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September 13: Slot Machine Legislation in 1950 (Part 1)

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Gambling and the like were a big topic of interest in 1950, with legislation targeting slot machines under consideration in Congress. Slot machines were commonly called “one-armed bandits” because they have one lever and take people’s money. One report stated: “There are no records to show who owns all the machines around the country… The California Commission on organized crime, however, estimated that the annual ‘take’ by the people who control slot machines is probably around two billion.”

The slot machine legislation would ban the shipment of slot machines into states that had laws against them. The initial wording of the bill, when passed by the US Senate that April, would require manufacturers and dealers to report who purchased the machines and how many they bought. The machines would be marked with a serial number, and if the machine was seized in a state where it was illegal, the owner could be prosecuted for a federal crime.

In May, when the bill went to the US House, some of the wording changed—including to whom the reports should be made. The Senate had designated the Bureau of Internal Revenue, while the House named the Justice Department. In August, a proposal to allow slot machines on army posts was beaten down.

Also under consideration was requiring states that allowed slot machines to reaffirm their legality. That affected seven states. Nevada allowed all forms of gambling; Idaho permitted coin operated devices on a local-option basis; Washington state and Montana allowed them in private clubs; and Louisiana, Tennessee, and Alabama had statutes that set license fees for gambling devices.

Gambling was not allowed in North Dakota in 1950. In fact, as the legislation was being discussed that year, raids in Dickinson led to the seizure of eight slot machines at the American Legion Club and seven at the Eagles club. In August, local reports spoke of petitions being circulated to legalize slot machines and similar means of gambling. However, Secretary of State Tom Hall said it was too near election day to propose a vote on a constitutional amendment.

Discussion of slot machine legislation continued. Read Dakota Datebook on Friday (September 15) for the rest of the story!

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • Beulah Independent, May 18, 1950, p2
  • The Oakes Times, Thursday, August 24, 1950, p10
  • Beulah Independent, August 10, 1950, p10
  • Westhope Standard, August 17, 1950, p7
  • The People’s Voice, September 15, 1950, p3 (Helena, Montana)
  • https://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/document.php?id=cqal50-1378372
  • Fargo Forum, Friday evening, September 22, 1950, p3

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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