The History of Nevada Poker
Nevada’s history with gambling in general precedes its statehood. Before its inclusion into the US in 1864, prospectors were known to pause in their hunt for gold in order to play games of chance in the not-yet-Silver-State. Even an 1861 law in the then-territory did very little to slow down the gambling.
So, in 1869, the Nevada legislature passed the first law to allow gambling throughout the state. Due to the Comstock Lode’s discovery ten years prior, the largest town in the new state was Virginia City, which reached a peak population of 25,000 in the 1870s. Needless to say, the mining town was also a major center for gambling in Nevada.
Legal gambling has existed continuously in the state since then, save for a 22-year period between 1909 and 1931 when reformers managed to outlaw it. Even during that period, many citizens and town governments ignored the ban and issued licenses for cardrooms, among other venues. Games like bridge and whist were common in these establishments, particularly in Reno.
Poker was part of the offerings at many large Nevada properties during this time. Even if it was relegated to a suite in the hotel (like the Grand Hotel in Reno), poker players could find games fairly readily.
Poker’s first major move into the limelight occurred in 1972. Benny Binion had founded the World Series of Poker in 1970 after Tom Moore and Vic Vickrey had hosted a similar event in Reno the previous year. However, it wasn’t until Thomas Preston, the flamboyant Texan known as Amarillo Slim, won the title and became a celebrity that poker attained its first bit of public notice.
The World Series of Poker became the calling card for the game. Between its television appearances on ESPN and its large prize for first place, the WSOP was a known commodity even among non-poker players.
However, poker rooms did not become must-haves for most Nevada casinos until 2003. In that year, the aptly-named Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event and $2.5 million prize. Because of his name and the fact that he qualified for the event for a mere $40 (via a satellite), the entire world took notice. Thus, the period known informally as the “poker boom” began.
At the time, Nevada was home to roughly 58 poker rooms and 383 poker tables in play. By the end of 2008, five years later, there were a whopping 115 poker rooms and 915 poker tables available in the Silver State.
The boom came to an abrupt halt after a federal crackdown on the unregulated online poker rooms operating throughout the US. The poker craze began to decline, and has mostly sunk back to pre-boom levels.
Nevada was undeterred, though, and allowed online poker to become legal in 2011. It further expanded the opportunity when it pledged to join the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement, or MSIGA, in 2013. The first sites launched in the same year.
WSOP.com remains the only active online poker site in Nevada to this day. South Point’s Real Gaming maintains an active license, but does not have any games available and appears to have let its domain expire. Ultimate Poker, the site which was actually first to debut, no longer operates in Nevada.