Lake Mead National Recreation Area - Nevada

  • February 01, 2011

Gaming the System

There are not only wild lands and big game along Route 1872, but wild nights and gaming, too. That's because claimholders who bought public land under the 1872 Mining Law don't have to mine the property. They can use it—and have—to build hotels, condominiums and casinos.

That's what happened in Nevada's Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where a parcel of land acquired under the 1872 Mining Law's "patenting" provisions for less than $200 was turned into a hotel and casino. For years, the government has been trying—unsuccessfully—to buy back property that lies within the habitat of the protected bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise. In 2001, the property owner had increased the asking price to $20 million.


Overall, approximately 3.2 million acres of public land—an area the size of Connecticut—have been sold under the mining law at what the late Congressman Morris Udall called "fire sale" prices. Perhaps the biggest boondoggle occurred in Nevada in 1994, when Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold "patented" land with gold worth an estimated $10 billion for less than $10,000. Since then, Congress has used its appropriations process to impose yearly bans on the mandatory sales of federal lands under the mining law. The patenting process remains in the law, however.

Side Trips:

Next, visit Death Valley.