Las Vegas History – Origin, Beginning & Development of the City

Las Vegas is one of a kind city with unique and stunning history. The town was built to be the central railroad station of the region and a key point on the way to the west coast. Yes, but thanks to the massive influence of the US crime families, it became the worlds most famous gambling city. You know the saying – what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Today you will have the chance to learn more the Las Vegas history and why this is the world's gambling capital.

The Valley of Death – The Legend of The Ancients

Near Las Vegas is located the hottest place on earth – the Valley of Death National Park. A legend explains why. In fact, palaeontologists even proved that the valley was once super green and full of life place, but what happened? The legend says the land was part of the kingdom of a powerful queen with the only ambition to rival the Aztec Empire.

The queen enslaved and sacrificed many lives, including her own daughter, to build a unique palace, mesmerising and beautiful, better than the Aztecs. On her dying breath, the daughter cursed her mother. Then, Mother Nature heard the voice of the dying soul and raised the temperature so that no living creature can survive. The queen of the death valley was left to rot alone and pay for all her evil deeds.

Welcome to Nevada Desert Highway Sign

Prehistorical Origin & Ancient History

If we look at the ancient history of the region, we will see that it is inhabited by human beings for over 10,000 years. The first concrete documentation is showing the presence of the local tribe, Paiute, since 700AD. Rafael Rivera is the first non-native American who stepped into the region and used the old Spanish trail to move different goods from Nevada to California.

The truth is that Rafael Rivera first named the valley – Las Vegas Valley. Less than 30 years later, in 1855, it became part of the US after the territorial war with Mexico. After the end of the war in 1965, Octavius Gass moved in and called the place “Los Vegas Rancho”. Not long after, in 1905, it finally became Las Vegas.. This is how Las Vegas’ history begins.

History of Las Vegas – The Beginning

In 1905 Las Vegas became a key point for the supply and control of Los Angeles and California in general. This is because Las Vegas was the railroad city that stands between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Las Vegas was not only a primal railroad station but a gateway to the pacific coast. Gambling in Las Vegas history appeared as a tendency right after the city’s foundation, but in 1910, Nevada banned gambling.

For 21 years, there were no changes in the law. Then in 1931, gambling was legalized again. This was the time when the American crime families started building their businesses and hotels there. In the following 40 years, the place flourished thanks to the money that mobsters invested in that place. It became a fairground for all crime syndicates, the place where they divide the profit, and they use to “wash” their dirty money.

Old School Gangster Plating Cards

Las Vegas History – The Den of Mobsters & Gambling

When speaking of the crime families back in the days, you should know that the person who united them is Lucky Luciano. He was able to set a long term peace between all bands with a mutual beneficiary agreement. That happened in the 1920s when the railroad companies still dictated Las Vegas future, but not for long. When gambling became legal in 1931, the mafia decided to invest in Las Vegas and expand its operations in the city. Now, apart from prostitutes and alcohol, it was able to organise all types of gambling games.

The first decade after the legalisation was just the beginning of a long and very successful period of the history of Las Vegas. The actual rise of Las Vegas as a fantastic tourist destination and a place where no rules matter started around 1945, or the end of the second world war. One of the most famous mobsters – Bugsy Seagal, made the city what it is today. He negotiated the investment for the legendary The Flamingo Casino Resort, which opened doors in the distant 1946, right after Christmas on the 26th of December. It quickly became the jewel of Las Vegas, but not for long.

Bugsy only set the start of a new, way brighter future for the city and its citizens. He was killed shortly after in 1947, but that didn’t stop the famous Las Vegas Strip development. The decade between 1950 and 1960 marked the best years in Las Vegas’ history when the crime families controlled everything and when Las Vegas became the place we know it today. Learn more about the Las Vegas strip history and the legendary hotels that became city icons.

Las Vegas Strip Street Sign

Las Vegas Strip History – The Rise of Casinos

The truth is that the first casino ever built in Las Vegas was the Pair-o-Dice Club back in 1931, right after the legalisation. But this casino was built next to the closest highway, not in the heart of Las Vegas. The first establishment on the Las Vegas Strip is the El Rancho Vegas, built in 1941.

Yes, but nothing can compare with Bugsy Seagal’s resort, The Flamingo, which opened in 1946. Despite his death in 1947, the crime families continued investing and developing the city by their design. The next grand resort was the Desert Inn in 1950, another beautiful jewel on the Las Vegas Strip again controlled by the mob. In the following paragraphs, we will turn more attention to some of the casino hotels which left their mark on the Las Vegas strip history.

Flamingo Casino Las Vegas History

🏨 Name: Flamingo Las Vegas
🗺️ Address: 3555 South Las Vegas Boulevard
📅 Built in: 1946
🛏️ Number of Rooms: 3460
🎲 Number of Games: 1800+
📏 Size: 150,000 sq/f
➕ Extras: Fitness, Spa, Shopping Center, Beauty Salon, Golf Court, Restaurants & Bars, Swimming Pool

This is one of the biggest casino icons in the history of Las Vegas. The Flamingo Resort Casino is the first establishment on the Las Vegas Strip. It set the beginning of the golden gambling era in the city. Thanks to Bugsy Seagal and the mafia investment, the hotel was built in 1946, and it’s still working. This is the last working hotel built before 1950. After the assassination of Bugsy, the hotel was taken by the famous tycoons, Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum, who made the places even more popular.

In 1953, the place was completely renovated for the first time. In 1955, the management changed again. Albert Parvin took the wheel. In 1960, it was sold to a group of mobsters from Miami. Not long after, in 1967, it was acquired by Kirk Kerkorian and his corporation. In 1972, it was sold to Hilton Corporation, and it became Flamingo Hilton. Renovations and expansions of the hotel and casino base were made in 1977, 1980, 1983, 1986, 1990, and in 1993 when the last parts of the old Flamingo building were completely replaced.

In 1998, they sold it to Park Place Entertainment (later on known as Caesars Entertainment). In 2010 Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Caesars Entertainment. The last massive upgrade of the place was done in 2018, when over $90 million were spent on renovation. No matter who owns it, The Flamingo Casino Resort lies in the very foundation of the Las Vegas Strip history. However, neither of the best online casinos worldwide could match its presence.

🏨 Name: Caesars Palace
🗺️ Address: 3570 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109, United States
📅 Built in: 1966
🛏️ Number of Rooms: 4000+
🎲 Number of Games: 1400+
📏 Size: Over 300,000 sq/f
➕ Extras: Bars & Restaurants, Golf Court, Swimming Pools, Spa Center

Caesars Palace Las Vegas History

Caesars Palace Las Vegas is another hotel-casino that left its mark on the Las Vegas strip history. Built in 1966 to be a luxury paradise for a wealthy gentleman. The massive building is located next to the most famous Bellagio and The Flamingo casino hotels. Jay Sarno and Stanley Mallin are the two founders of the establishment. Their idea was everything to be in an ancient Roman style. This is why the place is full of Roman art and architecture.

The grand opening of the Caesars Palace was one of a kind. There were over 50,000 glasses of champagne, tons of mignon fillet and other expensive meals. In 1969 the federal organised crime task force accused the head manager Jarome Zarowitz of connections with the criminal underground.

In 1971 the National Welfare Rights Organisation and over 1500 African Americans organised a protest in front of the casino. Five years later, in 1976, it happened again, but this time the protesters blocked the entry of the casino and caused losses of millions of dollars. Despite these events, the establishment kept its status as one of the best places to stay in Las Vegas.

In the 90s, it was already apparent that deep renovation is needed for the hotel to compete with the latest trends. This was when the expansion of the hotel and casino base started. In the decade between 1970 and 1980, Caesars Palace became one of the jewels of the Las Vegas Strip. The next wave of improvements came in 2005 after Harrah’s Entertainment took control of Caesars Entertainment and became the new owners of the place.

Riviera Las Vegas History

🏨 Name: Riviera Las Vegas
🗺️ Address: Demolished
📅 Built in: 1955
🛏️ Number of Rooms: 2100
🎲 Number of Games: 1000+
📏 Size: 110,000 sq/f
➕ Extras:

Riviera Las Vegas was an iconic hotel designed by famous Miami architect Roy F. France and built in 1955. This was a great hotel with a lot of potential but with poor management and many internal issues.

The first sign for that was the bankruptcy that happened three months after the grand opening. Then, Gus Greenbaum took the general manager position, but he was too old and suffering from drug and gambling addiction.

Gus and his wife were killed three years later. In 1959, the first massive expansion was made – an 8 storey building was built on the left side of the hotel. In 1965, another vast improvement was added – the 12 storey tower.

Because Riviera Las Vegas was owned mainly by mobsters, the issues with law enforcement were something daily. Then in 1968, they tried to sell the casino to a group of wealthy bankers holding some of the other stars of Las Vegas history: Aladdin, Fremont and Stardust casinos. Yes, but the Nevada Gaming Control Board prevent them from doing so.

Riviera Las Vegas Casino Lights

Finally, in 1973, the Riviera was purchased by a travel company from Boston for $60 million. Other improvements were made in the following two years – the Monte Carlo tower (17 storeys) in 1974 and San Remo Tower (6 storeys) in 1975. In 1983, the casino almost bankrupted again, but a change in its approach saved the day. Management switched the focus from high-rollers to mid-class gamblers.

The truth is that this is the casino with the worst luck in the Las Vegas strip history. In the years between 1990 and 2010, every owner filed bankruptcy. After the surrounding old casinos, Stardust and New Frontier, were demolished, there was nothing much to pull the tourist in that direction. This lead to the demolishment of Riviera Las Vegas in 2015 and 2016.

Frontier Hotel Las Vegas History

🏨 Name: Frontier Hotel
🗺️ Address: Demolished
📅 Built in: 1931
🛏️ Number of Rooms: 986
🎲 Number of Games:
📏 Size: 100,000 sq/f
➕ Extras:

The Frontier Hotel Las Vegas is already a demolished establishment which left a mark on Las Vegas’ history. This is the first resort built on the legendary Las Vegas Strip. Its first name in 1931 was Pair-o-Dice Club.

Then, it changed to The Ambassador Night Club in 1936. In 1939, it was renamed to 91 Club, then in 1942, it finally became Hotel Last Frontier. In 1955, they changed it to New Frontier. It is among the the oldest casinos in Las Vegas.

However, in the 50s, the casino was flourishing, and the business was doing more than excellent. Like everything in the history of Las Vegas, The Frontier was corrupted by the influence of the Detroit mafia. This caused a change in ownership in 1967. Howard Hughes purchased it for $14 million. He sold it in 1988 to Margaret Eladri.

Several years later, strikes began in front of the hotel. For about six years, the union workers strike the hotel. Then Margaret Eladri sold it in 1998 to Phill Ruffin. In 2007 it became clear that the casino will close doors and the building will be demolished. This is how the first in the Las Vegas’ history casino disappeared. Up to this date, nothing is yet built there.

Aladdin Las Vegas History

🏨 Name: Aladdin Las Vegas
🗺️ Address: Demolished
📅 Built in: 1962
🛏️ Number of Rooms: 1,100
🎲 Number of Games: 380
📏 Size: 37,000 sq/f
➕ Extras: Horse & Bike Riding Facility, Helicopter Services

This was another super popular casino that left its mark on the Las Vegas Strip history. It was built in 1962, then demolished in 1997. At first, it was a hotel called Tallyho, but it lasted for only one year, and it was sold to King’s Crown Inns of America.

Unfortunately, the hotel closed its door because of low revenues. The Nevada Gaming Control never allowed Tallyho to obtain gambling licences and open a casino because of their shady financial background.

This is how, in 1966, the establishment was purchased by Milton Prell, who invested $3 million for renovation right away. As a matter of facts, this is how Aladdin Las Vegas was born. The entire design of the place was changed to a more exotic and oriental theme. This was the first so large casino resort in the Las Vegas Strip history.

This is one of the reasons why the place was never able to cover its expenses adequately. However, this didn’t make it a less attractive place to visit. After all, Elvis Presley`s wedding was hosted there. Then, in 1968, it was renovated again, and in 1969, it was sold to Parvin Dohrmann Corporation. A year later, a group of wealthy Las Vegas residents tried to purchase it, but the deal got cancelled. In 1971, Aladdin Las Vegas was sold again.

The plans for a massive renovation with an overall cost of over $25 million were publically disclosed. A new tower with 24 levels and over 800 rooms was built. In 1973, the casino opened its doors again, while the total amount spent for improvements came to over $60 million. In 1980, the establishment changed owners again. This time, Wayne Newton and Ed Torres took it. Four years after, the casino resort filed bankruptcy.

Large Golden Casino Sign

From then on, slowly, everything went down. The Japanese tycoon, Ginji Yasuda, acquired the resort for $54 million in 1986 and spent another $35 million on hotel and casino improvements. He also filed for bankruptcy in 1989 and even died several months later. Finally, in 1994, Jack Sommer purchased the hotel and revealed the plans to either demolish or renovate the current base in the following years.

In 1997, it became clear that the legendary Las Vegas Strip history icon will be demolished before the end of the year. In its place, a new Aladdin raised in 2000, but a year later, it filed for bankruptcy. In 2003, Planet Hollywood took control of the place, renovated it and opened it in 2007.

The Fall of The Crime Web & The Rise of the Megaresorts

It is evident that the US crime syndicates played a crucial role in the development of the city. The mafia had its influence over Las Vegas even before the gambling legalisation in 1931. In the decades between 1940 and 1980, Las Vegas history shows the thrive of the city and its rapid growth. Of course, it had its downsides – the many assassinations in Las Vegas that shocked the nation.

The FBI put the end of the Mafia era in Las Vegas in the 80s, when most famous crime families were put behind bars, altogether with giant drug bosses of American, Mexican and Columbian origin. It became evident that mobsters are out of the casino game, despite their merits for the foundation and development of the famous Las Vegas Strip and the best casinos in the US.

Las Vegas History Timeline
Before 1829 It is proven that the native American tribe Paiute inhabited the region around the 700 AC
1829 Rafael Rivera first named the valley – Las Vegas Valley in 1829. A few years later, the US-Mexican war started
1855 In 1855 the region became part of the US territory
1865 Octavius Gass established the “Los Vegas Rancho”
1895 The first significant migration of Mormons populated the area
1905 The completion of Los Angeles, San Pedro and Salt Lake city railroads improved the logistics to the west coast and California, more particularly
1910 Nevada banned all forms of gambling
1931 Gambling became legal again, and the first casino called Pair-o-Dice Club opened doors
1941 The first casino on the Las Vegas Strip – El Rancho Vegas
1946 The Flamingo casino resort opened its doors
1950-1960 The following casinos were founded: Desert Inn 50`, Sahara 52`, Riviera 55`, Fremont 56`, Tropicana 57`. The city experienced explosive growth in that decade
1960-1980 The tendency of expansion continued. Some of the iconic Las Vegas Strip casinos were built in the 60’s – Aladdin 62` and Caesars Palace 66`. Las Vegas was a constantly growing city under the control of the organised crime syndicates.
1980-2000 The ’80s set a new course in front of the Las Vegas future because the Federal investigations in the state led to the arrests of many wealthy mafia members all across the states. In the early 90’s it became clear that Las Vegas is no longer the money washing machine of all American mobsters. This decade also led to the construction of mega-resorts which became a trend.
2000-Nowadays The last 20 years were not that easy for Las Vegas because of many reasons. The economic issues led to an increased number of homeless people. On the other side, the massive digitalisation and the rising popularity of online gambling platforms reflect negatively on the overall state of the city.

We already mentioned the era of mega-resorts, but when it started? Indeed, we can say that this tendency has begun at the end of the 80` and it’s still on. The first of this kind of giant casino resorts were Excalibur and Rio, both built in 1990. Many others like MGM Grand, Luxor, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay and others were opened in the following decade. Due to the latest pandemic and the fast-growing US online gambling industry, the future stability of Las Vegas is under question.

Huge Dinosaur Skeleton Displayed in Museum

Las Vegas History Museum – A Place Worth Visiting

At the end of this article, we decided to bring more attention to the cultural side of the history of Las Vegas and the places where you can explore past events. On focus, we place the Las Vegas History Museum because it is nicely done and because, as a tourist, you can learn a lot about the city and its roots. Apart from local exponents and a historical overview of the region, you will find many foreign items and shows that will grab your attention.

In case you are a knowledge seeker and the Las Vegas History Museum is not enough for you, you should consider visiting any of the top 10 museums in Las Vegas. After all, this is the city of entertainment! You can’t even imagine what type of museums you can visit. For example, you can see the Pinball Hall of Fame, where the most epic Pinball machines of all times are located.

In case you are not into museums, there are many other things to do in Las Vegas and not all related to casinos and gambling. The region is famous for its beautiful sights and breathtaking entertainment like the Cirque du Soleil.


We hope that now you have more knowledge of the history of Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Strip casinos. Due to the many subjects we went through, we believe you might have some additional question. Therefore, we have gathered the most frequently asked questions about Las Vegas history and everything that we spoke about in this article. If you want to explore the extensive answer to any of the below-listed questions, just hit the link buttons in the answers.

☠️ Who is the Queen of the Death Valley?

There is ancient legend about the Valley of Death. Long ago, the valley was fertile and green until an evil queen sacrificed her daughter in the name of her pride and prospect. Then, nature cursed the lands and raised the temperature in the valley so much that no living creature could survive.

🏕️ What is the Las Vegas history before the city foundation?

All historical and geological discoveries show that the native history of Las Vegas is related to the Paiute tribe who inhabited the valley in the early 700 AD. Before the global Spanish and British colonisation, the region was ruled by native Americans.

🎌 When was Las Vegas founded?

The answer to that questions is a bit controversial because the Mexican/Spanish traveller, Rafael Rivera, named it Las Vegas Valley in 1855 when the region was still under Mexican occupation. The official foundation of Las Vegas as part of the USA was in 1905.

🔫 Was the US mafia involved in the Las Vegas history?

Yes, Las Vegas history showed a high dependence on the crime families and their massive investments in the city. We can state that the Las Vegas mobsters built the city as we know it today – a place of amazing and unlimited entertainment.

🏨 What is the Las Vegas Strip history?

The Las Vegas Strip is the main South Las Vegas Boulevard where the majority of the casino icons are located. The first casino in the Las Vegas Strip history was built in 1931, but later on it got renamed and refurbished several times.

🛎️ Which is the first casino on the Las Vegas Strip?

The first casino that opened doors on the Las Vegas Strip was the Pair-o-Dice Club in 1931. Then, the name was changed to Ambassador Night Club in 1936 and, in 1939, to 91 Club. Finally, in 1942, they changed the name to the Last Frontier Casino, one of the legendary casinos in Las Vegas.

🏺 What I can see in the Las Vegas History Museum?

The Las Vegas History Museum represents the history of Las Vegas and many other international artefacts and exponents, some of which travel the world regularly. However, there are many museums in Las Vegas that you should check when visiting the city.

⭐ Which is the most iconic casino in the history of Las Vegas?

The answer to that question is tricky because it depends on your personal perspective. From a general point of view, we consider Flamingo Las Vegas as one of the most iconic casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. It is one of the few old casinos that are still operating.

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