When Does It End? Urbanowicz & "Gaming" (Again!)

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz/Professor of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400

Work: 530-898-6220/Home: 530-343-8180

e-mail: curbanowicz@csuchico.edu

or home page: http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban

9 November 1997[1]


"The carnival city model requires constant and expensive reinvention to remain competitive" (David Barringer, 1997, "The New Urban Gamble" in The American Prospect: A Journal For The Liberal Imagination (Sep-Oct), No. 34: 28-40, page 32.

The United States of America has a lengthy history of interest in gaming (called "gambling" or "entertainment" to some) and "gaming" generates a tremendous amount of revenue, has great visibility, and is creating some interesting partnerships. Four events contributed to today's domestic gambling: (#1) State lotteries, beginning in New Hampshire in 1964; (#2) Holiday Inn entering gaming in 1978; (#3) the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act by the U.S. Congress in 1988; (#4) and human nature. It will be interesting to "bet" on the future of legalized "events of chance" in the USA.


My wife and I left Chico in April 1997 and 46 days (and 10,000 miles later), we had visited 26 academic institutions and an equal number of "gaming" establishments, including the largest gaming facility in the world: the Mashantucket Pequot Nation Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. (Note: we also stopped by the tremendous development going on in Tunica, Mississippi.)


Long before Europeans came to the Americas it is quite clear that Native Americans partook of "games of chance." Patolli has been documented and 125 miles west of Cancún, at Chichén Itzá, one can see the largest "ball court" in all of Mesoamerica, measuring 272 feet in length. Contemporary Indian Nation activities have been called the "new Buffalo" and the small Indian casino is virtually a thing of the past, and some "small" Native American casinos closed in 1997 (Lummi and Nooksack in Washington State).

Gambling ("entertainment" to some) has been transformed from a vice to a major industry. An executive with a publicly-traded company wrote in 1993: "Socialization, entertainment and winning are the three major reasons why people game at casinos." In my opinion, however, individuals not only go for gambling but we also go to try and win and because we also wish to be "a somebody." As of this writing, legalized gambling occurs in 48 of the 50 states of the United States of America. The records indicate that games of chance were always a part of the American heritage and we should know that although gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, it was only in 1910 that gambling was declared illegal in Nevada. From 1910 to 1931, Americans did without "legal" gambling, but that all changed in 1931 and after 1978, gambling accelerated and it is a big business, with staggering dollar amounts: in 1996, Americans wagered some $5,430,070 every-hour-of-every-day or ~$90,544/minute!

"Consumer spending on commercial games (gross gambling revenue, or GGR) rose by $2,540 billion, or 5.6%, to a record $47.623 billion. ... in [thepast] 36 months consumer spending on commerical games [read "gambling or gaming!"] has risen by $12.3 billion--or two and a half times the amount consumers spend on admissions to movie theaters." ("The Gross Annual Wager in 1996" in International Gaming & Wagering Business, August 1997, pages 4-16, pages 13-15)

In comparison with other businesses, the $47 billion USA gaming revenue may be compared with AT&T (which had sales of $52 billion in 1996 as well as Texaco's $44 billion in sales). Legalized gambling (#1) generates a great deal of revenue, (#2) has a great deal of visibility, and (#3) is creating interesting partnerships: entertainment (read "casino") organizations are affiliating with one another across the continent. Corporations, such as Promus, are affiliating themselves with Indian Nation casinos in Arizona (Ak-Chin Indian Community), Alabama (Poarch Band of Creek Indians), Washington State (Upper Skagit Indian Tribe), as well as California (Pala Band of Mission Indians), and the Cherokee of North Carolina. The "visibility" (and the competition) for the industry should be obvious to all: from the bombarding messages of state-lotteries, to the mega-resorts being developed in Nevada (and other regions), there is growth and demand for the consumer dollar. From 1931 until 1978, Nevada was alone. Since then, there has been growth and there is competition and there will be adaptation to the changing environment(s).

"In the next wave of Las Vegas' evolution as a vacation destination, tourists will come for an experience that combines entertainment with education, a top gaming executive said Tuesday. 'The aging of American consumers will be increasingly important for the development of 'edutainment.' They want to see and learn something with strong product value. They want to see something they can't find in their hometown, but they don't want to travel very far,' said Glenn Schaeffer, president and chief financial office of Circus Circus Entertainment Inc." (Monica Caruso, 1997, "Education Plays Bigger Role At Resorts." Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 15, page 1D & 2D)


Urbanowicz still follows the words of Steve Wynn (Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio): "If you wanna make money in a casino, own one." In the Darwinian sense, competition is intense and some will survive and some will not:

"Several Las Vegas casino-hotel companies are expected to post good results for the third quarter despite intense competition for market share.... But for other operators in Atlantic City, N.J., and riverboat markets, the fight for patrons was a drain on profitability...." (The Wall Street Journal, October 13, 1997, page B7C)

Nevada vs. New Jersey (or really just Atlantic City), and both against the rest of the nation. Northern Nevada vs. Southern Nevada. Downtown Reno vs. locations blocks away. The Las Vegas "strip" vs. "downtown" (and the "Fremont Street) experience. (With almost 100,000 rooms in Las Vegas right now, and an additional 30,000 scheduled to be built by the year 2000, competition is intense) Traditional casinos vs. Native American Casinos; there is also competition between land-based-casinos and riverboat casinos; table-games vs. machine games; "old" games (both table and machine) vs. new machines that are being developed; and, perhap, finally, "players" (or those seeking "entertainment") vs. casino operators. And-so-forth!! I am reminded of the words of the Anthropologist Gregory Bateson: "The unit of survival [or adaptation] is organism plus environment. We are learning by bitter experience that the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself." (Steps To An Ecology Of Mind, 1972, page 483). (For another informative Gregory Bateson site, please click here.)

I am not too sure when and where it will end since it is not a game or entertainment, but a big business. As with any big business, it is also a gamble!


DeArment, Robert K., 1982, Knights Of The Green Cloth: The Saga of the Frontier Gamblers (University of Oklahoma Press).

Eadington, W., 1992, Recent National Trends In The Casino Industry And Their Implications For The Economy Of Nevada (Reno: University of Nevada).

Findlay, J.M., 1986, People Of Chance: Gambling In American Society From Jamestown To Las Vegas (Oxford University Press).

Hayano, David M., 1982, The Life And Work Of A Professional Card Player (University of California Press).

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

Holden, Anthony, 1990, Big Deal: A Year As A Professional Poker Player (Viking).

Jackson, Susan, 1997, Can The Pequots Stay On A Roll? Business Week, July 21, page 38.

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

Jones, Rex, 1981, Poker And The American Dream. In The American Dimension: Cultural Myths And Social Realities (2nd edition), Edited by William Arens and Susan Montague, pages 27-35.

Koughan, Martin, 1997, Easy Money. Mother Jones, July-August, pages 32-37.

Mandel, M. (et al.), 1994, The Entertainment Economy. Business Week, March 14, pages 58-64.

Moehring, Eugene R., 1989, Resort City In The Sunbelt: Las Vegas, 1930-1970 (University of Nevada Press).

Nickerson, N.P., 1995, Tourism And Gambling Content Analysis. Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 22, No. 1: 53-66.

Orwall, Bruce, 1996, Legal Gambling Revenues Set Records In 1995, But Pace Of Growth Slowed. The Wall Street Journal, July 29, page A5A.

Rose, I. Nelson, 1992, The Future Of Indian Gaming. Journal Of Gambling Studies, Vol. 4, No. 4, pages 383-399.

Shapiro, Joseph P. (et al.), 1996, America's Gambling Fever. U.S. News & World Report, January 15, pages 52-61.

Shute, Nancy, 1997, Fake & Rake. Smithsonian, August, pages 64-71.

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

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

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1996a, Gambling Or Gaming: Which Is It? (For the April 11 Anthropology Forum at California State University, Chico.)

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1996b, An Anthropologist Looks At The Geography of Gaming. (For the December 8 Meeting of the Northern California Geographical Society, Chico, California.)

Urbanowicz, Charles F., 1996c, To Gamble, Or Not To Gamble: Is There A Question? (For the December 10, 1996 meeting of the Chico Breakfast Lions Club, Chico, California.)

Vlasic, Bill and Ronald Grover, 1997, The High Rollers Hit Motown. Business Week, September 8, pages 62-64.

Yoshishashi, Pauline, 1993, The Gambling Industry Rakes It In As Casinos Spread Across The U.S. The Wall Street Journal, October 22, page 1 and page 9.

# # #

[1] © For the November 9, 1997 Meeting of the Northern California Geographical Society, Chico, California. Today's presentation is based on continuing research (including a presentation made on December 8, 1996 to this group) as well as earlier papers. On the WWW, this presentation (with additional references, and links) is available at http://www.csuchico.edu/~curban/Gaming/GAMING_Nov'97.html. Today's presentation builds towards my thoughts for a presentation entitled "Gambling (Gaming) In The United States Of America From An Anthropological Perspective" for The 14th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, hosted by The College of William & Mary, Williamsburgh, Virginia, July 26-August 1, 1998. A Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Chico, I received my B.A. (1967) from Western Washington University and the M.A. (1969) and Ph.D. (1972) from the University of Oregon. I have been at CSU, Chico since 1973 and teach various Cultural Anthropology courses. Recently chosen as one of the five "Master Teachers" for 1997-1999 at CSU, Chico, I will share ideas and teaching techniques with various faculty at the university. To return to the beginning of this paper, please click here.

To go to the Home Page of Urbanowicz, please click here and to go to the Department of Anthropology Home Page, please click here. To go to the Home Page for the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, please click here and to go to the Home Page of California State University, Chico, please click here. This page was last updated by Urbanowicz on 4 November 1997; and thank you for all of your "clicking" patience.