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I'll Have the Elk

According to the Discovery Channel's website, archaeologists exploring a cave on the shores of the Great Salt Lake unearthed "hundreds of carved sticks, hoops, dice and darts dating back to about 700 years ago." They are identifying the site simply as "Cave 1."

I’ll Have the Elk

Archaeologists have unearthed what could be America’s first casino. It’s in Utah, of all places.

Evidently, if you go back 700 years, no one in Utah—currently one of two U.S. states with absolutely no legal gaming—was particularly against gambling. As I understand it, Donnie and Marie weren’t even Mormons yet.

According to the Discovery Channel’s website, archaeologists exploring a cave on the shores of the Great Salt Lake unearthed “hundreds of carved sticks, hoops, dice and darts dating back to about 700 years ago.” They are identifying the site simply as “Cave 1.” There are approximately 10,000 gambling pieces in the find.

I’m guessing they called it Cave 1 because the sticks, darts, dice and hoops all carry a hand-carved logo reading “Cave 1 Casino, Hotel & Spa.” They also found a primitive player’s club card, carved from stone with notches indicating the points earned, along with 14th century armor bearing the casino logo—apparently, there was an armor giveaway at the casino—and an oil-painted advertisement which read,

“Cave 1: Bright Lights, Dark Ages.”

Instead of a cash-back program, they offered meat-back.

OK, I’m done. No, wait—I’m not.

The Discovery Channel report quotes John “Jack” Ives, an archeologist at the University of Alberta who has been researching the Cave 1 Casino, Hotel & Spa for years, as actually describing the kinds of games offered in the casino. He says at least two or three dice games were played, as well as a hoop-and-dart game where you threw the dart through the hoop to score points, and a game in which you had to identify a marked stick hidden among other sticks.

And of course, they also had Blazing 7s and Double Diamond.

“Also, we found bone hand game pieces,” “Jack” told Discovery News. “Contestants had to guess in which hand a marked bone object had been concealed.”

Yes, a 50/50 proposition. No wonder it didn’t survive.

The dart-throwing game could make a comeback soon, since casinos are looking for new skill-based games. Depending on how strategically the hoops are placed, free cocktails could make the game genuinely comical.

By the way, there’s no word on how “Jack” figured out how to play the ancient games. Stone tablets with game rules and odds, maybe? More likely, he studied the artifacts, got together with his colleagues, and created a mock cave casino.

Who said scientists don’t have fun?

According to the Discovery piece, the cave was “intensely occupied between 1240 and 1290 A.D., a time when the (local) Promontory people was thriving and other cultures, like the nearby Fremont, were struggling to survive.”

In a mocking gesture to their less fortunate neighbors, the Promontory folks called their cave casino the Fremont Street Experience.   

That’s where they got the idea for the name of the Downtown Las Vegas attraction.

Hey, you could look it up.

The article speculates that Cave 1 was “a luxury for people who had time and resources to spend for such a form of entertainment.” Well, at least until those 14th century millennials got there. Cave 1 probably went under because there were no hip DJs or bottle service.

Finally, the report says that previous archaeological digs at the site turned up “piles of butchered bison, elk bones and hundreds of animal-skin moccasins ranging from a small child’s size to an adult’s.”

That means Cave 1 had a buffet and a retail offering. See? Even then, they knew to include non-gaming amenities in their cave casinos.

Oh, by the way, believe it or not, there was other industry news this month. For instance, Indiana’s Hoosier Lottery debuted bacon-scented lottery tickets that offer a prize of a 20-year supply of the porcine treat.

As I always say, if you really want to boost gaming revenues, just add bacon.

In other news, Montana casinos are being victimized by a pair of robbers who have now hit four properties wearing dark masks. At some point, I’m guessing the surveillance people will be advised to watch out for ninjas.

And robbers also are following people home from SugarHouse in Philadelphia. In the latest case, they took not only the guy’s winnings, but his cell phone. Police simply tracked the GPS on the phone and quickly caught both robbers.

It’s nice when stupidity can aid in squelching casino crime.

I have more news, but it will have to wait. I have enough points for the bison-elk buffet at Cave 1.

Then, I’ll go roll some bones.


Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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