One of The Entertainment Capitals of the World has a rich history that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. This young city of Nevada Sin City has a past and culture so entertaining and fascinating that it will capture your imagination and drag you into another world, where everything that happens stays to enrich the existing and breed new stories.
The city of Las Vegas began like many of the other western cities in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The area was filled with small hotels and business that were strategically located to serve the needs of migrators who were moving west during the California Gold Rush and development of the railroad system. In the early 1930's, the face of Las Vegas, Nevada was set on a historic course.
In mid-1930, President Herbert Hoover approved legislation that would fund the building of what is known today as Hoover Dam. With the Great Depreciation having devastated the job markets and economy throughout the country, thousands of migrant workers headed to the Las Vegas area to land one of the proposed 5,000 jobs available working on the dam project. As the area's population swelled to 25,000 people, mostly males, Las Vegas business owners, Mormon investors and mob bosses in the area sought ways to keep these men entertained. In 1931 with influence from these groups, the Nevada legislature legalized gambling and showgirl entertainment in several areas of Nevada, including Las Vegas.
The first casino to receive a gambling license was the Northern Club that was located in what is now the downtown area. Along a gravel road named Fremont Street, several other casinos quickly joined the fray. They included the Las Vegas Club and the Apache Hotel. In order to accommodate the traffic, Fremont Street became the first paved road in a city that was poised to explode in growth. Hoover Dam was completed in 1935, and by 1937, it was ready to begin supplying power to local cities like Vegas. With the addition of free-flowing electricity, casino owners propped up big signs and the bright lights of Las Vegas began to burn.
In 1941, the first resort hotel to be opened on what would become the famous "Las Vegas Strip" was the El Rancho Vegas. The hotel was owned by Thomas Hull and is credited for establishing the very first buffet in town. It wasn't long before the El Rancho had a companion on the lonely strip when the Last Frontier popped up in 1942. As gambling operations continued to expand all over the area, organized crime took note and made its move on the city. Since hotel and land owners of the era were unwilling to sell to mafia figures, leading gangsters like Bugsy Siegal and Meyer Lansky went through Mormon owned banks under legitimate corporate names to purchase land in the city. In 1946, Siegal's dream of building the ultimate Vegas resort became a reality with the opening of the Flamingo. Because of budget overruns and casino losses, Siegal lost his life the mafia way, in a hail of bullets. Soon to follow were other mafia owned casinos such as the Sands, The Tropicana and the Sahara. At a time when segregation and civil rights were becoming big social issues throughout the country, Jewish gangsters defied other hotels by building the Moulin Rouge, which became the first integrated hotel in the city. When entertainers like Frank Sinatra used their considerable drawing power to force hotels to allow access to blacks, segregation ended in Las Vegas long before any civil rights laws were to be enacted. Of course, things were not always rosy in Vegas. Despite the fact that state legislatures were trying to combat organized crime's influence on the city, the city and state were flourishing and bribe money kept lawmakers in check and gangsters ruled the city.
By the mid-1950's, Las Vegas had become the adult entertainment of the world. Aside from the gambling, the city was now featuring 5-star restaurants and top entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley. It was a formula that was bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars and dumping it right into the pockets of America's most famous criminals. As the city's people and legislature became increasing uneasy with the involvement of the mafia, a new breed of investor, Howard Hughes, moved into the city. He set up shop at the Desert Inn in 1966. When hotels owners tried to get him to vacate his hotel room, which Hughes had commandeered, the social recluse solved the problem and bought the hotel. With considerable resources earned from his aviation business endeavours, Hughes began buying up as much property in the area as he could get his hands on. As his power base grew, keeping Hughes happy began to take precedent over keeping organized crime happy for city officials. Sensing its run in Vegas was nearing an end, mafia hotel owners gave way and began selling their properties to Hughes and other legitimate business interest. With organized crime's influence in the city diminished, a new day was dawning for Las Vegas.
There were two major changes that occurred in Las Vegas during the 1970's. With the opening of the Circus Circus Hotel in 1968, the city began a push to offer more forms of family entertainment. As the city became a safer environment for kids with the vanishing of mafia owned properties, casino owners began to realize the time was right to start courting a new kind of customer, the family. The Circus Circus offered circus acts, carnival games, an arcade and a buffet just for kids, and parents were now able to bring their kids with them on their weekend junkets. It wasn't long before other casinos were adding arcades and a variety of attractions to keep kids entertained while their folks stayed in the casino.
Something else was taking hold in the city. It was during this time that the city began to experience population growth unrelated to the casino industry. With a new University and major businesses sprouting up all over the city, Vegas was becoming more that a place to vacation and gamble, it was becoming a legitimate place to live. The soaring prices throughout California sent thousands of residents to Nevada. Tract home sites, strip malls and major shopping centres popped up all over the Las Vegas Valley. While the casino industry maintained its position as the leading employer for the city, Las Vegas became a legitimate place to live if an individual could handle the desert heat.
The 1980's could be characterized as a period of quiet growth. The casinos maintained the status quo as people continued their migration into the city. In 1981, one of the worse disasters in Nevada history struck when some of the upper floors of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino caught fire. Eighty-five people were killed and another 750+ were injured. In the mid-1980's, The Frontier Hotel's food concession labour group went on strike. The strike lasted more than five years before the hotel was finally sold and issues were resolved. While these were the most important stories during the 1980's, there were new plans in the works that would again change the face of the city.
When Steve Wynn introduced The Mirage Hotel in 1990, Las Vegas began the process of changing its culture yet again. These new Mega-resorts had elite shopping malls, giant casinos, Broadway-style productions replacing headliners, and dozens of restaurants along with thousands of elegant rooms. In 1993, Treasure Island, the new MGM Grand and Luxor brought more of these huge theme-based resorts to the strip. By the end of 1999, there were 12 mega-resorts located on the strip. With everything a customer could want located under one roof, smaller casinos along the strip and downtown began to close due to the competition. One after one, older casinos were imploded and beautiful billion dollar properties began springing up. Water parks and amusement parks were added for the kids and Las Vegas began its transformation into the ultimate family vacation destination. This trend continued into the mid-2000s with the addition of The Wynn Hotel and Resort, The Palms, the Palazzo and the simply amazing Encore.
New Challenges for the Gambling Capital of the World
As the 2000's evolved, Las Vegas was faced with a variety of new challenges. Huge gaming destinations started sprouting up in other parts of the world such as Singapore and Macau, which has overtaken Las Vegas for annual revenues. Most states began offering some form of casino gambling that challenged the local base of customers who used to flock to Vegas. Also, the proliferation of online casino gambling allowed gamblers from all over the world to sit at home and play their favourite games without a plane ticket or room reservation. All that said, the worst was yet to come. As casinos owners were figuring out how to continue competing on the new world market, one of the worse worldwide recessions in history dealt Vegas a huge blow. Several new casinos that were under construction sat dormant and massive layoffs forced employees to consider other options, including moving away from the city. The city went dry, but this is Las Vegas, the city with a history too rich to deny.
In recent years, the downtown properties have been given a facelift to the delight of the old school players. Dormant constructions sites are re-awaking and people are moving back to the city. The reality is that Las Vegas was built to endure, and endure it has. The city has survived the desert, gangsters, fires, strikes and numerous facelifts. If someone is looking for a sure bet, the surest bet in the world is that Las Vegas will always stand proud as America's beacon in the desert.
By Denise Marie