Nevada Narratives’ First Poetry Contest

Where are you from? What Nevada places, or experiences, have helped to make you who you are?

Answer that question in Nevada Narratives first poetry contest.

As you know, Nevada Narratives is all about stories grounded in Nevada. Stories take many different  forms. This time, we’re focusing on poetry, and the prompt is, Where I’m From.

The poem that inspired this contest comes from the Kentucky poet laureate, George Ella Lyon. I can’t fully quote the poem here, but follow the link for her poem and some ideas about how to use it as a jumping off point.

I’m not a poet, but when I came across this poem in a memoir writing group, I came up with this.

Where I’m From: Circa 1972

The home of my old diner on 4th Street Reno, now transformed by "Burners" who have settled in the neighborhood.
The home of my old diner on 4th Street Reno, now transformed by “Burners” who have settled in the neighborhood.

By Suzanne Stormon

I’m from that little diner on 4th street in Reno,
steamy windows on winter evenings,
sitting at the Formica counter, swiveling on the red Naugahyde stools,
next to Bonnie, eating corned beef and cabbage.

The proprietor, a short grey- haired man with an Eastern European accent,
world wise and knowing,
loving Bonnie and I.
We, about the age of his daughter.
She, going to college.
She, about to become a reporter on a local TV channel.

Out on 4th street, already a jumbled mix,
the nearly homeless, the prostitutes,
and the random casino workers like Bonnie and me,
all looking for a little taste of home.
I think he worried about the two of us.
A couple of keno runners, we could have gone either way.

The proprietor, let’s call him Joseph, (as his name is long forgotten)
sold meal-tickets in packages of three, five, ten;
good for the daily special, a burger or breakfast.
Bonnie and I bought a meal-ticket nearly every payday.

We’d find a place at the counter at least three nights a week – never at that little table in the corner.
There we’d savor the cabbage rolls, the spaghetti, the meatloaf, the ham dinner.
We’d converse with the hotel-dwelling men who favored the meal-ticket option,
Buying them whenever their luck was running.
Almost everyone a regular, a part of some crazy family.

Joseph presided over it all, a student of the world, war-weary,
open-hearted, father to us-his other daughters.
Sitting at that counter was like sitting at the dinner table in some perfect home,
where everyone is accepted for who they are.

The Contest Rules:

  • It doesn’t have to rhyme.
  • You can include a picture.
  • It can be a poem or a prose poem.
  • The piece should be set somewhere in Nevada.
  • The title must be Where I’m From, (and any subtitle you want).

Deadline: Feb 26, 2016

Submit by email to sstormon(at)  Please use subject line: Poem for Nevada Narratives’ Contest

By submitting the poem(s), you are giving permission for me to (non-exclusively) publish them on this blog. You retain all rights to your work.

The winner will be published on the blog and will receive a $10.00 gift certificate for Better World Books.

P.S. If you are inspired to write something other than a poem, you can still submit it for possible publication on the blog. I’m interested in many types of stories.




By Doresa Banning

Girl in black dress playing slot machine.


“Neat appearing girls from 21 to 25 to shill and learn to deal games at Rolo Casino, 14 E. Commercial Row,” read a Help Wanted ad in Nevada’s Reno Evening Gazette (June 6, 1947).

A shill, as later defined by the Nevada gaming authorities, is: “an employee engaged and financed by the [gambling] licensee as a player for the purpose of starting and/or maintaining a sufficient number of players in a card game” (Regulation 23).

Another type of decoy is a proposition player — “a person paid a fixed sum by the licensee for the specific purpose of playing in a card game who uses his own funds and who retains his winnings and absorbs his losses.”

During the mid-1900s in the Silver State, a shill’s purpose was twofold: to entice others to play by making it appear winning was more likely than it truly was and to spur or keep action alive at game tables. In 1954, the pay for such a job in Reno was $5 a day.

In Northern Nevada, shills most often were female. Oftentimes, they were married, residing in Reno for the requisite six weeks to be awarded a divorce and wanting to earn some money in the meantime.

Occasionally, though, they were male.

“Once in a while to liven things up, a gambling house will employ a man shill and give him $10,000. With this bundle, the man shill will up and roar and scatter large bets,” said columnist Stan Delaplane about Reno casinos (Reno Evening Gazette, May 6, 1957).

Casino management worried shills would succumb to temptation and steal money, so they enforced strict rules to prevent theft.

“You can tell a shill by the way she stacks her silver dollars,” Delaplane added. “They stack them five on edge, five flat and so on, so the pit boss can see exactly how much money she has at a glance. The lady shill is told to play only $1 at a time. If the game is dice, she must play only the Do Pass line.”

Female shills were prohibited from carrying a purse or wearing clothing with pockets. When reaching for a cigarette or handkerchief on their person, they had to rub their open palms together first to show they were empty.

Reeled Them In

Later, in 1979, the Silver State instituted Regulation 23, mandates with respect to gambling decoys, the use of which remains legal today (unlike in most other states). They are:

  • No more than two proposition players or a combination of four shills and proposition players may play in a card game.
  • Shills may only wager chips or coins.
  • All of a shill’s winnings must be wagered or turned in to the card room bank at the end of play.
  • When asked, casinos must identify the shills and/or proposition players on the floor.
  • Casinos must display a sign saying Nevada casinos allow the use of shills and proposition players.
  • Shills cannot play in such a way that disadvantages the other players.
  • Gambling licensees must maintain employee records on all of their shills/proposition players.

Stakes players — “a person financed by the licensee to participate in a game under an arrangement or understanding where by such person is entitled to retain all or any portion of his winnings” — are prohibited.

Illustration by Gil Elvgren

This blog post originally appeared on Doresa Banning’s blog It Really Happened: Gambling-Related Stories of the Past on June 17, 2015.