Second, What Happens Here, Stays Here -- A History of Las Vegas

 People have lived in Nevada for more than 10,000 years, but Las Vegas wasn’t founded until 1905.

This Nevada valley was named Las Vegas by Rafael Rivera, who came through the area in 1821 on a European expedition. In Spanish, Las Vegas translates into the meadows. Some may wonder why anyone would create a settlement in the middle of the desert, but Las Vegas served as a literal oasis in the desert because water was found in underground wells. 

How It Started

As a result of access to water, the first Las Vegas settlement was originally founded by ranchers and railroad workers. Thanks in part to the railroad that connected Salt Lake City, Utah to Los Angeles, California via Las Vegas, it became an incorporated city as of 1911. Just twenty years later, the city would see a huge boom in population.

Settling Sin City

In the early days of gambling, people used actual silver dollars to place bets. Today, gambling chips are made of plastic but are about the size of 50 cent pieces. When gambling was outlawed from 1910 to 1931, Vegas earned the nickname “Sin City” due to the clandestine gambling still found on Fremont Street.

The 1930s saw an influx of workers, many of whom were arriving for the building of the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River. To entice workers to come to Nevada and work on the hydroelectric masterpiece, casinos and showgirl venues opened up just outside Las Vegas on Fremont Street. When the Hoover Dam was finished in 1936, the power generated by the dam lit up flashing signs that read “Glitter Gulch” over Fremont Street, bringing more attention to the strip and the entertainment available there.

1931, when gambling was once again legal the official Las Vegas strip got its start when Clark County gave a three-month gaming license to a Las Vegas Club. As a result, a three-mile “strip” was born. By 1941 El Rancho Vegas Resort opened just outside of Sin City itself. Located on U.S. Highway 91, other casinos and hotels soon popped up, creating a modern-day strip that paid homage to the original Fremont Street strip from the 30s. 

Organized Crime Moves In

With no state income tax, speed limit, sales tax, or waiting period for marriages, it became a popular spot for mobsters and vacationers alike.

One of the other first Las Vegas resorts is the Flamingo Hotel, which was built by Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky. These two mobsters used their money and connections to open the Flamingo on December 31, 1946. Organized crime had officially found a new home in the West and they used casinos as a front for money laundering and other conducting other unsavory business.

By the 1950s there were only about 1,800 hotel rooms on the Las Vegas strip. Still, it was enough to entice people to make a weekend trip out of their visit. Mob money helped fund the building of hotel-casinos including the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier, and the Riviera. Thanks to the Cold War testing in Nevada, Vegas earned a new nickname as the “Up and Atom City.”

Types of Gambling in Vegas

While there is a lot to play in Vegas these days, it wasn’t until the 1960s that coin slot machines were introduced. Prior to then, gambling was mostly in the form of card games.

  • Penny slot machines

  • Nickel slot machines

  • Computerized dollar slot machines

  • $500 chip slot machines

  • Baccarat

  • Blackjack

  • Poker

  • Craps

  • Keno

  • Roulette

Around the same time slot machines were added to casinos, more resorts started bringing in entertainment, including Elvis, the Rat Pack, Liberace, showgirls, the Lido de Paris, and Folies Bergere. 

How It’s Going

In 1966, Howard Hughes checked into the Desert Inn and never checked out. He was known for his records in aviation, as well as his work as a film producer and director. With the wealth he’d accumulated by the 1960s, he bought the Desert Inn and a number of other hotels in Vegas, including the Sands, Frontier, Silver Slipper, Castaways, Landmark, and Harold’s club. This signaled the end of the mob’s stranglehold on casinos and resorts in the city, starting the shift to corporate ownership. It changed the landscape of Las Vegas significantly, as Hughes became the largest employer in Nevada and, arguably, the most powerful man in Las Vegas.

In an effort to continue eradicating the presence of organized crime in Vegas, newspaper editor Hank Greenspun exposed corruption in the political spheres of Las Vegas, and how the relationships between the sheriff, Lieutenant Governor, and the mob played roles in undermining the integrity of the city. 

In 1989, businessman Steve Wynn opened the Mirage in Las Vegas. Known as the first “mega-resort,” over the next twenty years, it was joined by more of its kind. The original casinos and hotels were demolished as they faced bankruptcy, making way for larger venues such as Rio, Excalibur, MGM Grand, the Bellagio, and Mandalay Bay.

Las Vegas has faced its share of downturns, what with the end of the Rat Pack/World War II generation. The recession of the early 2000s hit homeowners hard, stalling residential and commercial construction throughout the city. In the later aughts, Vegas saw an increase in tourism, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Not many resorts operate under their original names today, but the ones which have stood the test of time include the Flamingo, the Riviera, and the Tropicana.

The rapid advancement of technology and the internet has revolutionized the gambling industry. Although some still visit Las Vegas for gambling, the accessibility of online platforms and a diverse range of games have made this activity more accessible to a wider audience. Many online casinos now offer enticing bonuses, such as free welcome spins, upon creating a Hollywoodbets aviator login for the first time, for example. While some prefer the vibrant atmosphere and social interaction of Las Vegas, others find it more convenient and cost-effective to enjoy live betting sites from the comfort of their own homes.

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