In our My Nevada 5 series, UNLV faculty, students, and alumni share with you the bits of state history and culture that intrigue them. This piece comes from David G. Schwartz, the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV, the largest repository of English-language books, journals, and primary materials for gaming research.
Women have been prominent in Nevada gaming since its inception. In fact, the first license issued under the modern regime of legal commercial gaming was granted to Mayme Stocker in 1931. Since then, women have had critical roles in shaping the state’s gaming industry.
Mayme Stocker, like many other Americans, came West with the railroad in the early 20th century. Stocker, her husband, Oscar, and her three sons, Lester, Clarence, and Harold settled in Las Vegas in 1911. Railroad companies—the employer at various times of her husband and sons—forbid workers from owning saloons or gambling clubs, so Mayme was the owner of the Northern Club, a card room that opened at 15 Fremont Street in 1920. Her son Harold, unemployed after a railroad strike, became the club’s chief operator.
Shortly after Governor Fred Balzar signed the 1931 bill legalizing commercial gambling, Mayme Stocker, with partner Joe H. Morgan, applied for a license to turn the Northern Club into a bona-fide gambling hall. They received it, and the property, which is now La Bayou, has been open ever since, although Stocker sold her ownership interested a few years after its opening.
Stocker, who was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainsmen, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and other community groups, died in 1972, having seen gambling in Las Vegas spread far beyond anything she could have conceived in 1931.
Judy Bayley moved to Las Vegas with her husband, Warren, to open the Hacienda Hotel, which debuted in 1956 and which added a casino the following year. They already had a thriving chain of Haciendas in California, and the new hotel appealed to the mass market—a visionary move for the time, and one which other casinos would begin to adopt two decades later. Since the Hacienda, at the far southern end of the Strip couldn’t rely on foot traffic, it started its own airline, which flew customers in from several cities.
After Warren’s death in 1964, Judy took over operations, proving that a woman could run a major Las Vegas Strip resort. She was the first woman, in fact, to solely own a Nevada casino resort. She fought to add keno to the Hacienda’s gaming offerings, the first Strip casino to do so, and she commissioned the famous “horse and rider” neon sign for the Hacienda. That sign now welcomes visitors to Downtown at Fremont and the Boulevard.
She was well known throughout Las Vegas for her philanthropic endeavors, which included the March of Dimes, the American Cancer Association, and the Nevada Heart Association. She was also integral in securing the funding for UNLV to build the Judy Bayley Theater.
Sarann Knight Preddy broke a major barrier in 1950, when she became the first African American woman licensed to own a gambling establishment, Hawthorne’s Tonga Club.
Preddy first moved to Las Vegas in 1942, but soon after moved onto California to attend business school. She returned to Las Vegas, settling on the city’s Westside and working in the Cotton Club as a keno writer. She then learned how to deal blackjack, an essential step forward in her gaming career. In 1950, she moved to Hawthorne with her husband, William Scruggs. She bought the Lincoln Bar, applied for and received a gaming license, and operated it as the Tonga Club until her 1957 return to Las Vegas. She dealt blackjack in several Westside clubs until the passage of a city ordinance forbidding women from dealing. She then owned several businesses before returning to casino work at Jerry’s Nugget.
Preddy became a principled fighter for both civil rights and the preservation of Las Vegas history, helping to found the Las Vegas Barbara Jordan Democratic Club and the Las Vegas Black Historical Society.