The Forgotten Casino Inside of Nevada State Prison

The Forgotten Casino Inside of Nevada State Prison

Facts Checked
Published Date · March 28, 2024 · Last Updated · March 28, 2024 ·Read Time · 3 mins

Nevada State Prison housed 841 inmates, in its medium security prison, and back in the 1930s it also housed a casino... but despite initial thoughts, the prison casino tamed the inmates instead of the opposite, and it had a positive effect on prisoners up until its closure.


But who ran it? Who played there? How did it come to be? Why did they close it? Keep reading to get the answers to (I’m sure) your many questions!

The Bullpen



Following the legalization of gambling in the state of Nevada in 1931 - after Governor Fred Balzar signed Assembly Bill 98 into law - gambling entered the state after the stock market crash of 1929, and the Bullpen was introduced shortly afterwards. In fact, an assemblyman, Howard McKissick, even suggested that gambling would prevent “homosexual problems”.

The Bullpen was a casino inside of Nevada State Prison. It was opened in 1932 and created solely for the inmates. The casino was open for an impressive three decades before its closure in 1967.



Not only did the inmates use the casino, they also ran the casino (under the supervision of the prison guards). As you can imagine, the inmates ran a tight ship as they didn’t want anyone cheating or misbehaving - mainly out of fear that the casino would get shut down by the wardens and their privileges would be revoked.

Additionally, inmates feared the repercussions of cheating so everyone played by the book; even if they didn’t do so in life, they had to within the prison casino.

How Did The Nevada Prison Casino Run?

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It is said that whoever the dealer was would have to have enough money to bank roll the game and was obliged to pay a fee of $25-$75 per game every six months. Any inmate who had money could play, and often inmates would be invited to play.

Despite people perceiving this as a privilege that the inmates should not get, they were going to gamble whether it was legal or not. Therefore, having an accessible place to gamble, where they were allowed to, actually did keep inmates out of trouble.

As for the money, a percentage of the funds given to the house were redistributed into the ‘inmate welfare fund’. This money was used for the benefit of the inmates whether that be education, welfare, facilities, or other community incentives.



The casino wasn’t small by any means and it offered a variety of games to inmates. Prisoners were able to play blackjack, poker and craps and were even permitted to place a sports wager if they wanted to!

As prisoners weren’t allowed to have tangible money from outside of the prison, they created their own currency for playing with. The chips were minted in the penitentiary’s own workshop rooms, with ‘Nevada State Prison’ engraved on them. The denominations played were with brass coins representing: five, 10, 25 and 50 cents as well as $1 and $5. Fast forward to today, and the currency is considered a collector's item!

The Closing of the Bullpen



The guards were fairly happy with the prison casino as it kept inmates busy, somewhat out of trouble, and worked as a good distraction for them. However, this all changed in 1967 when a bill was amended to prohibit prison gambling and, soon after, the State Prison Board closed down the casino which led to its demolition.

It was said that there was a riot at the prison during 1967, and that played a big part in its closure. The Bullpen was bulldozed as a consequence, to punish the prisoners for stepping out of line. The closure was also said to be due to a new prison warden, Carl Hocker, replacing gambling with more ‘wholesome’ and ‘constructive’ activities such as sports, crafts and chess.



The prison eventually closed its doors in 2012, after being open since 1862; a whopping 150 years later. This made the facility one of the oldest prisons to have ever operated in the US. Towards the end of its time, it turned into a high-security facility and housed 219 inmates; as of 2011.

This prison also executed inmates, so it isn’t exactly a prison you want to mess around in. In fact, it was the only prison designed to facilitate executions, and despite closing, it continued being the place of execution until 2016 when Ely State Prison opened and took over.


Lucy Wynne

Content Writer


Nosa Omoigui

Content Editor