The Early Years
Las Vegas itself is named after the Spanish word for “The Meadows”. The name comes from a caravan of Mexican traders who used the state of Nevada as a resting point on route to Los Angeles. During this time, Las Vegas was still considered Mexican territory.
It is assumed that in the 1800s, gambling was a popular activity for Mexican travellers through Las Vegas. However, it was technically illegal, as there were several laws against games of chance. It was not until 1869 that gambling was decriminalized.
The Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip stretches out from the Las Vegas Boulevard South in Clark Country. It is packed full of resort hotels and casinos. The Strip – as it is known as in Nevada – is about 4.2 miles long. For our European readers, that is about 6.8 kilometres.
Having decriminalized gambling in 1869, the laws changed with the Progressive Movement that banned most games that revolved around wagering. This made gambling illegal, but it turns out most players would be able to go to the backrooms in Las Vegas and gamble illegally. This was until 1931, when gambling was re-legalized in Nevada.
The First Casinos in Las Vegas
Before the Pink Flamingo opened, the El Rancho Vegas, headed by Thomas Hull, was the first hotel-resort on the Las Vegas Strip, opening in 1941. This was a steppingstone, but New York City gangster Bugsy Siegel took the gambling experience to a whole new level. The Flamingo was far larger in size and attracted the spotlight of attention on Nevada. Siegel himself was shot the following year but his legacy continued as more mobster-funded casino resorts appear in Las Vegas in the following years.
Modern Day Vegas
During the latter stages of the 20th century, Las Vegas grew vastly in size and reputation. Whilst names like Howard Hughes and The Rat Pack put the spotlight on Vegas, the city itself started having more casinos and resorts. This saw the once outlaw Wild West city become the home of gambling it is today.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Las Vegas truly reached for the stars, introducing major resorts such as the MGM Grand, the Bellagio and Treasure Island. Throughout the 2000s until the current day, Las Vegas has seen some ups and downs economically, but through it all it has retained its reputation as the gambling capital of the world.
Important Dates in Las Vegas’s History
- In 1931, gambling was made legal in Las Vegas. This came after the construction of the Hoover Dam where thousands were brought to the city. With legalized gambling, the city boomed from an influx of money.
- In 1941, El Rancho Vegas, headed by Thomas Hull, opened its doors to welcome casino players. This was the first ever hotel casino.
- Fast forward a few years, 1946 was the year in which Bugsy Siegel opened the Pink Flamengo, which later became known as Flamingo Las Vegas. This was the first hotel-casino resort that opened and attracted the attention of many upper-class civilians. Although Siegel was shot a year later, this proved to be a huge step for Las Vegas casinos as more mobsters followed suit and invested in casino resorts.
- The Holiday Casino was opened in 1973. In 1992, it was re-named to Harrah’s and now is home to over 1,200 slot machines.
- 1980 was a sad year for Vegas as 85 civilians were killed and a further 785 were injured during a fire in the MGM Grand Casino. Sadly, this was the worst ever casino disaster in Las Vegas.
- The following year, Philip Cline set fire to the Las Vegas Hilton in 1981. This claimed the lives of 8 people and injured 200 more. In addition, the hotel was ruined after the fire.
- Between 1981 and 1984, Caesar’s Palace grew in stature by hosting several boxing fights featuring some of the heavyweights. Names like Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya all spring to mind. In these years, the casino-resort also hosted the Caesars Palace Grand Prix.
- In 1989, a mega resort opened for the first time in Las Vegas, The Mirage. This was the first of many over the next few decades.
- In 1993 the 8th largest casino resort in the world with 4,407 rooms opens in Vegas. The Luxor is still extremely popular and it is famous for its pyramid structure and iconic sky beam.
- In 1996, the Hacienda closed but later, in 1999, it was replaced by the Mandalay Bay casino.
- In 1999, The Venetian opened as the largest casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip. It was the largest in the world for a good few years before the Venetian Macau opened in 2007.
- The 1980s and 1990s were big years for the MIT Blackjack Team. The team consisted of four former US army officials who had studied engineering. They used their mathematical skills for card counting at blackjack games and took Las Vegas casinos by storm. At the time, card counting was not considered cheating, and the group achieved legendary status for being able to exploit casinos using statistics. They did, however, get banned from setting foot in many casinos along the Las Vegas Strip.
- Another sad date in Las Vegas history was 1993 when casino director Steve Wynn’s daughter was kidnapped from her home in Nevada. This forced the billionaire to pay $1.45 million in ransom. Thankfully, the abductors were caught when one of them, Ray Cuddy, decided to pay $200,000 in cash to buy a new Ferrari.
- The Fountains of Bellagio became a massive hit and attraction for people visiting Las Vegas. The Bellagio casino and hotel resort developed dancing water fountains that were synchronized to music. This also played host to the world-famous Cirque du Soleil production of “O”.
- In 2013, Sarah Guillot-Guyard, an aerialist performer for Cirque du Soleil, fell to her death whilst performing at the MGM Grand Casino.
- 2015 was the year in which Kirk Kerkorian, “The Father of Las Vegas”, died in his Beverly Hills home at the age of 98. He helped mould Las Vegas into becoming the gambling home of casinos it is today. For further reference, he owned big name casinos like the MGM Grand, Bellagio, Mirage, Mandalay Bay and Luxor.
Las Vegas is the home to 15 of the largest 25 hotels in the world. In fact, there are more than 120 casinos in Las Vegas. According to the latest statistics, the population of Las Vegas is 634,773.
Las Vegas’ casinos are continually evolving and the above will have given you a very brief overview. However, it demonstrates just what a vibrant and exciting city Las Vegas is, and any fan of casino gambling is sure to cherish the chance to visit.