The history of gambling in Las Vegas

Following on from our very popular history of gambling in New Jersey we now turn our attention to the bright lights of Las Vegas.

The dream destination for many gamblers is Las Vegas. Located in Nevada, Vegas has a population of around 600,000 people. Yet despite that, it’s a resort city that is known and loved all over the world. The bright lights, fantastic hotels and spectacular casinos have ensured that it’s the gambling and entertainment capital of the world. Over the years, it has built a legendary reputation and is the ideal venue for anyone who loves to play.

Las Vegas at Night

However, has it always been like that? Here, we give you the lowdown on exactly how Sin City became the go-to place and examine whether the future will be as successful.

The early days

Gambling in America has been very complex over the years. Even to this day, there are restrictions and different rules that apply from state to state. Although, that doesn’t influence Vegas, where anything goes! Yet it hasn’t always been that way.

The first signs of gambling in Nevada, and America in general, can be traced back to 1931 and came about because of the Great Depression, with the idea that it allowed churches and other groups to make money. Although there were illicit casinos run beforehand, it was the first time some forms of gambling were legalized.

During the same year, the first gaming license was issued to local resident Mayme Stocker and that would signal the start of gambling in Vegas. The first signs of a casino on the famous strip arrived in 1941 when El Rancho Vegas opened. However, in the 1940s gambling in Vegas would take a more sinister turn. That’s because the mafia and crime bosses began to take an interest in Vegas with the prospect of gambling and money to be made. The Flamingo hotel was built in 1946 on the back of involvement from gangsters, along with nightclubs and different entertainment venues, and Vegas was really beginning to grow.

Flamingo Hotel Casino

Throughout the next few decades, the pattern continued, with more casinos populating areas of the city and the entertainment side of Vegas was blossoming. In 1954, despite the criminals still in power, over eight million people were visiting the casinos, bringing over $200m in revenue through the doors. They were also treated to the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra performing and players would enjoy gourmet meals before finally hitting the tables.

Revenues soar and those involved change

Combining great entertainment with the thrill of gambling made Vegas the ultimate place to go, and in turn revenues soared. By the 80s the revenues were comfortably into the billions from all aspects of the entertainment including casinos, hotels, food and drink. Year on year, these would improve, with the $10bn barrier broken in 1994.

Yet, before that, we began to see Vegas change away from the criminal culture that had originally ruled the gambling world with the gangsters’ grip on the city significantly diminishing. This enabled Vegas to become a more family-oriented place with large corporations owning the casinos, clubs and restaurants instead of the mafia, creating the ‘megaresort’ era.

That all began with the construction of The Mirage which was built by developer Steve Wynn in 1989 with the money coming from Wall Street. With thousands of rooms, all boasting gold tinted windows it was a new level of luxury for customers that enticed tourists from across the globe.

The Mirage

That was just the start, with many more landmark hotels and venues popping up on the strip over the next decade. They included MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Bellagio and Mandalay Bay among others.

The new Vegas had arrived and with the money that was in the city, the entertainment levels again remained the best around. From boxing bouts involving legends like Mike Tyson, to the leaders in the music industry, everyone wanted a piece of Vegas.

Competition arrives and the recession hits

By the late 90s, Vegas had firmly established its reputation as number one for all gamblers. So, even when gambling laws relaxed across America, it didn’t have too much of an impact. Atlantic City became the Vegas equivalent on the East Coast, but Vegas was still seeing people drawn to the bright lights in their millions.

However, the revenues that had continuously risen year on year were going to stop by the late 2000s when the recession hit. The economic situation meant that people had less money to gamble, so although high rollers would still love the entertainment and fun on offer, there wasn’t as many prepared to wager the big money. Similarly, the average person could no longer afford to spend weekends away in Vegas or risk losing money at the tables.

To demonstrate the effect that the recession had, Atlantic City saw many casinos close and even though Vegas didn’t reach the same levels, it came very close. It has been revealed that the MGM was minutes away from closing the CityCenter project, which was the biggest the city had seen. But, Vegas would fight through the crisis and emerge on the other side although by now, more competition had arrived.

Given its status as the undisputed gambling capital of the world, Vegas faces competition from across the globe. And, recently that has come fiercely from Macau. Located just outside the south coast of China, it has attracted many Asian players who love to stake big. So much so, the revenue generated would dwarf Vegas, with over $45bn in 2013, many times that of Sin City.

That hasn’t sustained with big drops following, but Macau still brings in more revenue through its gaming than Vegas. Yet, where it still can’t compete is on the entertainment scene. Strides have been taken to ensure tourists have plenty to do, but it does not have the same appeal to many as Vegas does.

What does the future hold?

Since the economic crisis hit, Vegas has begun to repair the damage caused. Revenues are reaching similar levels to that before the downturn ($25bn) and tourists are still drawn to the city. So much so, that more are visiting than ever before and it’s not just for the gambling. The four-mile-long iconic strip boasts excellent restaurants, nightclubs and shops that attract people to the city.

Caesars and Paris on the Strip

As well as that, the multi-million-dollar investments that were initially put on hold during the recession have now been approved to continue. That will see even more bigger, better, more luxurious buildings arrive soon.

That shows that even if the good times are not completely back, things are certainly looking up for Las Vegas again after the problems. Its reputation has remained and people still regard it as the place to visit, whether you’re a local or a tourist.

Ultimately, Las Vegas is synonymous with gambling, entertainment and that will not be changing any time soon. With a selection of some of the largest hotels in the world on the strip and boasting an array of amazing casinos to complement the entertainment, you’re not short of anything when you visit Nevada. With equally impressive games available at your fingertips through New Jersey Online Casinos (NJOC), there’s nothing to stop you getting enough practice in before you visit the ultimate gambling city.


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