5 Interesting Facts About the History of Gambling In Las Vegas

Split Image of Old Vegas and New Vegas With Casino Chips in Front

Considered to be the gambling metropolis of the world, Las Vegas has a rich history which includes entertainment, vice, and mob ties.

The first casinos were established by the laundering of drug money and racketeering. With its full on embrace of not just gambling but also prostitution, Las Vegas became the perfect environment for East Coast organized crime to thrive in.

Even in the early 1900s, Las Vegas was known as a place to go to get a quick divorce and an even quicker marriage.

Interested in learning more about the history of gambling in Las Vegas? Well, here are 5 interesting facts about the history of gambling in Las Vegas.

1- Las Vegas Was Named by a Spanish Merchant

In the early 19th century, a Spanish merchant named Antonio Armijo was leading a trade caravan. This trade caravan consisted of around 60 men. They stumbled upon the Las Vegas Valley and it seemed to be the perfect place to resupply on their way to California.

This trade caravan named this area of land “Las Vegas”. In Spanish, Las Vegas means “Fertile Plains” or “The Meadows”. At this point, the Las Vegas Valley was a part of Mexico.

In 1844 there was the possibility of war between the United States and Mexico. At this point, U.S. President John Tyler organized a group of spies and scientists to be led by John C. Fremont. This group was a part of the United States Army Corp.

This group made camp and established a fort at Las Vegas Springs. War with Mexico ended up breaking out, and the Las Vegas territory then became a part of the United States of America.

In 1855, a group of Mormon missionaries from Utah led by William Bringhurst traveled to the Las Vegas Valley. While there, these Mormon missionaries built an adobe fort. They watered their crops with flood irrigation.

Two years later, the fort was abandoned by the Mormons and they returned to Utah. This was due to the summer heat and tensions between Mormon leaders at the fort.

This area would not really see any activity until 1864. At that time, The U.S. Government used the fort to throw off a group of Confederate spies by saying they had overtaken the fort and renamed it Fort Baker.

2- The Building of the Hoover Dam Influenced Las Vegas Culture

Work on what would become the Hoover Dam started in 1931. This huge construction venture increased the population from around 5,000 to 25,000 people. Since the majority of these new people were men, this created the demand for some high end entertainment.

Nevada legalized gambling at the local level in 1931. The Northern Club received the first ever gambling license in the state of Nevada. The Las Vegas Club and the Hotel Apache were soon to follow. These gambling establishments were on Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

Not only was Fremont Street the very first to be paved in Las Vegas, but it also had the first traffic light in the city. This marked the beginning of what was to become the gambling metropolis of the globe.

Aerial View of Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam was completed in 1935. Southern Nevada Power was the very first utility company that supplied power from the Hoover Dam. Can you guess who was the first customer? That’s right, Las Vegas.

With electricity now powering the city of Las Vegas, Fremont Street then became referred to as “Glitter Gulch.” Even though at this point there was a decrease in construction workers at the Hoover Dam, there was now a new type of crowd populating the area.

Hoover Dam thus became a popular tourist spot. This created a demand for high end hotels, therefore contributing to the development of Las Vegas.

Route 95 extended into Las Vegas in 1940. This meant that there were now 2 major access roads in the city of Las Vegas. Las Vegas’ first radio station, KENO, appeared during this time as well.

This is where casinos and showgirl theatres got their booming start. This was developed by both Mafia lords and business owners that were local to the Las Vegas area.

3- The Bank of Las Vegas Was the First Bank to Loan Money to a Casino

With the legalization of gambling in the state of Nevada came the first funding for Las Vegas casinos. The Bank of Las Vegas was the very first bank to lend money to a casino.

Around the same time, the Teamsters State Pension Fund started lending money to those who owned and developed casinos in Las Vegas. Allen Dorfman, who was a good friend of Jimmy Hoffa, was in charge of the Teamsters State Pension.

The funding provided by the Teamsters State Pension led to the opening of such places as the Sands, the Sahara, the New Frontier, the Riviera, and the Showboat among many others.

By 1954 it was a well known fact that people with criminal backgrounds were running things in Las Vegas. However, this didn’t dissuade people from going to Las Vegas and spending their money.

Around this time 8 million people were coming to Las Vegas on a yearly basis and putting around $200 million dollars into casinos.

Gambling now was not the only thing that attracted people to Las Vegas. Las Vegas was quickly becoming the entertainment hub of North America. Stars such as Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin were performing in awesome intimate venues.

4- Atomic Testing Became a Tourist Attraction in the Early 1950’s

Yes, you read that right. Atomic testing became a tourist attraction in the early 1950s for Las Vegas. Even with the known dangers of radiation, Las Vegas capitalized on this atomic testing to entice more tourists.

There were drinks known as “atomic cocktails.” These were offered at the Sky Room, which was a restaurant at the Desert Inn. While sipping your “atomic cocktails” you could sit and enjoy the view of mushroom clouds.

By the mid 1950s Las Vegas was growing in new ways. In 1957, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was established. And 2 years later the Las Vegas Convention Center finished construction.

The convention center helped to legitimize Vegas and the influx to the city’s revenue didn’t hurt either.

5- Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack Help With Desegregation in Las Vegas

Much like any other place in the United States before the civil rights movement, Las Vegas was very segregated. Any clubs that served non-white patrons were on the west side of town.

At this time, employment at white-owned clubs was pretty limited for non-white employees. The only exception to this, would have been if you were a minority entertainer like Sammy Davis Jr.

Eventually the organized criminals that were running establishments in Las Vegas saw a monetary opportunity in desegregation. They thought if they could desegregate their establishments, that they could ultimately put all the non-white club owners out of business.

Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack Portrait

These criminal masterminds wanted to replicate the desegregated type of establishments that existed in Harlem, New York in the 1920s and the 1930s.

In 1955, Will Max Schwartz opened the Moulin Rouge. Not only was it a racially integrated casino, but it was extremely luxurious and high class. Even though this casino didn’t last, it had started a change in the racial atmosphere of Las Vegas.

Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack are credited for being advocates of desegregation. Apparently when the Rat Pack was scheduled to perform at the Sands, Sinatra refused to perform unless a room for Sammy Davis Jr. was provided by the hotel.

Frank Sinatra reportedly did the same thing at many other venues.

Eventually the civil rights movement of the 1960’s led to desegregation taking effect in Las Vegas, just like the rest of the country.


Finally, the organized crime and Rat Pack era came to an end by the mid to late 1980s. At this time, baby boomer entrepreneurs took over. This is what started the mega resort era of Las Vegas as we know it today.

It is no doubt that Las Vegas is still known for its vices, but it continues to be a hotspot for tourists, gamblers, and people living double lives.

You can still get married and divorced extremely quickly and catch some of the best entertainers in the entire world. So, with Las Vegas, some things truly never change.

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