Gambling & Casinos in Las Vegas: A History

On May 15, 1905 Las Vegas was founded. While there were a few dwelling houses and some saloons, the small dusty town was seen by its developers as little more than a stopover for the railroad trains and freighters transporting goods in the area.

This would change soon enough. The gambling history of Las Vegas began during the California Gold Rush in the 1800s. Explorers and gold seekers from the east settled in the western frontier, and brought with them their practices and games, including Poker, Black Jack, Roulette etc. Gambling became prevalent in Las Vegas until the early 1900s when a nationwide crackdown drove the practice underground.

The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression in the 1930s altered the history of gambling in Vegas forever. Struggling for revenues, the state allowed for the legalization of gambling, and the funds generated were used to fund schools and universities. As the Depression gripped America, Las Vegas was largely insulated as profits from gambling and the construction of the Hoover Dam kept the local economy moving.

In 1941 the state of Nevada granted a license to businessman Tommy Hull to build and operate the El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel casino in the city. The El Rancho was built on a vacant lot overlooking a two lane highway that would eventually become known as the Vegas Strip.

The success of the El Rancho led to a construction boom of hotel casinos on the Strip. Among the most well known establishments were the Apache Hotel, the Last Frontier, the Horseshoe and the Flamingo. The Flamingo Hotel, one of the most famous hotel casinos in Vegas history, was built by the mobster Bugsy Seigel.

During the 1950s casinos and gambling enterprises continued to flourish. The Riviera Hotel, the Tropicana and the Royal Nevada were built during this period. But the most important in historical terms was probably the Moulin Rouge. At a period in Vegas history when colored people -clients and entertainers- were less than welcome, the Moulin Rouge welcomed guests and performers from all races.

The 1970s was a period of great change in Las Vegas gambling history. The growing popularity of casinos in Atlantic City led to the development of the hotel casinos into total entertainment centers. These mega resorts, as they would be known, would provide entertainment not just for gamblers but for the entire family. Today, aside from gambling venues,these mega resorts / hotel casinos offer concerts, sporting venues, light shows, rides, theme parks etc.

But the heart of Las Vegas is still gambling, and it is what people primarily still associate it with. Many of the newest trends, such as push button and dollar accommodating slots, "shoe" Black Jack decks and million dollar jackpots first gained prominence in the city. Whatever the future of gambling may be, it is certain Las Vegas will be at the forefront.

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