(West) Wendover: What Time? What State?

It’s my lucky day. I found both a time zone anomaly and a (potential) border anomaly all wrapped up into one neat little package. Even more exciting, if the border does change then the two anomalies will occur in opposite directions! Those of you who have spent any time on the Twelve Mile Circle realize that I’m not being sarcastic. This is big stuff.

The border between Nevada and Utah is a rather boring straight longitudinal line.[1] Anything that might mess with this has to be be appreciated if only for the sake of variety. The stars aligned in 1999 when the Federal government changed as small piece of the boundary between Pacific Time and Mountain Time along the Nevada / Utah border. It resulted in a little jog into Nevada, pulling West Wendover and only West Wendover into Mountain Time[2]

From the northeast corner of the State of Nevada southerly along the Utah-Nevada boundary to the junction with the northern border of the City of West Wendover, Nevada. Then westward along the northern, western, and southern boundaries of the City of West Wendover back to the Utah-Nevada boundary. Then southerly along the Utah-Nevada boundary, the Nevada-Arizona boundary, and the Arizona-California boundary to the boundary between the United States and Mexico. (49 CFR 71.9)

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Everything in Nevada, save this tiny 7.5 square mile chunk rests squarely within the Pacific Time zone. Why the exception? Gambling, of course. West Wendover is the quickest, closest spot away from Salt Lake City, Utah if people want to experience casino gambling legally. There are more than a million people in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. It takes less than two hours to reach the Nevada border driving due west on a wide-open Interstate 80 for 120 miles. Any questions?

West Wendover sits just over the border with several tantalizing casinos for the gaming pleasure of the fine citizens of Utah. In contrast, West Wendover is a good 400 miles from either Reno or Las Vegas, so it makes sense for them to align with their customers in Mountain Time rather than with the rest of Nevada. There’s little other reason for them to exist.

An adjacent and contiguous town, Wendover, sits on the Utah side of the border. West Wendover booms with gambling revenue, delivering robust development and steady tax revenues. People and companies have gravitated from Wendover into West Wendover in pursuit of job opportunities, lower personal taxes and an attractive business climate.

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The Utah state line marker is the small sign on the left. To the left of the line, in Utah, there is an empty lot. To the right, in Nevada, is casinos.

Wendover, Utah has not been able to compete with its counterpart in Nevada. It does not have a steady stream of gambling to fill its city coffers with tax revenue or augment services to its citizens. It’s a vicious cycle. Those who remain tend to be of lower incomes in search of affordable housing, which in turn, results in even less tax revenue and fewer services. The downward spiral continues.

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Meanwhile, over the border in Wendover, Utah…

The residents of both towns want to join together to form a single town in Nevada. Utah isn’t standing in the way, either. The town as currently configured drains revenue from Utah and the state would be better off financially without it. If this were to happen, the border between Nevada and Utah would no longer form a straight line. Fifteen square miles of Utah would switch to Nevada.

This would be totally amicable. Residents of both towns voted affirmatively. The respective state governments of Nevada and Utah endorsed it. Their Congressional delegations supported it. Everything seemed probable until November 2006 when it hit a snag. Nevada would be happy to annex the land but it had to come debt-free, a debt that had grown to $27 million. Apparently that was a deal breaker although theoretically the idea hasn’t died. If it’s ever resurrected we’d have a time zone protrusion to the west around a cojoined Wendover and a state border protrusion to the east, a condition that would have been doubly noteworthy.

For a good overview of the underlying situation – albeit somewhat out of date – you can refer to a 2001 New York Times article, "Moving a Border to Wed Rich and Poor Towns."

There’s one more interesting aspect to West Wendover. It has nothing to do with geography but I like strange roadside attractions. Check out the one-and-only Wendover Will on the western edge of town.

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Wendover Will is 64 feet of awesome sheet-metal and neon tubing that waves, winks and smokes a cigarette above Wendover Boulevard. He sat right along the state line when erected in 1952 but he was decommissioned several decades later when the casino changed owners. A few years ago nostalgic town residents brought him out of storage, fixed him up, and moved him to his present location. There is an American Heritage article on him as well as a recent entry from a blog called BoomtownUSA if you really want to know.

[1]It has an interesting history though, that I will probably write about someday in the future

[2]Another Nevada town, Jackpot (along the Idaho border) also recognizes Mountain Time but does so informally. Only West Wendover is recognized as being within the Mountain Time zone officially and explicitly through the United States Code of Federal Regulations

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