An important anniversary for Las Vegas gaming By David Schwartz, CDC Gaming Reports March 25, 2021 at 8:07 pm Last week, Nevada marked the 90th anniversary of the relegalization of commercial gaming — an event that led directly to the development of today’s gaming industry. Today, we mark another milestone of Nevada gaming history, one that reminds us how far the state and the industry have come, and how far both still have to go. On March 26, 1960, Governor Grant Sawyer, Las Vegas NAACP President Dr. James McMillan, Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun, and some notable gaming figures announced at a press conference at the Moulin Rouge casino that the city’s casinos would desegregate. The Moulin Rouge Agreement, as the pact has been called, marked the end of formal segregationist policies on the Strip and Downtown. Las Vegas had been, since the influx of dam workers in the 1930s, a segregated city. The casinos and restaurants of downtown the Strip did not admit African-Americans as customers and reserved for them only the most menial roles as employees. Occasionally, there were echoes of this segregationist policy in official pronouncements, as in the Las Vegas City Commission’s April 1931 declaration that, while it was placing a temporary moratorium on new gaming licenses, it would consider applications by “a person of the Ethiopian Race for the conduct of a game or games in a place catering exclusively to persons of the same race only.” Such a club was in fact licensed on Stewart Street, on the site of today’s Downtown Grand. Photo of the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas But, as the city’s population swelled, the black presence in downtown dwindled, with African-Americans being pushed to live on the Westside. Denied entrance to establishments elsewhere, Westside inhabitants made Jackson Street clubs like the Alabam, Harlem Club, Brown Derby, and Cotton Club arguably the first “neighborhood casinos” in the city. It’s worth noting that the Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1955 as a “cosmopolitan” (desegregated) resort, was on Bonanza Road, not on the Strip. Despite the lack of a formal county ordinance, segregation on the Strip was just as absolute, although by the late 1950s some concessions were made to allow popular performers like Sammy Davis, Jr. or Lena Horne to stay at the hotel. Those who insisted, like Davis, were permitted to bring family members to sit in the audience, although the fact that simple decency like allowing a mother to watch her son perform had to be negotiated says a great deal about the prevailing mindset. No matter the privileges afforded to notables like Davis, the local community was understandably impatient with the slow pace of change. So local leaders announced plans to begin a picket on the Strip that would draw national attention to the inequities of the town’s casinos. Gaming operators, led by Moe Dalitz, were initially not receptive to change—after all, these men were not used to other people telling them how to run their businesses. But as the date for the picket approached, and it appeared likely that the protests might convince convention groups to stay away, the owners capitulated, agreeing to desegregate. As a historical aside, the original Ocean’s Eleven captures the segregation that prevailed on the Strip just on the eve of its demise. Ten of the titular group are planted in select Las Vegas casinos to pull off a daring heist. Sammy Davis Jr.’s character, since he would not be given the run of the casino as a patron or even a performer, was a garbage man, whose trash truck is used to transport the cash away from the casinos. The fact that being a decorated combat veteran, no one in the film seems particularly surprised or perturbed that Davis’s character would not be permitted in a casino. Ocean’s Eleven was filmed on location in January 1960; had the film been made the following year, it may have had a different role for Davis. No one would argue that this announcement, 61 years ago, ended unfair practices in Las Vegas, just as Supreme Court decisions and laws passed by Congresses have not ended them nationally. But it does mark a symbolic turning point. Before March 26, 1960, it was an accepted fact that Las Vegas casinos were racially restricted. After that date, they no longer would be. A great deal of work remained: the 1971 consent decree, which sought to combat ongoing discrimination against black employees, is one reminder that not all casinos embraced equal opportunity, even more than a decade after that meeting at the Moulin Rouge. In a sense, it is fitting that Las Vegas casinos mark two important milestones a week apart. The 1931 relegalization opened the path for the establishment of an industry that has created jobs and promotes regional development in ways that no one at the time could have foreseen. The 1960 Moulin Rouge Agreement makes it impossible to ignore that the opportunities afforded by gaming’s growth were not automatically conferred on all members of the community and that it took struggle and courage to pursue those opportunities.