Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz/Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
Butte Hall 317 (916-898-6220)
[A "version" of this presentation is also available on the WWW @:
8 April 1996 [1]



"Gambling is now bigger than baseball, more powerful than a platoon of Schwarzeneggers, Spielbergs, Madonnas and Oprahs. More Americans went to casinos than to major league ballparks in 1993. Ninety-two million visits!" (The New York Times Magazine, July 17, 1994) and "Nevada's major hotel-casinos grossed $12 billion in fiscal 1995 and reported annual net, pre-federal tax profits of $1.28 billion....In the previous fiscal year the clubs took in $11 billion and had a pre-tax profit of $1.2 billion...." (Reno Gazette-Journal, February 5, 1996, page 4F)


Nevada legalized "gambling" in 1931 and it wasn't until 1978 that New Jersey legalized gambling in Atlantic City. After 1978, gambling accelerated at an incredible pace and it is a big business, with staggering dollar amounts: on a typical day in the mid-1990s, consumers spent $627,213 every minute of every day on all types of commercial "gambling" in the USA and all of these commercial "gaming" ventures combined made a profit of $56,970 per minute! If you wish, you can legally gamble (or be "entertained") in 48 of the 50 states and only Hawai'i and Utah have no legal gambling activities. You can: (a) go to 10 states that have either land-based or riverboat casinos; (b) participate in state-sanctioned lotteries in 36 states and the District of Columbia (including multiple state lotteries); (c) go to numerous local card rooms; (d) or go to 20 states that have some sort of Indian Nation gambling. (Some 150 tribes have signed, or are negotiating, casino compacts with states for forms of gambling. The nearest location for us is in Colusa.) A recent addition to gambling comes via Cyberspace and as an article in The San Francisco Chronicle of March 30, 1996 pointed out: "A year ago, gambling and the Net were almost total strangers. Today, their cyberspace marriage has resulted in more than 200 gambling-related sites" (page A5).


"The casino entertainment industry has experienced an unprecedented surge in revenue growth in the past five years that outpaces nearly all other industry groups. Since 1990, casino revenues have doubled and now exceed $16.5 billion. The growth is driven by expansion of traditional land-based casino destinations and the continued development of new riverboat and Indian reservation casinos throughout the United States" (P. Satre, 1995, Harrah's Survey of Casino Entertainment, page 4).

In my anthropological opinion, four events contribute to today's development of gambling in the USA: (a) State lotteries, beginning in New Hampshire in 1964 (coupled with an economic recession); (b) the entrance of the Holiday Inn Corporation into gaming in 1978; (c) the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by the US Congress in 1988; (d) and human nature. Indian Nation Casino activities have been called the "new Buffalo" and the small Indian casino is virtually a thing of the past. Gambling, called "entertainment" by some, has made the transformation from being a vice to a major (and growing) industry. Satre, an executive with a publicly-traded company (Promus) that has 15 casinos in 8 states (and has expanded to New Zealand), wrote about the industry in 1993: "Socialization, entertainment and winning are the three major reasons why people game at casinos (page 11)." In my own opinion, however, individuals not only go for gambling but they also go to try and win and because they wish to be "a somebody." In 1995, an estimated 30,000,000 people visited Las Vegas and in February 1996, eight Nevada gaming companies "donated $200,000 to help attack problem gambling, an illness that affects 2 to 5 percent of the adult population" (Reno Gazette Journal, February 6, 1996, page 3E). [2]


We appear to have evolved into a species which believes in the relationship between gambling and guests: if you build it, they will come and the proliferation of new gambling locations is amazing. A poignant statement was made in 1994 by Andersen on January 10, 1994, in Time magazine (page 51): "It is now acceptable for the whole family to come along to Las Vegas that's because the values of America have changed, not those of Las Vegas [STRESS added]." Please note that Urbanowicz believes in the words of Steve Wynn, Chairman of Mirage Resorts Inc., and responsible for the Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio (to open in 1998) in Las Vegas: "If you wanna make money in a casino, own one" but there are still problems with this as well! Harrah's established itself in New Zealand but a 1995 venture into New Orleans, by a unit of Harrah's (Harrah's Jazz Co.), failed:

"There is no shortage of reasons why Harrah's Jazz Co., the partnership that was formed to develop and $855 million land-based casino in New Orleans was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late November [1995]. But some are more relevant to the overall casino industry than others. Chief among them is whether casinos are really meant to succeed in cities that are already well-positioned in the minds of tourists and locals as something other than a gaming destination." (Charles Anderer, 1996, "What New Orleans Tells Us" in International Gaming & Wagering Business, Vol. 17, No. 1, page 6.)

A similar refrain appeared in The Sacramento Bee of February 4, 1996, where (in a "Special Report" on Gambling in California, one could read: "Counting on economic windfall for community is a sucker's bet, critics say" (page A12). Problems are also appearing in Indian Nation ventures, as the following from Rick Hill points out:

"In retrospect, 1995 was the Post-Cabazon year we all knew was coming. It was year number one of the increasing backlash that poses a serious threat to the success of Indian gaming, tribal autonomy and economic growth of tribes." (Indian Gaming, January 1996, Vol. 6, No. 1, page 5)

Nevertheless, gambling on the gaming industry appears to interest stockholders. On March 4, 1996, a survey of 417 companies was published in Fortune (Vol. 133, No. 4: 90-98) and based on "eight attributes of reputation" analyzed, Fortune listed two casino firms among the top twenty "most admired" US companies: Mirage ranked #8 and The Promus Companies, Harrah's parent organization, ranked #18. Please note that (a) Mirage was not even listed last year, (b) Mirage Resorts was ranked #1 in the category of "Quality of Products of Services" and (c) Coca-Cola (which was ranked #3) last year is now the #1 "admired" company in America! What impact will computers and Cyberspace have on the current industry? Individuals are looking at creating "computer slots" to make an interactive video game to wager on! ["Casino Data Is Spinning A New Line Of Slot Machines" in The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 1996] and computer technology is being introduced which will allow casinos "to track games and players--right down to the cards played and the amounts bet" (Reno Gazette-Journal, March 28, 1996, page 3C); finally, the potential of Cyberspace has yet to be realized: "Gaming machines need to be more fun and more interactive" were the words from a recent "Gaming Business Exposition" (Reno Gazette-Journal, March 26, 1996, page 4E). There are, however, definite problems when gambling is considered as gaming, as a 1995 series of articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out (and condensed in the April 1996 Reader's Digest as "Gambling's Toll in Minnesota: When A State Legalizes Gambling, Everybody Pays." In addition to numerous tragic details of the effects of "gambling" one reads that "for Minnesota the social costs of gambling are emerging in vivid and tragic detail" (page 105). Individuals should ponder these words and gamble on the future: the game is developing as you read these words!


Eadington, W. 1992, Recent National Trends in the Casino Gaming Industry and their implications for the Economy of Nevada (Reno: University of Nevada).

Hill, R. 1994., The Future of Indian Gaming. Cultural Survival Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 4: page 61.

Johnston, David, 1992, Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business (Doubleday)

Nickerson, N.P. 1995, Tourism and Gambling Content Analysis. Annals of Tourism Research, 22, 1: 53-66.

Norricks, J, 1984, The Poker Story: An American Subculture. The University Journal, CSU, Chico, Vol. 24: 29-31.

Smith, J, 1995, Running Scared: The Life And Treacherous Times of Las Vegas King Steve Wynn (New York).

Spanier, D. 1992., Welcome To The Pleasuredome: Inside Las Vegas (University of Nevada Press).

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1. © by Charles F. Urbanowicz: For the Anthropology Forum at CSU, Chico on April 11, 1996.


2. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the resident population of the United States, projected to April 8, 1996, was approximately 264,589,191 [].


This web document for the Anthropology Forum at California State University, Chico, was created by Charlie Urbanowicz on April 8, 1996, and was last modified on April 9, 1996; it is maintained by Ms. Nanci Ellis, Department of Anthropology Webmaster. Urbanowicz can be contacted via e-mail by clicking here; Ellis may be contacted by clicking here.





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