Las Vegas, Sin City, the gambling capital of the world. Whatever you like to call it, it is a place synonymous with gambling and the world's best casino resorts. Long before the advent of online gambling, there was Las Vegas and on this page we are going to look back at the timeline and history of this city.
Known for themed casinos, stunning live performances, and glitz and glam, Las Vegas has been a leading tourist destination for gamblers since way back in the early 1940s. Home to some of the best casinos in the world, Las Vegas dominates the Top 10 casinos to visit in America. The city tends to reinvent itself every decade in order to retain its place as a top travel destination. The Strip is where the action take place and those looking bet on slots, and table games like roulette, blackjack, craps, baccarat, and more will find it all here. Before the strip existed, there was a desert and below is our top 10 Las Vegas history timeline.
The history of Las Vegas dates back to the 1800s. In 1821 Rafael Rivera arrived in Las Vegas to scout the area as part of an expedition to open up a trade route between New Mexico and California. Rivera named the called the valley Las Vegas which is Spanish for the meadows and this was because of the spring watered grasses he found there. In 1844 John Fremont was instrumental in bringing publicity to the area through his camping journal. In 1848 the rule in the area of Las Vegas shifted from Mexico to the United States. In 1855 the first attempt to settle in Las Vegas was had when Brigham Young sent a group of Mormons to the area. Their settlement wasn't a success and the fort they abandoned was taken over by Octavius Gas's. In 1864, Nevada became the 36th state in the Union.
In 1902 William Andrews Clark looked at a way to connect the transcontinental railroad through Las Vegas. In 1905 he auctioned off 600 plots of land and this established Las Vegas as a town. It was also in this year that he First United Methodist Church of Las Vegas was formed and the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake railroad arrived connecting the city with the Pacific and the main rail network in the country. In 1906 Hotel Nevada, (now the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino) opened in downtown. It offered first class amenities which included electric lights, steam heat radiators, and ventilation. The first telephone wires were installed in 1907 on Fremont Street. In 1909 Clark County was created and Nevada banned gambling which shows how far away we were from the top Vegas jackpot winners.
In 1910, Nevada outlawed gambling, but the practice continued in illegal casinos and organized crime began to take root within the city. It was in 1911 that the city of Las Vegas was incorporated. During this year, the laws were liberalized and quick divorces were allowed after just six weeks of living in the state. In 1919 prohibition was ratified and all the consumption, manufacturing, and distribution of liquor was banned.
By 1920 the population of Las Vegas had grown to 2,304 and in 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed by seven western states which would ensure that water was divided equally. In 1925 Fremont Street was paved and the first theatre, the El Portal, opened on this street in 1928. In 1926 the first commercial flight was provided by Western Airlines at Rockwell Field. The Boulder Canyon Project Act was approved in 1928 and this paved the way for the construction of a dam on the Colorado River which began on the 7th September 1929 and was dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935. With the construction of the dam, thousands of workers came into the city and more casinos and showgirl venues opened up on Fremont Street. 1929 was an important year and also saw the opening of the Las Vegas High School and the creation of the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Las Vegas continued to grow and by 1930 the population was 5,165 and the Union Pacific Railroad connected the city to Boulder City. In 1931 marriage and divorce laws in Nevada were relaxed and the state also repealed its ban on gambling. The famous Las Vegas Strip that is known by international online casino players worldwide was previously Highway 91 and where the Pair O Dice Club opened in 1931. In 1933 prohibition was repealed and when California authorities start cracking down on illegal gambling in 1938, many gamblers move to Las Vegas. Also in 1938 The 91 Club was opened by Guy McAfree on Highway 91. In 1939 Ria Langham divorced Clark Gable putting Las Vegas on the map as the divorce capital of the world.
By 1940 the population had grown to 8,422. In 1941 the Army created a gunnery school and Thomas Hull opened the El Rancho Vegas, the very first resort on Highway 91. The El Cortez opened downtown and the Last Frontier opened. The Strip's first wedding chapel opened in 1942 called Little Church of the West. The first non-segregated theatre in Las Vegas opened in 1944 called the Huntridge Theatre. Liberace also made his debut in Las Vegas in 1944. The first advertising contract to promote tourism in Las Vegas was awarded to J. Walter Thompson in 1945. The Golden Nugget opened in 1946 and it was also in this year that Bugsy Siegel, famous mobster, opened the Flamingo Hotel, and Nevada levied its first gaming taxes. In 1948 Alamo Airport was renamed McCarran Field.
Things continued to grow and expand in the fifties with the Desert Inn opening in 1950 as well as the first edition of the Las Vegas Sun being published. The population by 1950 was 24,624 and in 1951 Frank Sinatra had his first performance at the Desert Inn. Vegas Vic, a 40 foot cowboy sign, was erected at the Pioneer Club in 1951. The first testing of nuclear weapons happened in 1951, 65 miles from downtown and in 1952 the media broadcast the first detonation of a nuclear device. In 1952 Sahara opened as did the Sands (the 7th resort on The Strip). Las Vegas's first TV station KLAS Ch. 8 was established in 1953. 1953 also saw the Las Vegas Park open but horse racing only lasted 13 days.
In 1954 Ronald Reagan had a 2 week show at the Last Frontier. The Gaming Control Board was created by the Nevada Tax Commission in 1955. A number of other things happened this year too including the opening of the 9 story tall Riviera, Las Vegas celebrated its 50th birthday, The Dunes, the 10th resort on The Strip opened, and the first integrated hotel the Moulin Rouge opened. Liberace became the highest paid entertainer in Las Vegas earning over $50,000 a week. In 1956 Elvis Presley performed the first shows in Las Vegas at the New Frontier Hotel. Also in 1956, the 12 story Fremont Hotel opened downtown and Nellis Air Force Base became home of the Thunderbirds. The first 2 story club the Silver Palace opened as did Hacienda.
In 1957 showgirls make their debut with Minsky's Follies at the Desert Inn, Tropicana opened, and the UNLV held their first classes. In 1958 The Stardust opened. 1959 saw the creation of the Gaming Commission as well as the opening of the Las Vegas Convention Centre. It was also the year that the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was designed by Betty Willis.
The 60s and 70s were busy times for Las Vegas and this was still pre mobile technology or the idea of online casinos in the United States. It was in 1960 that the Rat Pack performed for the first time, El Rancho went up in flames, Ocean's Eleven debuted, and the Jim Crow restrictions were lifted. In 1963 the Limited Test Ban Treaty came into effect banning ground testing at the Nevada Test site. Also in this year, the Las Vegas Sun's office burned to the ground and Wayne Newton performed at the Flamingo. Elvis Presley's Viva Las Vegas film was released in 1964 and the UNLV held its first commencement ceremony as Nevada turned 100. The Beatles took to the stage at the Convention Centre in 1964.
The 1960s also saw some tragedies occur in Las Vegas. A rooftop fire at the Sahara in 1964 caused $1 million in damage and in 1967 R.J Parish killed 6 people including himself and injuring either others when he shot a pile of dynamite at the Orbit Inn Motel. Evel Knievel crashed during his famous jump over the fountains at Caesars Palace. It wasn't all bad news though. The Aladdin opened in 1966 as did Caesars Palace. Howard Hughes bought the Desert Inn and Elvis and Priscilla married at the Aladdin. Siegfried & Roy debuted at the Tropicana and Circus Circus opened. The second Gaming Act was approved by Nevada Legislature and this allowed for corporations to own casinos. The International Hotel was built in 1969 and Elvis Presley signed up for four weeks twice a year. It was also the year that B.B. King played his first Caesars Palace show.
In 1970 Howard Hughes left Las Vegas as the largest casino and property owner before dying in 1976. In 1971 the Las Vegas Stadium opened and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was first published as a story in the Rolling Stone. December 2nd to 12th 1976 saw Elvis play his final shows at the Hilton. This was also the year that gambling was made legal in Atlantic City paving the way for competition. In 1979 the Liberace Museum was opened.
Tradegy struck again in the 1980s and a fire in the MGM Grand Hotel killed 87 people and injured 700 more in November 1980. In 1981 the Las Vegas Hilton caught on fire and killed eight people. In 1987 Liberace died, and in 1988 the Pacific Engineering Production Company plant exploded killing two people and injuring 370.
On a positive note, the first National Finals Rodeo was held in 1985 and the McCarran International Airport expansion project was completed in 1987 with a new terminal and revamped runways. The first new casino in 16 years was opened in 1989 by Steve Wynn. The Mirage was the first mega-resort to be located in Las Vegas.
The 90s saw a lot of development in Las Vegas beginning with the opening of The Rio in January 1990 followed by the Excalibur in June of the same year. In 1992 the first Las Vegas Bowl was played at Sam Boyd Stadium. It was also the decade for theme parks and themed hotels. The Dunes closed in 1993 after being bought by Steve Wynn and was imploded later the same year. The Luxor and Treasure Island opened in October 1993 and in December MGM Grand Hotel & Theme Parks opened at a massive cost of $1 billion. In 1995 the world's first Hard Rock Hotel opened and the Fremont Street Experience opens.
The second half of this decade saw continued growth. The Stratosphere Hotel opened in 1996 followed by the Monte Carlo, the Orleans, and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Sands Hotel and the Hacienda were imploded during this year too. This year also saw the UNLV become a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Big performance celebrations were had too as Wayne Newton celebrated his 25,000th performance and Siegfried and Roy their 15,000th. The New York-New York opened in 1997 and it was also during this year that Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear. In 1998 Star Trek: The Experience opened at the Hilton and in October of this year the Bellagio opened as the most expensive hotel in the world. 1999 was a phenomenal year and the dawning of a new century. The Mandalay Bay, the Venetian, and the Paris Hotel and Casino opened and Barbara Streisand's New Year's Eve concert at the MGM Grand became the highest grossing concert in Vegas ever. It was also in 1999 that Las Vegas became the world's most visited place topping 37 million visitors a year who wanted to play the best casino slots and table games.
The early 2000s saw more growth and a record Megabucks jackpot being won. In 2002 The Palms Casino and Green Valley Ranch opened. On the 21st of March 2003 a 25 year old software engineer from Los Angeles scooped a record breaking Megabucks jackpot for $39,713,982.25. Of course, nowadays you don't have to travel to Las Vegas to win massive jackpots and you can spin the reels on Microgaming's Mega Moolah and win over $1 million from the comfort of your home.
The Las Vegas Monorail opened in 2004 and in 2005 Las Vegas celebrated its centennial. Also in 2005 the Wynn Las Vegas and the South Coast Hotel & Casino opened. In 2006 Hooters Casino Hotel and Red Rock Casino opened. It was also in this year that it was made illegal to serve homeless people food in a Las Vegas park. 2007 is the year the NBA All-Star weekend was held at Las Vegas, the year Stardust is imploded, and the year O.J. Simpson was arrested in an alleged armed robbery at the Palace Station Casino. The Aladdin reaped as Planet Hollywood in 2007. In 2008 the Palazzo resort opened and the Sun began running a series on construction deaths which exposed serious flaws. The series won them the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
In August 2008 the Eastside Cannery opened and this was the first new casino to open along Boulder Highway in 14 years. The Alicante Station Casino and Hotel opened and O.J. Simpson is sentenced for the robbery at Palace Station casino. Also in this year Encore opened on The Strip. In 2009 the M Resort opened as did the Cloud Nine balloon ride from Mandalay Bay. MGM Mirage's CityCentre Complex opened and this includes Crystals a 500,000 square foot retail and entertainment district as well as the Mandarin Oriental a 47 story non-gaming hotel. Ending this decade, the Aria Resort and Casino is unveiled, the HRH Tower welcomes its first guests, and Cloud Nine closed.
Even with the introduction of online gambling and the rise in popularity of sites like Casino Las Vegas, the 'town' continued to grow and the number of visitors increased year on year. In 2010 the Stratosphere debuted their $99 SkyJump thrill ride and the Lou Rubio Centre for Brain Health opened. The Plaza Hotel and Casino began renovation works and Tropicana implodes one of their wings. More renovations are announced downtown and the metro police begin their search for the Bellagio bandit who stole $1.5 million from a craps table at gunpoint. In December 2010 the Cosmopolitan casino and resort opened and in 2011 the Stratosphere unveiled its $20 million renovation.
In 2011 O'Sheas closed after 23 years and the parking garage is imploded for the new Linq entertainment district. Also in this year the Sahara hotel and casino closed its doors after 59 years in business. Tropicana's $180 million renovation is revealed with a nightclub, pool area, and the Las Vegas Mob Experience attraction. Treasure Island is renovated as is the Plaza Hotel. In 2011 The Western Hotel and casino closed after 41 years and Caesars Palace open the Octavius Tower. In 2012 renovations were completed on the Bellagio and the Mob Museum opened in downtown. Also in 2012 the new Las Vegas City hall opened as did the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. In May 2012 construction began on the SkyVue an observation wheel on the Strip. In 2013 the Sahara Hotel reopened as SLS Las Vegas and Zappos established their headquarters in the city. It was on the 8th of June 2014 that the Las Vegas shooting happened.
The second half of this decade saw the Riviera Hotel and Casino close, the T-Mobile Arena open, and plans to remodel the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino and rename it Park MGM. In 2016 the Riviera Hotel and Casino was imploded. Tradegy struck in October 2017 when 64 year old Stephen Paddock shot dead 60 people and left 867 injured from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. He fired into the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. In 2018 the Park MGM opened and the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas replaced the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. In 2019, ending the decade, the SLS was renamed the Sahara.
2020 was an unprecedented year for not only Las Vegas, but the entire world as Covid-19, the global pandemic hit and countries around the world ground to a halt. In Las Vegas the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino closed but reopened in 2021 as Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Circa Las Vegas Resort & Casino also opened as the first new downtown resort in 40 years towards the end of 2020. Also in 2021 Resorts World Las Vegas opened.
While tourist numbers may still be down because of the pandemic and travel restrictions, all is not lost and many of the big brand operators in Las Vegas offer real money gambling online and on mobile devices. No matter where in the world you live you can enjoy Vegas-themed slots online and with our top 10 no deposit bonus casinos you can play for free and win real money too.
The future of Las Vegas appears bright as the city continues to grow and prosper. New and popular online casinos are being established in the wake of the pandemic to ensure revenues and new venues like the MSG Sphere promise even more excitement for those who travel to this famous city. Those who enjoy betting on sports can get in on the action at Vegas's largest sportsbook Circa Sports. There's also the new Allegiant Stadium.
It may be hard to believe that what was once a small desert location is now a massive city that continues to grow and attract millions of visitors every year. From big name celebrities, professional sporting events, award-wining chefs, and experiences that won't be beaten, Las Vegas truly is the Mecca of gambling and even if you can't visit right now, you can still experience the thrill and excitement by playing at the best real money online casinos in America where professional live dealers are available and massive jackpots are waiting to be won.