Doc Holliday, that most legendary of American gunslingers, was a gambling man. A dentist by trade, he earned his living playing cards, poker mostly. While other things may have defined Holliday—his friendship with Wyatt Earp, his lifelong battle with tuberculosis, those history-changing thirty seconds at the OK Corral—it was gambling that sustained him. In the 1993 film “Tombstone,” when the cinematic Doc, dissipated by booze and TB, finally checks out, he’s not yanking an abscessed tooth or gunning down bad guys. He’s playing five card stud with Wyatt Earp, at two bits a hand.
Many of this country’s most famous and infamous individuals have been gamblers of a kind, from the Pilgrims (good bet with long odds) to the web geniuses in Silicon Valley (you’re reading this story, on this app, because those guys took a gamble on this whole Internet thing taking off). The first English settlers brought it here from the old country along with their Bibles and hardtack and it’s been with us ever since, in Gold Rush boomtowns and Chicago speakeasies, in the grandest Vegas casinos and the smallest of office pools.
So it’s no wonder that gambling in America is huge business. Last year, people in this country gambled away $119 billion dollars, the biggest expenditure of any country on the planet. Australia and three other countries gamble more per capita, but nobody beats the good ol’ USA in sheer volume. Part of it is the vast array of options, from Indian gaming and state lotteries to sports betting and bingo nights. If you like to gamble—and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t—there’s a good chance there’s a place nearby for you to do it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re all of the same mind when it comes to the institution. Far from it. For most folks in Nevada, gambling is essential, the life blood of the state. Utah, on the other hand, has a ways to go. The thing is, commercial gambling in the U.S. has always had its fair share of supporters and opponents, ever since the first casino was built in Las Vegas using mob money, and now is no different.
The biggest battle raging today is over online gambling, which, by some estimates, could balloon into a $7.4 billion industry by 2017. On one side of the war: a bunch of states that are making moves to legalize it. On the other: billionaire CEOs like Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, the casino titans behind Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts International, who see online gambling as a huge threat to their collective livelihoods.
With the possible explosion of online gambling in the next few years, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a gambler. Indian gaming continues to grow, with revenues over the past decade jumping from $16.8 billion in 2003 to nearly $28 billion in 2012. Vegas standbys, like the Tropicana and Bally’s, are getting major makeovers this year, not to mention the upcoming debuts of mega-casino resorts like SLS Las Vegas and Resorts World Las Vegas.
Need a bankroll to see you through all the fun? Amassing that is as difficult as it’s ever been. Need a place to gamble, or a fun game to join? Well, that’s the easy part. And with all the new casinos opening up and the ongoing explosion in online gambling, finding places to win big (or at least try to) is getting easier by the day.