Last month, the Center for Gaming Research posted a paper by Gaming Research Fellow Christopher Wetzel that answered a question I get a lot: Why doesn’t Nevada have a lottery?
Putting on my historian hat, my usual short answer is this: When Nevada legalized “wide-open” casino gambling in 1931, lotteries were still suffering from the stigma rightfully earned by the Louisiana Lottery. The corrupt dealings of “The Serpent,” as it was nicknamed, led to a national backlash against lotteries in the 1890s. A scant 40 years later, when Nevada legalized gambling, lotteries were still borderline repugnant to honest citizens (though illegal policy and numbers games flourished). Phil Tobin took a calculated risk when he introduced a bill to legalize commercial gambling in February 1931; adding a lottery would have made it a dead-end gambit.
By the time other states were legalizing lotteries (New Hampshire led the way in 1963), casino interests that didn’t welcome a state-run competitor were so well-entrenched that a lottery didn’t have much of a chance. So while other states opened their doors to casinos in the ensuing decades, Nevada kept the lottery out.
It wasn’t as if no one thought of the idea: Wetzel’s paper has an appendix listing the various bills that have been introduced to amend Nevada’s constitution to permit a lottery. Since 1967, the legislature has discussed the lottery possibility 14 times. What’s more, a lottery bill has been mooted in every legislative session since 2001.
That’s the how. As a sociologist, Wetzel looked closer at the why of it. You can read the paper for yourself, but I’ll share a few highlights. Essentially, he traces the back-and-forth of lottery opponents and proponents; each of them argues their position based on an understanding of markets as moral. Lottery opponents believe a state-sponsored gaming competitor will unfairly skew the market,
while proponents say that it would be a way of diversifying the state’s gambling offerings.
In any event, I’m glad to see one of the most interesting questions in gambling—why the U.S.’s supposed gambling capital doesn’t have a lottery—get some academic attention. Even if you don’t need ideas for your sociology term paper, it’s a good read about why you can’t buy lottery tickets in Nevada, and why you still probably won’t be able to after the next legislative session.
Follow David G. Schwartz via RSS.