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Rolling the Dice: Gambling in the Early LGBTQ+ Community

Rolling the Dice: Gambling in the Early LGBTQ+ Community

 Have you ever sat at a card table with friends, the thrill of winning or losing big riding on the turn of the next card? For many in the LGBTQ+ community, gambling has long been an escape, a way to forge connections, and a means of survival. From the underground clubs of 1950s New York to the bingo halls and casinos of today, gambling has allowed our community to come together when few other spaces were open to us.

In a time when our very existence was illegal, when employment and healthcare were unattainable dreams, when the shadow of AIDS loomed large, the dice and the cards were a lifeline. Yet gambling also posed risks, as it does for many marginalised groups. The same thrills and chills that brought us joy could also lead to financial ruin and addiction.

Today, while much has changed, gambling remains an important part of LGBTQ+ culture. From charity fundraisers to casual poker nights to the extravagant casinos of Las Vegas, gambling allows us to celebrate life, honour our history, and forge community. Join me as we explore the highs, the lows, and the deep history of gambling in the LGBTQ+ community. The dice are rolling - are you ready to take a chance?

The Early Days: Gambling in Secret Gay Bars

Back in the day, secret gay bars and clubs were some of the only places LGBTQ+ people could be open about their sexuality. Many of these spots featured gambling like poker, dice, and roulette to give people a thrill and help the owners turn a profit.

In the 50s and 60s, police raids were common, so these underground clubs moved frequently and used secret entrances and lookouts. Inside, the energy was electric as people socialised and took risks at the gaming tables, finding community support in the process. For many, it was the first time being able to express their true selves.

When HIV/AIDS hit in the 80s, gambling venues became even more important as fundraising spots and ways for people to come together during a scary time. Casino nights, bingo games and poker tournaments helped raise money for medical research and support groups.

Today, while there are more open and legal options, underground gambling still exists in some areas where LGBTQ+ rights are limited. However, many community centres and nightclubs do host regular game nights and casino events as a way to bring people together in a safe space and recreate the energy of the past.

Of course, gambling addiction is a risk, and some critics argue that the LGBTQ+ community is particularly vulnerable. Support groups aim to promote responsible gambling and help those with addiction.

While gambling has a complex history in the LGBTQ+ community, at its best it has allowed people to find each other, raise funds, gain empowerment and celebrate in the face of adversity. Games of chance continue to bring the community together today, reminding us of how far we’ve come and how much further we still have to go.

Going Underground: Speakeasies and the Mafia Connection

In the early-mid 20th century, gambling and speakeasies offered LGBTQ+ people places to socialise at a time when they faced extreme discrimination. Many gay bars and clubs had secret backrooms for gambling, often run by organised crime syndicates. Mobsters saw the LGBTQ+ community as an untapped market and took over many speakeasies, using threats and violence to control the scene.

For many, the allure of risking it all on the roll of the dice or turn of a card was an escape from the harsh realities of life. The excitement and thrill of winning big gave people a rush, however short-lived. And in a time when affection had to be hidden, the energy of a crowded gambling den could feel intoxicating.

When AIDS began devastating the LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s, underground gambling provided funding for medical care and support groups. However, as legalised gambling spread, mob control and police crackdowns made illegal operations riskier. Today, while some small underground games still exist, most LGBTQ+ gambling happens at mainstream casinos.

Legalised gambling has brought greater acceptance but also new challenges. Many LGBTQ+ people struggle with higher rates of addiction and mental health issues, making them vulnerable to the predatory tactics of corporate casinos. However, for others, casino outings remain an important social activity and source of entertainment in the community.

While the days of secret backroom gambling may be largely gone, its impact on LGBTQ+ history cannot be overstated. For better or worse, gambling has been instrumental in shaping spaces for people to come together when few other options existed.

The Emergence of Gay-Friendly Casinos and Resorts

As the LGBTQ+ community gained more social acceptance and legal rights, gay-friendly casinos and resorts began emerging to cater to this growing demographic. In the 1980s, as gay culture was becoming more mainstream, casino moguls saw an opportunity and started actively marketing to the LGBTQ+ community.

One of the first was the Blue Chairs resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which opened in 1983. It featured cabaret shows, dance clubs, and was located right on the beach. For many in the community, it offered a safe haven where people could be open about their sexuality without fear of discrimination.

On the Las Vegas strip, casino executives took notice of the spending power of LGBTQ+ visitors and worked to make their properties more inclusive. The Riviera was one of the first to host gay pool parties and drag shows. Soon, the Flamingo, Caesars Palace, and other casinos followed suit with their own gay nightclubs, entertainment, and special events.

Atlantic City also joined in, with casinos like the Claridge advertising in gay travel guides and hosting “gay summer weekends.” For members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially those living in less accepting places, these gay casino destinations were a revelation. They could take a vacation, gamble, see amazing shows, party at gay clubs, and not have to hide who they were.

Today, nearly every major casino and resort, whether in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or destinations like Puerto Vallarta and beyond, actively courts the LGBTQ+ community with dedicated marketing and special events. While there is still more progress to be made, the emergence of gay-friendly casinos and resorts has given the community more freedom and visibility. For many, they represent not just a fun getaway but also a symbolic victory.

How the AIDS Crisis Impacted Gambling in the LGBTQ+ Community

The AIDS epidemic had a huge impact on LGBTQ+ communities around the world, and gambling culture was no exception. When AIDS began rapidly spreading in the early 1980s, many LGBTQ+ people turned to gambling as a form of escapism and a way to cope with the immense losses. Underground gambling dens and secret poker games provided a place for community support.

As AIDS-related illnesses and deaths mounted, many LGBTQ+ people felt increasingly isolated and stigmatised. Gambling venues became sanctuaries where people could come together without judgement. The thrill and risk of gambling also provided a rush of excitement and a temporary distraction from the grim realities of the health crisis.

Some historians argue that gambling during this time became a form of mourning and memorial for loved ones lost to AIDS. The sounds, atmosphere and rituals of gambling reminded people of friends and partners now gone. Winning big felt like a final triumph or last hurrah in the face of so much loss.

Of course, gambling also posed risks for an already vulnerable population. Addiction and financial hardship were major problems, especially as medical bills for AIDS-related illnesses piled up. Still, when options for leisure and community were limited, underground gambling served an important purpose.

Today, LGBTQ+ communities continue to gamble at higher rates, though now in legal and regulated environments. While some of the escapism and coping mechanisms that drew people to gamble during the AIDS crisis still remain, gambling has also simply become an established part of LGBTQ+ culture and history. Gambling venues provide a place for intergenerational community support and mentorship.

Though challenges like addiction persist, when done responsibly gambling remains an important social outlet for many in the LGBTQ+ community. It provides entertainment, strengthens community bonds, and honours the memory of a painful yet formative time.

The Modern Era: Apps, Websites and Inclusive Casinos

The rise of online gambling and apps has made the activity more accessible and inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. No longer limited to brick-and-mortar casinos, you can now gamble from the comfort of home on your phone, tablet or laptop. Many websites and apps now specifically cater to LGBTQ+ players.

Some popular options for LGBTQ+ gamblers include:

  • BETMGM Casino: This casino app is inclusive, offering promotions and tournaments for Pride Month and other LGBTQ+ events. They have casino games as well as sports betting.

  • myVEGAS Slots: This free app from MGM Resorts lets you play slot machine games to earn real rewards from MGM casinos and resorts like Bellagio and ARIA. They frequently run Pride promotions offering bonus chips and donate a portion of proceeds to LGBTQ+ charities.

  • QCasino: This app bills itself as the first dedicated social casino for the LGBTQ+ community. They offer slot machines, poker, blackjack, and more. QCasino donates a portion of proceeds to LGBTQ+ causes and charities. They also have an active social community within the app.

Some brick-and-mortar casinos have also become more welcoming and inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. Many now have dedicated Pride events, fundraisers, and promotions each year in June. Casinos may offer special entertainment, decorate the casino in Pride colours, and donate a portion of gambling proceeds to LGBTQ+ charities and causes during Pride month.

While challenges still exist, the gambling industry has come a long way in embracing diversity and inclusiveness. From dedicated apps and websites to special casino promotions, there are now many options for LGBTQ+ community members to gamble and support important causes. The rise of online and mobile gambling has also made the activity more private, accessible and open to all.

Challenges Facing Today's LGBTQ+ Gamblers

Today, LGBTQ+ gamblers face several unique challenges. For one, many traditional gambling venues like casinos can feel unwelcoming or even openly hostile towards the LGBTQ+ community. Discrimination and harassment are still commonplace. This leads many to gamble online or in private settings instead, away from public scrutiny.

Another issue is that gambling addiction seems to disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ population. Some studies show that LGBTQ+ individuals are up to 3 times more likely to develop a gambling disorder. There are a few theories as to why this might be the case. Minority stress from societal stigma and discrimination may drive some to gamble as an escape. Limited social support systems can also contribute.

  • Lack of culturally-competent treatment. Most gambling addiction treatment programmes are not tailored to the specific needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Therapists and counsellors often lack proper training on issues like internalised homophobia, gender identity, and relationship dynamics within the community.

  • Higher rates of comorbid disorders. LGBTQ+ gamblers also tend to experience higher rates of other mental health and substance use issues, like depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and drug addiction. These co-occurring disorders can worsen gambling problems and make treatment more complex.

  • Fear of coming out. Some LGBTQ+ gamblers hide their gambling problems out of fear of further stigmatisation. Admitting to a gambling addiction may mean coming out about their sexual orientation or gender identity, which many are hesitant to do. This results in less help-seeking behaviour and poorer outcomes.

While more research is still needed, these findings highlight the necessity for tailored treatment, education, and outreach for LGBTQ+ gamblers. Gambling venues and healthcare organisations must work to create safer, more inclusive environments. And members of the LGBTQ+ community should feel empowered to speak openly about this issue and support each other in recovery.

The Positive Impact of Gambling in the LGBTQ+ Community

Gambling has historically played an important role in the LGBTQ+ community for both good and bad. On the positive side, it has brought people together and fostered a sense of community. Many LGBTQ+ people found solace, escape and connection in the bingo halls, bars and casinos where gambling took place. For some, it was a way to cope during difficult times.

  • Finding Acceptance. Gambling venues provided a place for LGBTQ+ people to freely socialise when many public spaces were hostile or unwelcoming. The excitement and thrill of gambling, paired with the opportunity to meet like-minded people, gave many a sense of escape and joy.

  • Building Community. The LGBTQ+ community has strongly valued chosen families and building connections between people with shared experiences. Gambling spaces allowed people to come together, bond over a shared activity, and form meaningful relationships. These connections were especially important during the AIDS crisis, as people supported each other through immense hardship.

  • Raising Funds. Some LGBTQ+ organisations and charities held casino nights, bingo events and poker tournaments as fundraisers. These events allowed people to have fun, socialise and give back to important causes supporting the community. Charitable gambling has raised millions for HIV/AIDS organisations, homeless shelters, youth centres and more.

While gambling certainly has its downsides like addiction, it has been an important social outlet for the LGBTQ+ community. The relationships and memories made in bingo halls and poker rooms have had a profoundly positive impact, bringing people together during times of immense struggle and hardship. Though the LGBTQ+ community faces many challenges, the role that gambling has played in fostering connection and mutual support is worth recognising. Overall, gambling venues have provided safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people to come together, find solace in one another, raise funds for important causes and build a shared sense of community.

Resources for Responsible Gambling in the LGBTQ+ Community

As an LGBTQ+ gambler, it’s important to be aware of resources for responsible gambling. Many mainstream gambling addiction organisations provide general information and support, but some organisations specifically serve the LGBTQ+ community.

GLAD (Gamblers Legal Assistance and Defence)

GLAD is a nonprofit that provides free legal advice and representation for LGBTQ+ gamblers. They help with issues like unfair casino practises, predatory lending related to gambling, and custody/divorce cases where gambling addiction is a factor. GLAD operates a helpline and also has resources for family members of problem gamblers.

PRIDE (Problem Gambling Resources, Information and Education)

PRIDE is an educational organisation focused on responsible gambling in the LGBTQ+ community. They provide brochures, videos, and speakers on topics like:

  • Warning signs of problem gambling

  • Healthy limits and budgeting for gambling

  • Online gambling risks

  • Addressing stigma around gambling addiction

PRIDE partners with casinos and LGBTQ+ groups to promote responsible gaming. They also operate support groups, both online and in major cities.

The Centre (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Centre)

Many LGBTQ+ community centres, like The Centre in New York City, offer support groups and counselling for gambling addiction. These services are tailored to the unique challenges of the LGBTQ+ community, like lack of family support or higher risk for mental health issues and addiction. Community centres are a good place to find an LGBTQ-friendly gambling support group or counsellor.

While gambling can be an enjoyable social activity, it’s important for the LGBTQ+ community to recognise the risks and get help if needed. There are resources to help you develop a healthy relationship with gambling and address addiction. Don't hesitate to reach out if you or someone you know is struggling.

FAQs: Gambling and the LGBTQ+ Community

If you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, you may have questions about gambling. Here are some common FAQs and answers:

Is gambling popular in the LGBTQ+ community?

Gambling has been popular in the LGBTQ+ community for decades. Many LGBTQ+ people were drawn to gambling at a time when there were few public spaces where they felt fully accepted. Casinos and bingo halls provided a place for socialising and entertainment. Gambling also became a way for some to earn or supplement income at a time when job discrimination was rampant.

How did the AIDS crisis impact gambling?

The AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s devastated the LGBTQ+ community. Many people turned to gambling as a form of escapism during this traumatic time. For some, gambling and the rush of risk-taking also helped combat feelings of hopelessness. Many LGBTQ+ organisations and charities held casino nights and bingo events as fundraisers to support those living with HIV/AIDS.

What challenges do LGBTQ+ gamblers face today?

LGBTQ+ gamblers may face higher risks of addiction and mental health issues due to minority stress and past traumas. They also often experience discrimination, homophobia and unwelcoming environments at some casinos and card rooms. However, organisations like the National Council on Problem Gambling now provide LGBTQ-inclusive resources and support groups.

What are the positive aspects of gambling for the LGBTQ+ community?

Gambling continues to provide entertainment and social connection for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Casino nights, bingo events and poker tournaments are popular at LGBTQ+ bars, clubs and Pride festivals. For some, gambling offers an exciting escape and thrill. When done responsibly, gambling can be a fun recreational activity for people of all backgrounds.

Whether as a social pastime, charity fundraiser or coping mechanism during difficult times, gambling has become deeply ingrained in LGBTQ+ culture and history. By understanding this complex relationship, we can better support the wellbeing and inclusion of LGBTQ+ gamblers.


So there you have it, a glimpse into the complex history of gambling in the LGBTQ+ community. While some challenges remain, gambling has provided both entertainment and financial opportunity for many in the community during difficult times. The dice may land where they will, but one thing is clear: the LGBTQ+ community has persevered and continues to beat the odds. As society moves toward greater inclusion and legal rights, the future of gambling looks bright. But we must never forget how far we've come or take for granted the simple freedoms so many fought for. Lady Luck may favour the bold, but true progress is made through empathy, courage and community.

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