Las Vegas is widely regarded as the capital of gambling. It is also known as Sin City. Whilst there is a lot of truth behind both of these statements and that shouldn’t surprise you, you may be surprised to learn that Las Vegas is still a baby – historically speaking. Until about 100 years ago, few people had ever heard of Las Vegas beyond the Southwestern United States. If it wasn’t for a railroad, Las Vegas may have faded from history. It didn’t fade, though; it grew and carried on growing. Las Vegas is today one of the most famous cities in the world and everybody has heard of it. Here is how it all changed for this little Spanish desert town.
The origins of the town don’t begin in the 1930s. They don’t even begin in the 1830s. The first confirmed people to live in the area where the Paiute tribe of Native American Indians, who inhabited the region in about 700 AD. However, there is archaeological evidence and petroglyphs which show that humans moved into the area around Las Vegas almost 10,000 years ago. Little else is known about the Las Vegas from this time.
Rafael Rivera, and Antonio Armijo
10,000 years ago, it certainly wasn’t’ known as Las Vegas. In fact, Las Vegas wouldn’t formally take its name until 1821. Rafael Rivera, a Spanish descendant was scouting the valley for Antonio Armijo’s expedition to open up a new trade route between California and New Mexico. He came across it and thought that it reminded him of meadows. The name, Las Vegas means the meadows and the name was recorded down. Even then, few people dared live in such an area.
Mexican to US-rule
In 1844, a group of US Army engineers would build a fort in Las Vegas Springs just in case a war with Mexico occurred. The problem was Las Vegas was well within Mexican territory. The outcome of the eventual war would see Las Vegas and Nevada in general handed over to the USA in 1848. The spoils of war. Fortunately for gamblers all over the world, this story has a happy ending.
The change from Mexican to US-rule did little to the area. In 1855, a group of Mormon settlers set up a fort in what would become Las Vegas. Unfortunately for them, the crops didn’t grow and within 2 years they had returned to Utah, the new settlement being deemed a failure. The fort was reoccupied in 1865 after the Paiute’s ceded the surrounding area to the US in exchange for relocation, food and farming supplies.
Octavius Gass began to irrigate the fields, made wine from his crops, making Vegas a famous stop on the Old Spanish Trail trading route, until he lost his ranch in a bet to Archibald Stewart.
The railway and the city
The Stewart family maintained the ranch until it was snapped up in 1902 by the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad group. Mormons flocked to the area due to a new deal costing just $1.25 per acre, and within 20 years the settlement was flourishing. The railroad brought visitors and minor wealth.
Within a few years, water began to be pumped into the city from nearby wells and Las Vegas became an important stop on the road for wagons and trains. Once the railroad was finished in 1905 a vision was planned for a new town. After being plotted, planned, and planted it was finally built and ready to roll by 1911. The first mayor of Las Vegas appears in 1911-1913 and is named as Peter Buol.
Gambling is outlawed, and organised crime
Las Vegas was the last Nevada town to outlaw gambling in 1910, but this had negative effects. As a result of this, organised crime began to take root including speakeasies and illegal casinos offering games.
Within 20 years, the decision was reversed. It couldn’t have come a moment too soon, as Las Vegas was on the verge of financial ruin. Gambling was legalised in 1931, but by then, some very powerful but scrupulous characters had taken hold of the city.
The Hoover Dam and the casinos
When the Boulder Dam was constructed workers flooded into the city. The sheer amount of working girls and gambling games available were really appealing to the workers who poured money into the city’s coffers. The Boulder Dam would go on to be known as the Hoover Dam. Fremont Street (then Vegas’ only paved road) was booming with people and by 1936 Las Vegas was doing incredibly well.
The luxury casinos of today
Highways were the next invention to lure in the masses to Vegas and they flocked to play at newly opened casinos, including the El Rancho Vegas. Other hotels and casinos followed suit and before long the area beside the highway became known as the Las Vegas Strip. The old crime syndicates still had a hand to play, with Bugsy Siegel opening up The Flamingo. Unlike more traditional Western themed casinos this one had a penchant for all things Hollywood and so the tradition of Hollywood stars in Vegas had begun.
In 1966, the wealthy and rich started snapping up the crime syndicates properties. It began with Howard Hughes (who checked in the Desert Inn, then bought it). Soon the crime groups had sold out to corporations. Within 20 years, Steve Wynn opened the Mirage and so began the super casino complexes.
Almost every casino that has arrived since has followed this plan. You have the luxury of playing all the latest casino games including roulette, blackjack and any slot game you can imagine. There are different versions of roulette including rapid and auto roulette and slots themed on sports, film and even board games such as snakes and ladders and monopoly games. So, as well as the actual venues the games have also progressed significantly in the last 20 years.
Much of the city’s history is preserved in Las Vegas culture today. From its Hollywood stars, to its ranches and western themes, its desert landscapes, Spanish name, and its showgirls – Las Vegas honours its history, and what a colourful history it has been.