltar, Costa Rica.
So how is an American gambler expected to proceed in the virtual casino gaming world? Obviously the biggest risk is making a deposit with an online cashier that simply vanishes or withdrawal requests that are never forthcoming. And there are plenty of scam operations waiting to pull just such tricks. Fortunately finding trusted online casinos is not much different than researching other Internet businesses that happily gobble up your credit card information in advance of delivering goods. Look for trusted casinos that have established reputations in the online gambling community won over several years time and seek out houses backed by established business entities.
To identify these honest online operators in the United States American players must rely on the work of offshore regulating commissions. Also the market will generally run bad operators out of business within a year, a list of dissatisfied online complaints trailing them like discarded win tickets following a big upset in the Kentucky Derby. While you don’t want to be one of the unlucky players helping to drive a scam casino off the Internet you still want to be open to trying new and promising casinos with small amounts to test easy deposits and rapid payouts. Here are some that are establishing themselves as the Golden Nuggets and Caesars and Rivieras of the online gaming community.
Bet365 operating out of Stoke-on-Trent, England checks off all the boxes of reliability. Denise Stokes, whose father Peter is one of the richest owners in British football, acquired the domain name back in 2000 to set up the online gambling company. That was fourteen million customers, 200 countries, and websites in 17 languages ago. Bet365 books some £20 billion worth of bets each year; the company is now the largest employer in Stoke-on-Trent and Denise Stokes haunts Forbes magazine’s list of the richest people in the world.
Calvin Ayre was getting into the online betting business at the same time as Stokes, starting in his home in Saskatchewan, Canada in 2000. He called his sportsbook “Bodog” because it was short and catchy and did not limit him to only gambling for expansion down the road. Bodog became synonymous with sports betting on the Internet, so much so that it was a target when the United States leveled its legal guns at online casinos. Ayre sold his American block of business which now operates as Bovada.lv while the rest of the world still books bets with Bodog. Bovada, which also offers casino gaming, is one of the most respected names in the online gaming community.
BetOnline has been in the game since 2001, targeting North American gamblers. The Costa Rican outfit elbowed its way into the market with discounted wagering, offering -108 bets rather than the industry standard 9% take at -110. BetOnline also processes deposits from the full gamut of credit cards, sucking up extra fees from Mastercard and American Express that other books typically avoid. Its solid reputation followed BetOnline to Panama in 2006.
Slots.lv had its grand opening only in 2013 but has carved out a quick following among online gamers with its eye-popping matching bonuses and, as the name implies, an exhausting choice of online slots games to play. The source of its instant credibility? Slots.lv is backed by the impregnable folks at Bodog.
Grand Parker in Curacao is another young operator that concentrated on fast credit card approvals and even faster withdrawals to win over American players. At Grand Parker the bonuses don’t stop after the walk-in-the-door goodies. A little sweetener is added to each reload deposit. And Grand Parker is one of the few casinos with live dealing available to United States players.
TopBet began taking online bets from its headquarters in the British Virgin Islands in 2011 and to keep its betting windows open to United States punters was forced to engineer a domain switch from a .com to an .eu. There was no disruption to its estimable customer service, however. TopBet has won the attention of gamblers with its imaginative variety of sports betting options while maintaining an active casino game floor for those down times between kickoffs.
Silver Oak Casino out of Costa Rica is another operator that welcomes a full range of credit cards and gets American player deposits approved. Silver Oak has been keeping customers happy since 2008 with that most American of philosophies: Go Big or Go Home. The casino will match your deposit 100% up to $1,000 on each of your first ten deposits – a potential bankroll-fattening total of $10,000. Now that’s a way of doing business that would make old-timer Benny Binion smile.