Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Historical Insights Quickie Divorces Transform Nevada

Presented with their first taste of freedom in an era of developing women’s rights, some wives took up drinking, gambling, and flirting with eligible bachelors at casinos and cowboys back at the divorce ranch. 1940, Reno, Nevada. Credit: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Quickie Divorces Transform Nevada

During the depths of the Great Depression, the combination of lenient divorce laws and the legalization of gambling put Nevada on the map.

In 1930, Nevada was the least populated state. Cattle and sheep outnumbered residents 12 to 1. But in 1931, that started to change when lenient divorce laws, legalized gambling, and the end of prohibition transformed the isolated desert state into a tourist destination. Nevadans cashed in on the trend, renting their homes to those waiting out the six-week term of their divorces. From across the country, “divorce ranches” lured people to play while filing their paperwork. Divorces pumped much-needed money into a state devastated by the Great Depression, but reached a peak in 1946 when 19,000 couples parted ways in Nevada. As gambling caught on, casinos popped up along the Las Vegas strip. By the 1950s, 8 million people were visiting the “sin city” each year and spending $200 million (more than a billion today). What began as a flock of Americans visiting to get “Reno-vated” over time created a state with an identity all its own.