How Did Slot Machines End Up at U.S Military Bases? (P)

Did you know that the U.S. military runs over 3,000 slot machines on overseas American military bases? In the name of providing “morale, welfare, and recreation,” the U.S. Department of Defense allows soldiers to gamble and play slots like LuckyLand slots, while on active duty. However, how exactly did those slot machines get there? This article explores the fascinating history behind playing slots on U.S. military bases, including an interesting look at how the nation’s favorite videogame franchise, SEGA, also had a part to play.

The First Slots on Military Bases

Slots machines on military bases can be traced all the way back to the 1930s. While American soldiers involving themselves in gambling games and wagering pastimes has been happening for as long as we can remember, it wasn’t until the 30s that the U.S. Department of Defense introduced slots on both U.S. bases and overseas. This marked a decided change from soldiers gambling in civilian-run establishments against military orders, to enjoying an authorized game of wagering facilitated gambling among servicemembers.

An unexpected name around this time was SEGA, the Japanese multinational video game and entertainment company originally known as Service Games. This company was first founded in Honolulu with the aim of distributing slot machines and other devices that used coins to operate at military bases in Hawaii. Given the relatively few distributors serving this market at the time, Service Games likely had a full run of the industry. However, the Gambling Devices Transportation Act of 1951 (also known as the Johnson Act) threatened to put a stop to their sales when Congress introduced it in 1951.

The Johnson Act

Just two decades after the Department of Defence introduced slots onto military bases, Congress passed the Johnson Act and made it a crime to take gambling devices across state lines – apart from states where these devices were legal. However, since the act didn’t apply to bases in foreign countries, Service Games were left with a distinct hole in the market. The founders moved their sights to Japan to reach US military bases in the Far East. Much later, SEGA became the video game entertainment giant that we know and love today.

The fact the Johnson Act didn’t reach overseas U.S. military bases frustrated many who didn’t like having slots in their military headquarters. During a Senate investigation of fraud and corruption in military clubs in Vietnam in 1971, Senator Abraham Ribicoff was recorded saying, “The sooner the military kicks out all the slots the better.” However, even though many were frustrated at the continuation of slot machines on these bases, these devices were surprisingly reintroduced in the 1980s to boost soldier morale and a new form of activity outside driving American tanks during active duty.

Slot Machines on Military Bases Today

With accounting showing that slot machines are located on U.S. military bases in 12 countries, it’s safe to say that these devices have well and truly become part of the life of a soldier on active duty. Today, these slot machines are managed by the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) groups of the different military branches. These groups pride themselves on delivering “high-quality, customer-focused programs and services that contribute to resiliency, retention, readiness and quality of life.”

Despite the MWR groups’ commitment to providing soldiers with entertainment programs while on duty, recent research has shown that military personnel are 3.5x more prone to gambling addiction and problem gambling; compared to other U.S civilians outside of the military, problem gambling among soldiers is at nearly 60% compared with almost 19%. As a result, many groups believe that slot machines should be permanently removed from U.S. bases, to prevent soldiers from seeking this thrill in a more likely vulnerable state during service.

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