Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Night Nevada Went Black

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The Night Nevada Went Black
The Night Nevada Went Black

You gotta say one thing for human nature: it wins every time.

Take prohibition. America's political leaders put their pointed heads together and decided to yield to the pressure of women across the country who wanted to stop their husbands, sons and uncles from drinking, so they passed legislation that prohibited alcohol from being sold.

That, of course, opened the floodgates for people like Al Capone and Dutch Schultz to load up their liquor trucks and warehouses with illegal booze and make a fortune in the process.

Prohibition didn't last very long. But during its heyday, there were murders, hijackings, bribery of law enforcement officers and prosecutors and enough corruption of public officials to keep the presses rolling and sell millions of newspapers.

Eventually and inevitably, human nature triumphed and the politicians retreated and gave the public what it wanted -- the right to purchase and drink alcohol.

Something similar to prohibition occurred in Nevada in 1910. By the end of the 19th century, political leaders in nearly every Western state or territory had passed laws prohibiting gambling. Only one state -- Nevada -- permitted gambling.

Nevadans have always prided themselves on being different. They resisted the pressures of the anti-gambling crowd as long as they could, but it finally caught up to them. In 1909 with great reluctance, the Nevada legislature joined the crowd and passed a law making it illegal to gamble in the Silver State.

The law stunned the citizens of Nevada. It went into effect on Oct. 1, 1910.

On Sept. 30, all the casinos and card rooms in Nevada were filled to capacity. Even people who had never gambled crowded into the dens of iniquity to see what a gambling establishment was all about. They drank, smoke, and bet their money on spinning wheels, cards, dice and green felt tables operated by smiling men with mustaches.

The games were so crowded you had to stand in line to make a wager. It was bedlam and the casino owners made more money on that final day of legal gambling than they would have made in a week of normal operations.

On Oct. 1, the lights went out in all the casinos. Nevada went black.

Well, sort of. The gambling went underground. There were people who knew where the illegal games were operating and word got around fast. All you had to do was ask and somebody would give you the correct information and directions on where to go.

The illegal games continued for the next two decades. Finally, tired of losing all those millions of tax dollars they would have collected, the state legislators passed laws that once again made it legal to gamble in Nevada. And it's been that way ever since.

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