Whether people played Solitaire in Las Vegas Casinos is one of the most frequently asked questions about Vegas Solitaire. This article will try to answer that question based on facts and “first-hand” references.
Gambling was Everywhere
“Every town had a game going on somewhere…casinos were as common as the corner store in most communities.” – The History of America’s Secret Casinos, documentary film.
Gambling was often illegal, with on-again, off-again ‘permission’ to have a good time or not. To stay ahead of the game, gambling houses had a system to alert one another that a raid was headed their way. The targeted house became raid-ready: a 4-corner system of pulleys would raise the entire game floor, tables, people, drinks, and all, thus becoming the ceiling, leaving an empty room for the coming raid. Whether it was kickbacks or just for kicks, cops looked the other way. “Nothing to see here, boss.”
The legendary boxing promoter, Tex Rickard, got his gambling start during the Nome Gold Rush, 1899-1909. His gambling house offered Solitaire, as cited in “The Magnificent Rube: the life and gaudy times of Tex Rickard” by Samuel Charles. In 1904, he moved to Goldfield, Nevada, and opened the Northern Saloon, where he continued as a casino boss. The joint had 14 gaming tables, 24 dealers, and a dozen bartenders working each shift. It’s not a far reach to assume he offered Solitaire here, too.
With a mere 157 miles separating Goldfield from the newly-incorporated town of Las Vegas, it would be no surprise if Solitaire found its way into the cowboy town’s “sawdust clubs.”
Las Vegas Opens its Doors
Throughout the nation, “gentlemen’s clubs,” restaurants with secret back rooms, laundromats, and flower shops have all been gambling house fronts. But the cat-and-mouse game of facades and fake businesses finally ended in 1931 when Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling. Distant, dry, and unlikely to bloom, Las Vegas went boom!
Soon thereafter, smart gamblers, prospectors, and casino bosses settled into Vegas. The gold rushes were over, but the thrill of big money, of hitting paydirt on a felt table instead of a mud bank, had mass appeal. A mecca for all sorts of hustlers, Las Vegas became a magnet, drawing to itself every size, shape, and form of con artist, gambler, and ‘wise guy.’
“…with 1906 gambling bans repealed, the “Pair-O-Dice Club” opened on Highway 91. This dusty highway would later be known as the famous Las Vegas Strip. The name allegedly comes courtesy of club owner and dirty L.A. cop Guy McAfee. McAfee’s influence is seen today, with “the Strip” in Las Vegas being McAfee’s reference to “Sunset Strip” in Los Angeles.
“Thugs from everywhere filtered into Las Vegas. The town quickly expanded by five casinos, including McAfee’s Golden Nugget. By 1944, Liberace was making his debut in Las Vegas.” -excerpt, The Real Deal About Vegas Solitaire.
Organized crime fueled the growth of Vegas, funding such projects as The Flamingo, the town’s first “carpet joint,” in 1946. Hailing from back east, Hoffa-led mobsters were already familiar with Solitaire as a gambling house game. After all, they had their hands in and hands out (for “protection”) in every manner of New York gambling. Mob bosses from Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City migrated to “Sin City” as well. Much like the name “Canfield,” it wasn’t long before Las Vegas became synonymous with gambling.
Was Vegas Solitaire once played in Las Vegas?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions on LasVegasAdvisor.com. In response, David G. Schwartz, Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and the 2006 author of Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling maintains there is no evidence of Solitaire ever being a casino game in the past 150 years. However, there is evidence to the contrary.
Of note, in 1975, R. Lesser, a young high school’ wiz-kid,’ taught a computer how to play 100 games of Solitaire in nine seconds. In an interview, he said,
“Las Vegas Solitaire is a popular casino game where the player pays $50 and goes through the deck once trying to string cards in order of number. The player gets $5 for every card successfully played on the Foundation.”
His statement, “a popular casino game,” indicates Solitaire’s presence on Vegas casino floors.
In a 1977 newspaper Q&A, the Strip Dealers School was asked if Solitaire was offered, and they answered ‘no.’ However, eyewitnesses saw it being dealt at The Maxim on E. Flamingo Road. Granted, the casino opened in 1977, so perhaps the dealers’ school wasn’t quite up to date on the local happenings.
Fans of the Las Vegas Advisor website have also stated Seven Card Solitaire (aka Klondike) was being played at the Sahara, the Riviera, or both (reports vary a bit.)
The game was too labor-intensive to warrant a 1:1 dealer-to-player ratio. Over time, Solitaire was relegated to a quiet corner on the casino floors before it faded into the night. Some say it is still offered in casinos, particularly in Reno, but those details are not fully known.
What we do know is that R. Lesser started something with that invention of his…, and the Vegas Solitaire we know today ranks as one of the most played games of all time. Did the name come from Las Vegas Solitaire? You can bet on it.
- 1957 – The Magnificent Rube
- 1966 – Morning Assignment
- 1975 – Brighton youth teaches a computer to Gamble
- 1976 – Fundamentals of Data Structures
- 1979 – The creative cheater’s guide to Solitaire
- 1983 – Pascal Solitaire
- 1989 – History and Humanities
- 2000 – The art of Gambling
- 2001 – Official Rules of Card Games
- 2011 – Some casinos offer a Solitaire version that uses Vegas rules
For more resources visit my Solitaire Bibliography on Solitaire and Gambling