Las Vegas is an iconic city famous for its gambling, hotels and entertainment scene. With such a long and storied history dating back to 1905, many people consider Las Vegas an essential travel destination worldwide.
At first, the city served as a stopping place for travelers on western pioneer trails; over time it evolved into a popular railroad town–particularly during its rise during the early 1900s.
The origins of Las Vegas
Before Las Vegas became one of the gambling capitals of the world, it was just another small town. Its beginnings can be traced back to 1820s when Mexican explorer Antonio Armijo established a trading route connecting New Mexico and California.
Soon, however, it became known for drinking and gambling despite state legislation prohibiting such activity in 1910. Soon thereafter, organized crime mobs took notice and started operating illegal casinos there to make profit.
Nevada didn’t legalize gambling until 1931. This coincided with the construction of Hoover Dam which provided electricity and water supplies to the city.
These factors drew more people to Las Vegas, driving its growth. By 1950s it had become a world-class resort town known for its high-stakes gambling and glamorous atmosphere.
The early days
Las Vegas began as nothing more than a stopover for railroad workers traveling between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, quickly developing into a bustling community filled with banks, newspapers, brickyards, and other amenities.
Gambling was widespread during California’s gold rush period, until a nationwide ban effectively eliminated it in early 1900s.
But some individuals were able to make it work, quickly shaping the future of Las Vegas. One such individual was Guy McAfee, an former vice squad commander from Philadelphia who made Las Vegas his new home and opened casinos there.
Las Vegas also experienced significant expansion during World War II as more soldiers from the Pacific Theater came home and settled here, leading to an increase in population that propelled further casino development.
The emergence of casinos
Las Vegas has long been known as an entertainment and gambling hot spot, making it the most visited city in America with an estimated 40+ million annual visitors.
Early 20th-century businessmen began to construct hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. Thomas Hull established El Rancho as the inaugural casino of this new city.
Once gangster Bugsy Siegel opened The Flamingo in 1946, Las Vegas quickly become a hotspot for gambling. His first mob-owned resort proved immensely successful; other similar establishments soon started popping up across town.
Beginning in the 1970s, casinos gradually evolved into large theme resorts offering more than just gaming activities. These mega-resorts transformed Las Vegas into an idyllic family vacation spot.
Although other cities like Macau have overtaken Las Vegas in terms of gambling revenue, Sin City remains the gambling capital of the world and draws people from all over to experience its casino gambling, entertainment, nightlife, cuisine and travel experiences.
The rise of the mob
After World War II, organized crime gangs quickly established operations in Las Vegas, then home to railroad workers and ranchers. Thanks to its embrace of Old West-style freedoms such as gambling and prostitution, Las Vegas proved ideal for East Coast criminal gangs looking to capitalize on the massive amounts of cash flowing through casinos.
Anti-mob crusaders seized upon Las Vegas as an epicenter for mob activity and its rise, labeling it Sin City in response to its links with organized crime. Their goal was to remove mob figures from casinos while the state issued an official list of those excluded in order to monitor activities within its borders.
In the 1950s, mob power on the Strip peaked as Las Vegas became known as the gambling capital of the world. Over time however, their influence diminished while federal and local law enforcement kept close tabs on traditional organized crime in the region; but crime did not rise to previous levels.