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Las Vegas History - Fact and Myth

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Ever wondered how the Sin City came about through the years? In this article, I'll give a brief overview of the history of Las Vegas.

The city of Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911 -- those who moved there because of the railroads found it to be a barren place, hot and dusty and totally lacking in appeal. Leak Detection Las Vegas Nevertheless, in 1920, the first casino was opened on Fremont Street and a new industry was born in the Nevada desert.

Since that time, the city has been the center of real and alleged mob activity, illegal fun and games, and more speculation about what goes on there than any other city in the world.

The decade of the 1930's was pivotal in Las Vegas' development. During those Depression years, the government underwrote the building of Hoover Dam to the tune of $70 million. Las Vegas became a boomtown as a result, but it was a boomtown that wasn't expected to thrive after the dam's completion.

But, since gambling was legal in Las Vegas - and not in nearby Boulder City, where the dam workers lived - Vegas became the hot spot for workers looking for entertainment. The first real resort in Vegas, El Rancho Vegas, would look very humble by today's standards - it was a getaway that specialized in banquets and weddings, and it did not have gambling on the property.

The beginning of casinos as we know them today can be attributed to Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, a couple of mobsters who had worked a protection racket in New York City. Siegel was a would-be actor who hung out with the likes of Clark Gable and George Raft when he wasn't handling the Mob's gambling enterprises. Among other rackets, he imported narcotics from Mexico and built up a huge prostitution business in Las Vegas.

During the '40's and '50's, the downtown area grew rapidly, with gaming establishments such as Binion's and The Golden Nugget making Las Vegas a true destination city. Benny Binion, of Binion's Horseshoe fame, made great strides in creating the Las Vegas that we know today. Among other guest perks, he started serving free drinks to gamers and slot machine players, he had limousine service to and from the airport, and he often professed his belief in making ordinary vacationers feel like high rollers.

Meanwhile, the federal government began to express concern about the Mob's links with gaming in the Nevada desert. Sen. Estes Kefauver held hearings in 1950 and 1951 to investigate those alleged connections. When the hearings were completed, a Gaming Control Board was set up to regulate (and legitimize) gaming.

Investors and developers in Las Vegas often had somewhat shady connections - they managed to gain a measure of respectability by donating to political and charitable causes. Eventually, they came to be considered good capitalists and community pillars, at least by Las Vegas' freewheeling standards.

Topless showgirl revues started at the Stardust and the Dunes, and lounge shows soon followed. By 1955, casinos were being built as fast as plans could be drawn up and financing secured.

But the real appeal of Las Vegas can be attributed to three men: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Howard Hughes. Sinatra and his Rat Pack played the Sands, Presley wowed crowds at the International (now the Las Vegas Hilton), and Hughes spent $300 million developing properties in Las Vegas until his death there as a recluse in the Desert Inn.

The Strip (Las Vegas Boulevard) became the place to build in the 1960's; by the 1980's, it was the only place. Millionaire businessmen like Steve Wynn replaced mobsters as the movers and shakers behind the scenes.


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Updated on December 03, 2022

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