The city boasts an instantly recognizable skyline, thanks to striking architecture and electric lighting. Some of the plushest and largest hotels in the world make their home along this 4 mile strip of land, servicing, in 2012, a record 39.7 million visitors. Brands like the Bellagio, Mirage and MGM Grand, watchwords in luxury, are renowned all over the world. The delights of modern day Vegas are exported to the rest of the world through Hollywood, which regularly uses the city as a backdrop for movies.
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At the turn of the twentieth century, however, Las Vegas was a small railway town, a rough collection of saloons, stores and boarding houses. Many pioneers used the city as a stopover before heading farther out west. It served as the transportation hub for a number of mining operations in the area, particularly those in the nearby town of Bullfrog. This economic activity led to its official founding on May 15th, 1905.
Two things happened to change the destiny of Vegas. Firstly, the construction of the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935, driving an uptick in tourism and economic opportunity for the area. The biggest man-made reservoir and lake in United States, the Hoover Dam is situated just 30 miles south-east of Vegas and is still a tourist attraction today.
Secondly, and crucially, gaming was legalised by Nevada state legislature, opening the way for the construction of casinos. The bill was authored by Phil Tobin, a Northern Nevadan rancher, who reputedly had little interest in gaming but thought the state could use the tax revenues to improve education.
The first casino to be built on the strip was El Rancho Vegas which opened its doors on April 3, 1941. Its immediate success led to the construction of a second hotel on the strip, the Hotel Last Frontier in 1942. Other early hotels included Thunderbird and Club Bingo.
Perhaps the most famous casino-hotel on Vegas’s burgeoning strip was the Flamingo hotel, built by the gangster Bugsy Siegel. The hotel was completed on New Year’s Eve 1946. Six months later its proprietor was dead, shot by an unknown gunman.
Modern day Las Vegas is known for the sheer scale of its resorts, hotels and casinos. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the modern day Vegas strip began to take shape. Economic competition, due to the legalisation of casino gaming in other forms and geographic locations, drove an evolution in the business model, towards larger and larger venues. The first incarnation of the MGM Grand, boasting 2,084 rooms, was completed in 1973, one of the largest casinos in the world at that time.
To say that Vegas’s rise has been meteoric would be an understatement. The Entertainment Capital of the World brings in huge numbers every year and for many a trip to the strip may be the highlight of a lifetime.