Even though gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, decades would pass before bettors would be able to wager on sports across the state. In fact, while we associate sports betting in Las Vegas and Reno with huge sportsbooks located at the biggest casinos, this is a relatively recent trend. It wasn’t until the 1970s that gamblers could walk into a casino sportsbook and place a wager on a boxing match or other sports event.
Sports betting was illegal in Nevada until 1951, when Congress removed the restrictions on wagering on sports. The first sportsbooks were called Turf Clubs and they operated independently of the major casinos, with the hotels agreeing to allow turf clubs as long as they didn’t have other forms of gambling like slot machines or table games. Even though betting on sports was legal in Las Vegas, turf clubs had to pay a 10 percent tax on all bets. This meant that sports bets placed at turf clubs, such as Del Mar or the Rose Bowl, had a high vigorish (the amount that a sportsbook takes back on any winning bet).
This changed in the 1970s after the tax on sportsbooks was reduced to two percent (and eventually to 0.25 percent in 1983). The lower tax burden meant that sportsbooks could potentially be much more profitable (and offer betting with lower vigorish), meaning that casinos wanted in on the action. It allowed the sportsbooks to compete with illegal bookies, as they could easily absorb the .25 percent tax on each bet and not have to pass it on to customers.
Regulations were changed to allow sportsbooks to exist in casinos and in 1975 the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino became the first casino to offer a sportsbook and other establishments quickly followed suit. Many of these sportsbooks were relegated to out-of-way places, such as the Castaways and its now famous “Hole-in-Wall Sportsbook.” In 1976, the Stardust changed the sports betting scene with its plush setting, offering plenty of seating and numerous television sets. Las Vegas – and sports betting – hasn’t been the same since.