What Was the First Casino in Las Vegas?

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Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the top gambling cities in the world. Nicknamed “Sin City,” Vegas is the American mecca of excess and lust, known for casinos, entertainment, legal prostitution, and partying.    

There are over thirty casinos on the Las Vegas Strip alone, with nearly two dozen more nearby. With no shortage of places to stay, Vegas is also home to over 150,000 hotel rooms.   

The Dicey History of the Premier Gaming Hotspot

Las Vegas was founded in 1905 after settlers built a railroad linking Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. Electricity supplied by the Hoover Dam sparked urbanization in 1931, and with the influx of new residents came the Mafia, who built theaters, hotels, and casinos. Las Vegas slowly shifted to the family tourist center (or Mega resort) after Howard Hughes became interested in 1966.   

The First Casino in Las Vegas

In 1964, Italian-Americans partnered to open Las Vegas’s first hotel and casino, The Golden Gate. The team included Italo Ghelfi, Robert Picardo, Al Durante, Leo Massaro, Dan Fiorito, and Tiny Naylor, a ragtag crew of restauranteurs, gaming pioneers, and friends. The Golden Gate brought many firsts to Vegas and is a staple of Americana.   

The Golden Gate was the original hangout of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, and the Rat Pack. In 2012, the Golden Gate underwent its first major expansion, including a 35,000 square-foot luxury tower, an extended gaming floor, and a high-limit pit showcasing its signature dancing dealers. Despite the many changes it has undergone, the Golden Gate continues to appear on “Best of Vegas” lists today.     

Sin City’s Inception  

Las Vegas had undergone a significant amount of change since its founding in the 19th century. The transformation from desert to oasis happened gradually over the last few centuries but maintained its hot-spot allure throughout all chapters of its history. Las Vegas has come a long way from booming new settlement to Mafia-owned gambling capital of the world to current entertainment-centered Mega-resort.      

The First Railroad

When the railroad arrived in 1905, developers recognized Las Vegas as a prime stop between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. Suddenly, boarding houses, saloons, and stores began popping up along the railroad in Las Vegas. William Clarke, a railroad owner, auctioned off 1,200 lots in Vegas, thus launching the beginning of the infamous city known today for lights, entertainment, fun, and adventure.   

Despite Nevada’s 1910 ban on gambling, the spirit of the Wild West was alive in Los Vegas in the early 20th century. Occupied chiefly by railroad workers or rangers, the seeds of allurement were already growing. Many illegal speakeasies opened in Las Vegas, which served as hubs for gambling, drinking, and prostituting. A widespread disregard of the law led East Coast mafia members to take an interest.     

The Mafia and Las Vegas

When leaders lifted the gambling ban in 1931, thousands of people flocked to Vegas. With them came new hotels, casinos, showgirls, and gambling venues. The first hotel, El Rancho Vegas, was opened on Highway 91 in 1941. Highway 91 later became the legendary Las Vegas Strip. Infamous East Coast mobster Bugsy Siegal was one of the first mobsters to build a hotel in Vegas, a Hollywood-themed resort called the Flamingo. 

When Siegal was murdered in 1947, fellow mafia members vowed to carry out his vision for Vegas. They later opened The Riviera, the New Frontier, the Sands, and the Sahara. The explosion of gambling venues, bars, restaurants, and hotels served as the foundation of the Las Vegas we know today. The gambling and entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas remains one of the hottest tourist destinations, with a truly unique history and culture.