History of Reno Gambling
Mining was at first a very humble industry, its roots dating back to 1850, when gold was discovered near Virginia City. In 1859, one of the greatest mining bonanzas in the world erupted with the discovery of silver and the Comstock Lode. Closest to the Truckee Meadows, there was at this time no significant link between Virginia City and the
California Trail; that is, until a man named Charles Fuller built a log toll bridge across the Truckee river in that same year. A small community grew up near this bridge, and after two years, Fuller sold the bridge to Myron Lake who enhanced the settlement with the addition of a grist-mill, kiln, livery stable and hotel with eatery. Dubbed “River’s Crossing” and then later “Lake’s Crossing,” in 1864 it became the largest city in the county.
Reno Expansion, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Gaming Industry
With the birth of the first transcontinental railroad, which connected the Central Pacific Railroad with the Union Pacific line, and the establishment of a depot at Lake’s Crossing, the town of Reno officially came to be on May 13, 1868. It was named in honor of Major General Jessie L. Reno, a Union soldier killed in the American Civil War. In 1871, Reno became the county seat of the newly expanded Washoe County, but Nevada’s political clout remained within the mining communities, first Virginia City and then Tonopah and Goldfield. The economy was bolstered in 1872 with the extension of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad into Reno. In subsequent decades, Reno prospered as both a business and agricultural center, becoming the most important settlement along the route of transcontinental railway between Sacramento and Salt Lake City.
Reno’s illicit past is closely related to the history of Nevada whose economy was directly linked to the volatile mining industry. Due to the instability of this industry, the state needed other means of financial support. As a result, Reno became a town of sinners because of the many brothels and gambling casinos that flourished there.
In the twentieth century, the mining boom faded, and Nevada’s business and political hubs shifted to the non-mining communities, namely Reno and Las Vegas. The former mining centers shriveled up and died, their skeletons bleaching in the sun as the ghost towns that stand to this day. Nevada’s legalization of casino gambling in 1931 and the passage of liberal divorce laws created another boom for Reno. Technically, Reno evolved to its modern state upon the completion of the $131 million MGM Grand Hotel, which transformed the area just as the transcontinental railroad had done five decades before.
As other states picked up slack and passed their own laws easing the requirements for divorce, that business waned, but gambling remained a major Reno industry. Beginning in the 1950s, the need to expand economically beyond the gaming industry spurred a movement for more lenient business taxation.