Playing Blackjack and Poker in Prison in an Official Casino
Everything is Possible in Nevada. In the U.S. this was possible for 35 years, in the Nevada State Prison. Nevada, the American state where Las Vegas is located. A ride on a roller coaster on the roof of a casino, living in the sewer, sleeping in suites of tens of thousands of dollars a night, or ‘just’ climbing the Eiffel Tower.
But it can always be crazier
Because for years Nevada hosted perhaps the most secret casino in the world. Hardly anyone was allowed in.
This is partly due to the place where the hidden casino was located. The most secret casino of Nevada was located in the Nevada State Prison in the town of Carson City. Yes, you read it correctly, in a prison!
When the prison was out of business, we hear you thinking. The bizarre answer is: No. The Nevada State Prison was full of convicted prisoners, from its opening in 1862 until its closure in 2012. And from 1932 to 1967 there was a real prison casino. Only accessible to the prisoners. Incredulous true.
When Gambling became Legal
On March 19, 1931, gambling became legal in Nevada. Nowadays, you won’t get a casino licence at all if there’s a hint of crime around you. The slightest misdemeanour on a criminal record makes it impossible to get through the strict screening of the Gaming Control Board.
How did the prisoners in the state prison manage to start a real casino in the jail?
Simply because the Gaming Control Board did not exist at all in the thirties. The supervision of gambling – as far as it was concerned – was left to the local sheriff. And the sheriff of Carson City was fine at the time if the prisoners would take a gamble.
Keep them Buzzy and Out of Trouble
The idea behind the casino was that it would keep the prisoners busy and keep them out of trouble. One politician, Howard McKissick, even suggested that gambling would prevent ‘homosexual problems’. Well, different times.
The Safest Casino in Nevada
The casino at the Nevada State Prison was very complete. You could play poker, blackjack and even craps. And you could bet on the results of sports matches. In addition, there were a few other gambling games, such as the card game Gin Rummy. The casino was run by prisoners, for prisoners.
The prison casino was perhaps the safest casino in all of Nevada. Cheating was almost non-existent – also logical when you know that your opponents are trapped for violent robberies and brutal murders.
The Close Down
The casino was closed down in April 1967. A new prison director, Warden Carl Hocker, was appointed. Before that, Hocker had been prison director in the state of California and didn’t like the prison casino in Nevada. In the local press he said at the time:
“In my opinion, is gambling in prison a embarrassment, and it’s by no means meaningful. We are seeking to displace it with constructional, healthier endeavours that will promote a proper, healthy frame of mind.”
Instead of playing an exciting game of blackjack or craps, the prisoners could now make handicrafts, chess, shuffles and bead necklaces.
In the meantime, not only is the casino closed, but the entire prison complex. It was very outdated. This marked the end of a very special prison, the only one in the world that ever had a more or less legal casino.