The Unknown Penitentiary Casino of Bull Pen: Can Luck Be Doomed?
In the America of the Great Depression anything was possible: for 35 years, between 1932 and 1967, a self-managed casino operated by the inmates inside the Carson City prison.
The United States was not at its best in 1932. In October 1929, due to bad practices in the financial system, the stock markets collapsed and, as a consequence of that unprecedented crash, the period known as the Great Depression began, presided over by instability and attempts to regulate society and the economy to achieve recovery. Never had the state of Nevada seen so much misery that it decided to authorize gambling on March 19, 1931 in an attempt to clean up its public accounts with tax revenues.
It took the federal administration a little longer to react. The historic package promoted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt known as the New Deal was developed between 1933 and 1938. The inmates of Carson City prison did not enter the history books by the big door, but they did something no less curious and unusual: they asked the authorities for permission to set up a casino inside a prison.
Officially, the entity never existed: the inmates asked for a gaming license, but the relevant commission could not authorize anyone with a criminal record. Even so, the casino was tolerated and, against all odds, order reigned within it for more than three decades. The schedule was clear to everyone: 8 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and 8 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. on Sundays. No one cheated inside because strict protocols were approved to prevent it. The jailers thought it would be a focus for violence and riots, but they had to admit that it was not. The casino offered all the gambling and betting possibilities of a conventional house: the inmates looked after it as if it had been their own home.
They even minted their own chips, which read perfectly "Nevada Estate Prison", and which the inmates could redeem at the prison commissary. Today, these tokens are highly coveted by collectors, who have paid up to $300 for them. When they finished their sentence, the prison paid in cash the value of the tokens that each inmate could have saved.
Although the dream lasted much longer than expected, the Carson City prison casino was closed down in 1967 after a highly dubious and alien mutiny. The building that housed it was demolished, and those serving their sentences received the second sentence of having to engage in crafts or chess. However, the guards had a great advantage from such an original casino: the gambling tolerated at The Bull Penn had for decades prevented illegal gambling inside the Nevada State Prison, a practice they had never managed to control.