12th −15th Century: The Aztecs of central Mexico participate in numerous games, including Ullamaliztli, a ball and hoop game, and Patolli, a board game. Gambling was endemic to both.
Late 18th − Early 19th Century: Lotteries prevalent throughout early America. Because there were few means of taxation and fewer banks, lotteries were seen as an acceptable way to raise funds for projects that benefited the common good. Many hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities were funded in this way, including, depending on whom you believe, such august institutions as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
1824: Without authorization from Congress Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun creates the Office of Indian Affairs. In 1847 the office is renamed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and two years later is transferred to the Department of the Interior.
1848 −1855: The high-stakes gambling venture known as the California Gold Rush lures over a quarter of a million Americans to the West Coast.
1876: Battle of Little Bighorn: Everyone knows how this one turned out, but what’s often overlooked is that the massacre took place eight years after the Sioux Treaty of 1868. These treaties were a key component of the BIA playbook and sought to accomplish three things 1) bring an end to the Indian Wars 2) displace Indians onto reservations 3) recognize tribes as sovereign nations. George Armstrong Custer had led a gold mining expedition into the Black Hills in 1874—land that had been ceded to the Sioux as part of the treaty—and they were not happy to see him again. Not to state the obvious, but Custer was a notorious gambler.
1878: Rampant corruption leads to states criminalizing lotteries. Louisiana becomes the only state in which it is legal to operate a lottery.
1882: The National Police Gazette reports that more money is bet on the game of faro than any other game of chance. Faro is a card game that was extremely popular in the West, particularly during the Gold Rush. All those woodcuts of cowboys playing poker? Faro.
1895: A San Francisco automobile mechanic by the name of Charles Fey invents the first mechanical slot machine. The three-reel machine weighed 100 pounds and paid out a jackpot of ten nickels. Fey’s invention is on display in Reno at the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant. Fey’s second effort featured images of fruit that are still used today. Slot machines were popular in saloons, but because jackpots couldn’t be regulated, they were paid out by the bartenders, usually in the form of drinks. Slot machines were often confused with another mechanical marvel of the age: the vending machine. Enterprising chewing game manufacturers capitalized on this confusion by making their machines resemble slot machines. Although the product disappeared a long time ago, the symbol for BAR chewing gum is still in use on slot machines today.
1900: 1,000 registered faro houses in the Arizona Territory. Faro, it should be noted, offers no competitive advantage to the faro bank or house, which led to widespread cheating and even more widespread mayhem.
1907: The game of faro is outlawed in the Arizona Territory.
1910: Nevada becomes the last state in the West to outlaw gambling.
1918: The last battle between the U.S. Army and American Indians takes place in Southern Arizona.
1931: The Northern Club (formerly the Las Vegas Coffee House before the repeal of Prohibition) becomes the first establishment in Las Vegas to open a licensed casino after Nevada legalizes gambling.
1946: The gangster Bugsy Seigel fills the Flamingo Casino with slot machines to keep the wives and girlfriends of serious gamblers entertained.
1963: Bally invents the first electromechanical slot machine, allowing for greater accuracy and bigger payouts. Bally’s innovation makes the lever obsolete.
1964: New Hampshire legalizes a state-run lottery. New York swiftly follows suit. Arguments ensue as to whether a lottery is a game of chance or a form of taxation, an argument that persists today.
1974: Fortune Coin, the first video slot machine, is introduced. The public, however, is slow to accept the new technology.
1977: New Jersey permits legalized gambling in Atlantic City.
1981: Seminole Tribe vs. Sheriff Butterworth. In this landmark decision, federal courts ruled that if a state sanctions some form of legalized gambling, tribes in that state cannot be prohibited from gambling on their own lands. A similar ruling was upheld six years later in 1987 (California vs. Cabazon). The key issue here is the federal government’s recognition of tribes as sovereign nations.
1988: Congress passes Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. With the passage of IGRA, states and tribes are compelled to negotiate. Ironically, tribes were opposed to the act because it imposed limitations on the scope of gaming operations, but today it’s the states who are contesting that IGRA doesn’t go far enough, i.e. they want a bigger piece of the casino pie. IGRA’s biggest opponent? The state of Nevada.
1998: California Governor Pete Wilson negotiates a compact with the Pala Band of Mission Indians in San Diego, CA, authorizing Las Vegas-style gambling. Dissatisfied with the limits of the compact, Proposition 5 was added to the ballot at a cost of $90 million. When Proposition 5 passed, it lowered the age of gambling to 18 and eliminated limits to the number of games a casino could operate.
1999: California Supreme Court kills Proposition 5. Governor Pete Wilson negotiates compacts with 61 tribes to authorize Class III gaming on tribal lands.
2000: Proposition 1A, affirming the rights of tribes to operate casino-style gaming on tribal land, passed by California voters.
2003: The Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians buys the U.S. Grant, a luxury hotel in downtown San Diego named for the President who presided over the Indian Wars. The tribe does not rename the hotel.
2005: Residence Inn Capitol becomes the first Indian-owned casino in Washington, D.C. Its location is ideal for visiting the Museum of the Native American and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
2006: Seminole Tribe of Florida buys the Hard Rock Café franchise, including 68 properties around the world. Tribal representative declares: “Our ancestors sold Manhattan for trinkets. We’re going to buy Manhattan back, one hamburger at a time.”
2009: The naming rights to a sports arena on the campus of San Diego State University are awarded to the Kumeyaay tribe. SDSU’s team name? The Aztecs.