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Memory Lane: Cruising the Las Vegas Strip before it was a thing

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We take Las Vegas for granted. The hotels. The 5-star restaurants. The shows. The amazing resorts. Everything. But it took a lot to make the Vegas of today what it is. And we mean a lot. Taxes. Gangsters. Business deals. More than you can imagine.

Today, we’re taking a brief walk down memory lane to remember how we all got here. We hope you enjoy it.

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1946: Gaming Taxes Introduced

This is what started it all. In 1946, the state of Nevada (that’s where Las Vegas is located, for those who failed Geography), introduces gaming taxes. The move allows the state to essentially authorize casinos and use taxes as a source of revenue.

And that they did. In December 26th of that same year, the Flamingo Hotel opens its doors. The legendary hotel, built with mob money by Bugsy Siegel, changes the face of Las Vegas. Up until that point, most resorts on the strip possessed an Old West feel. The Flamingo, however, opted for glamor to attract high rollers.

Unfortunately, the opening was a bit premature. The hotel wasn’t fully complete when it opened its doors, so Siegel closed the doors until construction is completed.

1947: The Flamingo Opens For Real

It was March 1947 that a now-completed Flamingo opened its doors to much fanfare. By the end of the month, the casino is fully profitable.

June 1947: Bugsy Siegel is Killed

This is a pretty big milestone. Up until this point, Las Vegas was barely on the radar of most Americans. But as soon as Siegel is murdered, his death makes the papers and shines a spotlight on Las Vegas. People start to see Las Vegas as a glamorous, somewhat risky city.

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1948: McCarran Airports Cleared for Takeoff

Alamo Airport is bought by Clark County and named McCarran after the Nevada Senator of the same name. By 1950, the airport sees 16 daily flights. Thanks to the post-war economic boom of the 1950s, more and more people discover Las Vegas. And as a result, more and more resorts are built to serve those looking for an oasis in the middle of the desert.

1955: Las Vegas Visits Explode

By now, an estimated 8 million people visit Las Vegas each year. One of the most popular properties on the strip is The Moulin Rouge Hotel. It also holds a special place in history as the first hotel on the strip that did not restrict access to African American staff, entertainers, and guests.

1957: Topless Showgirls Come to Vegas

If you’re trying to pinpoint the exact moment in time when Las Vegas got its Sin Ciy nickname, this is probably it. In January, topless showgirls debut at Dessert Inn. Today, they’re a mainstay and considered tame compared to what else you can find in Las Vegas.

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1959: Las Vegas Convention Center Opens

Las Vegas might be know for gambling, but tens of million of people descend on the Las Vegas strip every year to take part in various conventions that have absolutely nothing to do with gambling. Today you can find convention space at multiple hotels, including The Rio. But back then, the Las Vegas Convention Center was Sin City’s big deal, offering convention hall seating for 6,300 people in a 90,000 sq ft hall.

1959: The Famous Las Vegas Sign Debuts

You’ve seen it in postcards. And if you’ve been to Vegas, you’ve probably taken photos behind it. It was 1959 that the world-famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign was first erected at the end of Las Vegas Blvd. And today, it’s still standing as one of Sin City’s most famous landmarks.

1963: Airport Grows

By the 1960s, thanks to airlines like United Airlines that provided nonstop service to Las Vegas, McCarran Airport now serves over 1.5 million people per year. The growth means that the airport undergoes a relocation and expansion project.

1966: Howard Hughes Changes Everything

On Thanksgiving Howard Hughes touches down in Las Vegas and parks himself at the Desert Inn. He remains in his room for four years, negotiating all sorts of deals that would ultimately change the face of Vegas forever.

1969: Elvis Presley makes his Las Vegas Debut

He signs a 5-year contract to appear for four weeks, twice a year. Over the course of 8 year, Elvis performs 837 times at the International Hotel.

International Hotel marquee with Elvis Presley name. July 26: Elvis Presley debuts his Las Vegas act at the International, eventually signing a five-year contract for four weeks, twice a year for a sum of $125,000 per week. Between 1969 and 1977, Elvis plays Las Vegas exclusively at the International, 837 shows in total.

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1976: Las Vegas Gets Some Competition

Up until now, Las Vegas is the only city in America where gambling is legal. That changes in 1976 when New Jersey legalizes gambling. By the end of the 1970s, Atlantic City sees twice as many gamblers as Las Vegas does. That’s hard to believe given the opposite states of the two cities today, but that was the case back then.

1989: First New Hotel Built in 16 years

After a period of stagnation, Steven Wynn builds the Mirage. It’s the first new resort in the Las Vegas strip in 16 long years. At a cost of $640 million, it’s twice the size of the MGM Grand and now the largest casino in the world. The resort also features a 54-foot volcano (manmade, obviously) that erupts every 30 minutes.

Mirage. Using junk bonds to finance construction, Steve Wynn builds the Mirage, the first new resort on the Strip in 16 years. With 3,000 rooms, at a cost of $640 million, the Mirage is more than two times the size of the MGM Grand. The largest casino in the world, the Mirage features a host of attractions, including a 54-foot manmade volcano, which erupts every half hour.

1997: New York New York Opens

New York New York Hotel & Casino opens, ushering in an era of themed hotels, modeled after various cities around the world.

1999: Paris Las Vegas Opens

Not to be outdone by its North American counterpart, Paris opens on the Las Vegas, complete with a replica Eiffel Tower.

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1999: Venetian Opens

And in case you want something a little different than New York or Paris, The Venetian opens its doors to cater to those who want to experience Venice and enjoy The Cheesecake Factory without missing a beat.

The 2000s: New Hotels Come, Old Ones Go

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, old hotels are closed to make way for new ones. Some are demolished, like O’Sheas, which would ultimately make way for a different type of complex. And others, like Aladdin, are converted to something a little more modern (Planet Hollywood in this case).

What’s next?

They say that the future of Las Vegas is virtual, but the truth is the future is already here. You can experience Vegas style gambling right now at Prism Casino. A free account is all it takes to get started, so come join the action.

Gemma Sykes

Gemma is not only a great game player who enjoys casino halls, she is also a great jazz dancer. She has a very keen interest in the way things work, her curiosity got her a job on online gambling industry as a writer. Always looking for new and fun ways to do things and still have time for the spotlight.