5.6.4. The Midwest, 1965-Present: Rolling the Dice on Gambling

Autonomy of pleasure:  The widening right to gamble

  • American attitudes toward gambling underwent a seismic shift in the 1980s, which was fully felt in the law.  The Midwest was very much in the mainstream of this change.   During the mid-19th century every Midwestern state incorporated a provision against lotteries into its constitution, due partly to a cultural animus against gambling in its Yankee residents and partly to scandals that had engulfed lotteries in other states.  Gambling had been common in the Midwest; the constitutional restrictions caused it to become covert but not to disappear.
  • Horse racing became a popular distraction during the Depression, and as a result several Midwestern states allowed parimutuel gambling in the 1930s.  But the dam did not burst until the 1980s; when it did, the burst was thorough.  Three factors were primarily responsible:  (1) state governments experienced severe revenue shortages in the late 1980s and viewed legalized gambling as a politically pain-free way to generate income; (2) Congress passed a landmark law authorizing Indian tribes in the Midwest and elsewhere to set up gaming operations, which in many cases were highly successful; and (3) perhaps most important, cultural disapproval of gambling shrank dramatically in an age that celebrated individual self-fulfillment.







1851 constitution: no lottery

1933:  parimutuel gambling (horse racing)


1973: lottery



1851 constitution: no lottery


1989:  lottery

1993: casinos

1994:  parimutuel gambling

2007: slot machines


1848, 1870 constitutions: no lottery



1990: casinos


1835, 1850 constitutions: no lottery

1933:  parimutuel gambling

1982: tribal casinos

1993: casinos


1848 constitution: no lottery


1973:  bingo

1992: tribal casinos


1846, 1857 constitutions: no lottery


1983:  parimutuel gambling

1989: casinos



1857 constitution: no lottery

1945: bingo


1978:  paddlewheels, tipboards, raffles

1981:  pull tabs

1983:  parimutuel gambling

1989:  lottery, tribal casinos

19__: tribal casinos

Washington Park race track, Chicago, 1903 (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)