The Casino

Between 1932 and 1967 a Nevada style casino operated inside the Nevada State Prison. For 35 years this inmate-run gambling operation coexisted in a place where vice is normally prohibited. There is no other example in the history of penology in the United States where casino gambling was allowed. Indeed, this uniquely Nevada experience seems completely at odds with prison theory at the time.

References to “legalized” gaming in the Nevada State Prison are not exactly correct. The prison was never issued a gaming license, or in any way recognized by Nevada gaming authorities. Rather, the casino was more or less ignored and tolerated. If an application for license had been made, it surely would have been denied based on the unsavory character of the applicants, not to mention their criminal history.

The casino was self-policed. The inmates who ran the games did not tolerate cheating or strong-arming for fear of getting shut down by the warden. A percentage of the take was deposited in the inmate welfare fund, an act which added legitimacy to this “immoral habit”. During its heyday, the prison casino included blackjack, craps, poker, and sports betting.

Throughout its 35 years, various wardens either tolerated the casino or considered it a worthwhile distraction for the inmates. This changed in 1967 when a bill in the State Legislature to prohibit prison gaming was defeated in the Senate. Shortly thereafter, the State Prison Board used its authority to close the casino. The sandstone building which housed the casino was demolished.