Las Vegas is so saturated with the aura of myth that it is difficult to separate fantasy from reality, even for people who are frequent visitors. Decades of hype and boosterism have created associations linked to our most deeply embedded American dreams: get-rich-quick schemes, the "Wild West," gangsters, Hollywood glitz, glamorous romance, hot entertainment, and twenty-four/seven action. Never mind that these associations work principally through slight-of-hand illusions, Americans have made Las Vegas the premier tourist destination since the 1960s, only to be surpassed recently by Orlando, Florida. At the turn of the twentieth century, over 30 million visitors came to the region a year, with about half of them flying into McCarran International Airport, the tenth busiest in the nation. Always prone to cycles in the nation's economy, tourism was down somewhat after the year 2000, but it remained healthy enough to support the relentless construction of newer and bigger gambling resort-casinos. Gross gambling revenues were more than $6 billion at the turn of the twentieth century, and eager visitors to the area spent an additional $20 billion on hotel, food, entertainment, and other expenses. This is not at all bad for a place that is located in one of the most forbidding deserts on our planet, with daily summer temperatures well into the hundreds. Every drop of water, each piece of produce and meat or fish, and all the other "necessities" of life, except for oxygen itself, must be shipped in from places outside the region.
Despite the desert surroundings, Las Vegas has always been a stopping-off point for travelers; its name means "the meadows" in Spanish. Natural springs bubbling water from underground aquifers created an oasis in a hostile climate. Antonio Armijo, a Spanish trader, found the verdant site in 1829 while searching for a direct route to California from New Mexico. Gold strikes during the 1860s in the area drew the first horde of "get-rich-quick" schemers to the area only to witness the towns they built go bust a few years later when the easy pickings ran out. Yet Las Vegas itself hung on. Banking on its reliable supply of fresh water, the town was converted into a provisioning place with lodging and a general store that prospered. By the 1900s, when the immense infrastructure project that was the transcontinental railroad came west, an entrepreneur by the name of William Clark established a railroad that linked up with the Union Pacific's main line out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and the tracks at San Pedro, California, outside Los Angeles. The Las Vegas site owned by Clark and his associates became a rest stop along the way to Salt Lake City. Lodging and provisioning remained its economic base, as in a sense it continues to do so today, along with the spectacular addition of casino gambling.
There have been many phases of growth and change in the region since that time. Tourism preceded the exploitation of casino gambling as an attraction. Las Vegas would have always remained a small town except for the construction in the late 1920s of the largest dam in the United States across Boulder Canyon just southeast of Las Vegas on the Colorado River. This project, later named for President Herbert Hoover, injected millions of government dollars into the region, creating thousands of jobs at a time when the rest of the country was suffering from an economic catastrophe. Because of government spending, Las Vegas became a boomtown in the 1930s, and it has remained so. With thousands of workers pouring into the site, Las Vegas businesspeople expanded their hotel and gambling operations. Later, during World War II, the federal government helped out again by subsidizing munitions plants in the area and by building one of the largest air force bases in the country, Nellis AFB.
The Birth of Modern Las Vegas
Popular myth, reinforced by Hollywood films, attributes to mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel the vision that created modern-day Las Vegas. This story is incorrect. In the 1940s, the real estate entrepreneur Thomas Hull introduced the concept of the "resort" hotel to the area, following his success at developing similar places in southern California. Architect Wayne McAllister helped create a unique, Southwest style of resort—with rooms wrapping around an open court and pool area—that influenced resort hotel development across the country. Later, during the Christmas season of 1941, Siegel opened the luxurious Flamingo Hotel, also designed by McAllister. Initially a famous flop, the Flamingo prospered in the 1950s and helped induce more venture capital to expand the gambling resort-casino base of the area. Significantly, the Flamingo Hotel, as well as many others built after the 1940s, was located outside the city limits of Las Vegas on what is now known as the Strip, aka, Las Vegas Boulevard. Since that time, it has technically been Clark County, then, with its famous Strip casinos, that has eclipsed the city of Las Vegas itself as the gambling mecca of the nation.
From these beginnings, the Las Vegas region has undergone a series of transformations always resulting in an expansion of its draw as a tourist and leisure haven. During the 1960s classic Las Vegas emerged by realizing Bugsy Siegel's particular vision—the merging of Hollywood and show business glitz with casino gambling. At the Sands Hotel, Frank Sinatra's "rat pack"—consisting of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop—defined Las Vegas–style entertainment. However, it was really at the Sahara Hotel, just up the Strip to the north, where Louie Prima and Kelly Smith (along with their gifted saxophonist Sam Butera) created the "lounge act," that singular form of free, late-night Vegas entertainment that was practically extinct by 2004; that "act" helped colonize nighttime as a common period of activity. Downtown, in the city center, the venerable "Wild West" casinos such as Binion's Horseshoe and the Fremont drew in capacity crowds of gamblers because of their friendly house odds at table games. The no-frills, "tiny," 300-room Binion's still hosts the increasingly popular World Series of Poker every year.
By the 1970s, Las Vegas was the premier tourist destination in the United States. Well-known casinos such as Caesars Palace, the Sahara, the Alladin, the Stardust, and the Frontier, along with the Flamingo and the Sands (many of which were located on the Strip in Clark County), packed people in at capacity. The Desert Inn innovated first-class eighteen-hole golf in Las Vegas and became an unparalleled luxury resort. Yet, all of these hotel casinos were of modest size compared to the giant resorts that were to come, although the range of up to 2,000 rooms was the envy of tourist resorts around the world.
The Mega-Resorts Take Over
During the 1980s a new player, Steve Wynn, entered the scene. His vision involved pushing the limits of extravagance and capacity, and he built the first of Las Vegas's "mega-resorts." His Mirage hotel casino, completed in 1989, boasted 3,000 rooms set on 100 acres with an eighteen-hole golf course, tennis courts, and many dining alternatives. Along with changing the scale of Las Vegas tourist destinations forever, Wynn also solidified the essential relationship between the mega-resorts and the role of theming embedded in architectural forms as a means of attracting visitors. His Mirage amplified the always popular "tropical paradise" resort motif with a white tiger display in the lobby, a $14 million dolphin pool habitat on the grounds, and, directly outside, a simulated tropical island and lagoon with a faux exploding volcano that erupted nightly every fifteen minutes. Passersby walking on the Strip could not avoid being attracted by the spectacle of flames, sound, and light that did more than anything else to announce a new elaboration of the always excessive, ultra-hyped Las Vegas style.
By the twenty-first century, Las Vegas reigned supreme as the hotel capital of the world, in addition to being its premier casino gambling mecca. The MGM Grand, Las Vegas's first billion-dollar casino, boasted the Earth's largest capacity with over 5,000 rooms, and new resorts rivaling it, such as Mandalay Bay, Treasure Island, and the new Aladdin, were also constructed on the Strip. To make room for the mega-resorts, many of the old-school Vegas casinos were torn down—the land they sat on was far more valuable than the buildings themselves. Las Vegas also saw other billion-dollar-plus buildings constructed by rivals Steve Wynn, who built the luxurious Bellagio, and Sheldon Adelson, who constructed the spectacularly themed Venetian almost directly across the street from the Bellagio. Theming, too, became the principal means of distinguishing one prodigious project from another: New York–New York simulated Manhattan; the Paris Hotel and Casino simulated Paris; the Venetian reproduced a Hollywood set simulation of Venice, Italy, that included a version of its famous canals; the Luxor simulated a Hollywood version of ancient Egypt; the Excalibur simulated King Arthur's England.
The Las Vegas region is a pastiche of tourist attractions that operate seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Destinations continually reinvent themselves according to shifting market needs. During the economic slump in the early 1990s, for example, some casinos countered the "Sin City" image by transforming themselves into family-oriented destinations. Circus-Circus, always a family place, added a five-acre, $90 million amusement park in 1993. Soon after, the MGM Grand opened with a thirty-three-acre theme park featuring amusement rides and Universal Studios—style Hollywood back-lot attractions. As the economy picked up and the dot.com frenzy hit the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, family emphasis disappeared and casino resorts aimed for both young adults and established middle-agers with money. So-called "fine dining," dance clubs, even art exhibits such as the multimillion-dollar collection once viewable at Steve Wynn's Bellagio were added to the mix. The old Sahara Hotel was renovated to include a NASCAR theme to attract auto racing enthusiasts, and top entertainers from around the world, such as Celine Dion, were ensconced in showrooms that catered to the "after-hours" crowds, while golfing remained as popular as ever and available on several new PGA-approved courses.
The Dark Side of Las Vegas
There is, of course, a downside to the Las Vegas experience. Family assets are lost at the gambling tables. Children are told to hang out at video arcades by neglectful parents intent on spending hours gambling; in the late 1990s, at least one such child was murdered in a horrific case that drew national headlines. Despite over a decade of living under the specter of AIDS, prostitution and the sex trade in general flourish in and around the city. Las Vegas has the highest suicide rate in the country and the highest high school dropout rate. Its environmental concerns include waste from nuclear explosions in nearby Yucca Flats, poor air quality due to automobile smog, extensive pesticide and fertilizer use that threatens the quality of the water supply, cigarette smoke hazards in the casinos, and the general encouragement by resort operators of excessive eating, drinking, and gambling. Despite these problems, Las Vegas remains, after Orlando, Florida, the most successful tourist destination in the United States. Furthermore, unlike other places, it stands apart as a cultural experience that does not mirror our mundane, everyday tastes in fantasy forms, such as Disneyworld, but, instead, celebrates what we know is usually forbidden—especially the risk taking and often reckless activity of legalized gambling.
Bowers, Michael Wayne. The Sagebrush State: Nevada's History, Government, and Politics. Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1996.
Castleman, Deke. Las Vegas. Oakland, Calif.: Fodors Travel Guides, 1996.
Goodman, Robert. The Luck Business: The Devastating Consequences and Broken Promises of America's Gambling Explosion. New York: The Free Press, 1995.
Gottdiener, Mark, et al. Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All-American City. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.
Hess, Alan. Viva Las Vegas: After-hours Architecture. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993.
Moehring, Eugene P. Resort City in the Sunbelt: Las Vegas 1930-1970. Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 1989.
The evolution of Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the most intriguing of any city in the United States. Desert oasis and water and electricity supplier for most of the Southwest, and a legendary gambler's paradise that is one of the world's most tantalizing and popular vacation spots, the city is most famously cast in the spuriously glamorous image of the Mafia. As such, it has come to color the vocabulary of popular culture through countless novels, movies, and television dramas. Surrounded by the Mojave Desert and flanked by mountain ranges, Las Vegas came of age in the shadow of the post-World War II American Dream, a shining example of excess as success, whose neon-lit casino strip glows on the horizon—a beacon attracting thousands of folk eager to try their luck. An adult Disneyland in southwestern Nevada, this dusty tinsel town effuses Old West history while raking in the house winnings, and is reviled as often as it is romanticized for the glorious vice hidden in its stark desert landscape. Yet, while the popularity of its glitz and show biz glamour waxes and wanes, the bright lights and obvious fa?ade of Vegas are lodged as a permanent and familiar backdrop in the American consciousness.
In 1829, Antonio Armijo, traveling to Los Angeles, attempted to shorten the route by going through the desert instead of around it. While traversing the Old Spanish Trail, he discovered water and named the site Las Vegas—"The Meadows." Here, Spanish traders eased the rigors of desert travel, but it was not until 1844 that the area was actually charted by John C. Fremont, an explorer after whom much of downtown Las Vegas came to be named. Ten years later, Brigham Young sent Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City to colonize the Las Vegas Valley. They built an adobe fort and began converting the local Paiute Indians, but desert life soon proved too harsh for them and they abandoned their outpost in 1857.
Nevada became a state in 1864, but it was not until 1904, as America expanded its borders from "sea to shining sea," that Las Vegas saw significant activity. That was the year when the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad began laying track through the valley. The company bought up prime land and water rights from the remaining homesteaders and operated a dusty watering stop that soon attracted the development of hotels, saloons, a few thousand residents, and the inevitable red-light district. Any further expansion, such as it was, remained slow until 1928 when the Boulder Dam Project Act, an attempt to tame and harness the raging Colorado River, was signed into law. President Herbert Hoover appropriated $165 million dollars for the project: the largest anti-gravity dam in the world, to be built 40 miles outside of Las Vegas on the Nevada-Arizona state line.
When construction of the dam began in 1931, however, Governor Fred Balzar also approved a "wide open" gambling bill proposed by rancher and Assemblyman Phil Tobia. Though gambling had long been around in Las Vegas, it had been outlawed several times, and Tobia maintained that regulation of the pastime would increase tourism and boost the state's economy. Thus, gambling was made permanently legal in all of Nevada except for one place—Boulder City. It was the height of the Great Depression and Hoover, anxious to ensure a return on his investment, feared that such distractions as gambling and prostitution would undermine the progress of the thousands of workers flooding the valley to work on the dam. The Federal government, therefore, founded the casino and brothel-free Boulder City, specifically to cater for this influx of residents.
By the time the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 the economy in southern Nevada was booming. Many of the workers put down roots in the area, and the dam now provided a seemingly endless supply of water and electricity for Nevada and its surrounding four states. The onset of World War II brought further prosperity to the region when pilots and gunners came to train at the Las Vegas Aerial Gunnery School, which would later become Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test Site.
In 1941, Las Vegas boasted only a handful of luxury hotels and small but successful casinos. That year, however, Thomas Hull opened El Rancho, just off Highway 91 on the road to Los Angeles. With a Western motif, a hundred rooms, a large swimming pool, and massive parking lots, El Rancho was the model for the modern casino and it opened to almost immediate success. Later that year, the Last Frontier Hotel opened just up the road and the famous Las Vegas Strip was born.
In 1946, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a New York City mob boss protecting interests on the West Coast, recognized the vast potential for organized crime in Las Vegas. Taking advantage of cheap land, legalized gambling, and—initially, at least—friendly police relations, Bugsy Siegel began spending vast amounts of money on building the lavish Fabulous Flamingo casino, which ushered in the neon era that came to characterize Vegas night life. Though there were always celebrities in attendance and every night was like New Years' Eve, not even the Flamingo's glittering fa?ade could hide the fact that it was paying out more in winnings than it kept in profits. The situation led to mob dissension, and Siegel was killed six months later in a gangland hit. Ironically, business at the casino boomed thereafter, especially as tourists flocked to see the Fabulous Flamingo, the house that Bugsy built.
Many other gangsters followed Siegel's lead, and several grand casinos sprang up on the strip, well known among them the Horseshoe, Sands, Sahara, Riviera, and Tropicana. Each was bigger and brighter than the last, sporting gigantic pools, thousands of rooms, and garish neon signs. Nobody in America would (or could) lift a finger to halt the millions of dollars in laundered money that poured into the desert town in the 1950s, while ever-increasing numbers of celebrities, big spenders, and high rollers enjoyed rubbing elbows in this Mecca of gambling and organized crime.
Eventually, the Federal government began weeding out the more visible troublemakers and kingpins, and by the 1960s there was a balance of East Coast payola skimmers and wealthy influential ranchers wielding power in Las Vegas. In 1967, Howard Hughes, aviation pioneer and Hollywood mogul, had just sold Trans-World Airlines for nearly $600 million dollars and was informed by the IRS that he had to spend half the money soon or risk paying taxes on all of it. Though neither a gambler nor connected to the mob, the eccentric Hughes was holed up in a Vegas casino at the time, enjoying the creature comforts. When asked to leave by the gangster who owned the place and who wanted to rent the suite out to real gamblers, Hughes found the solution to his financial dilemma: he bought the casino, then went on a spree, snapping up several other hotels, the airport, and much prime real estate.
Overnight, Las Vegas became largely the property of a reputable businessman and began to take on a more positive, corporate image, attracting serious jet-setting gamblers and corporate financial investors. In 1971, Hilton became the first hotel chain to establish a branch in Las Vegas, and later Ramada, Holiday Inns, Hyatt, and, notably, MGM—with its monumental MGM Grand—followed suit. The 1970s brought a lull in tourism due to the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City, New Jersey. That city's own burgeoning, mob-supported casino strip, plus the effects of recession in the early 1980s, discouraged middle class Americans from journeying to the extravagance of a glitzy weekend at the gaming tables in the desert. But the city recovered, establishing itself as an international vacation spot for honeymooners (after a quick marriage in one of hundreds of theme chapels), a winter getaway, or a family destination providing scenic Southwest landscapes along with star-studded entertainment and safe, low-stakes gaming.
By the 1990s there were over 35,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, and over 300,000 permanent residents. Rooms cost between 50 and 90 percent less than in any other major city and restaurants were cheap and plentiful, thus encouraging visitors to spend more time in the casinos where the house makes its most money—profits that are ultimately plowed back into the ever-growing community. The Nevada Gaming Commission and the FBI keep close tabs on this new breed of casino, and, supposedly, little mob involvement remains in Las Vegas. Ironically, acquiring "comps"—perks such as free drinks or limousine rides for heavy gambling—has become a status symbol among the nouveau-riche at which they are aimed, rather than a show of respect from the house, yet the city takes in billions of dollars annually, supported by the many needs of its visitors, residents, and the surrounding states.
Balboni, Alan Richard. Beyond the Mafia: Italian Americans and the Development of Las Vegas. Reno, University of Nevada Press, 1996.
Berman, Susan. Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story Behind America's Neon Oasis. New York, TV Books, 1996.
Kranmar, Ed, and Avert Cardoza. Las Vegas Guide. Washington, D.C., Passport Press, 1993.
Land, Barbara, and Myrick Land. A Short History of Las Vegas. Reno, University of Nevada Press, 1999.
McCracken, Robert D. Las Vegas: The Great American Playground. Reno, University of Nevada Press, 1997.
Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1977.
Las Vegas: Economy
Las Vegas: Economy
Major Industries and Commercial Activity
Tourism drives the economy in Las Vegas, with 37 million people visiting the city each year. According to the University of Nevada's Center for Business and Economic Research Center, the figure for visitor spending in 2004 was a staggering $33.7 billion. In 2004, 20 percent of all jobs were gaming-related.
Though many miles away, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had a devastating effect on the Las Vegas economy, costing thousands who worked in the entertainment and service industries their jobs in the weeks following. While the city had mostly recovered by 2003, other problems had set in, namely difficulties in drawing tourists to the other aspects of the city, in particular the downtown area. Developments in 2004 and 2005 are helping to revitalize the downtown economy.
Constant population growth means that the housing construction industry is vitally important. In 2000 more than 21,000 new homes and 26,000 resale homes were purchased; more than one third of Las Vegas homes are only five years old or less. In early 2005 there were 20 residential development projects of more than 300 acres each currently underway.
While the entertainment and service industries are, collectively, the largest employers in Las Vegas, the major single employer is the Clark County School District.
Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies
To encourage industrial development, the Las Vegas business community works in cooperation with the state of Nevada to provide various incentives through minimal taxation, vocational training programs, no-cost site location services, special loan plans, and limited liability protection. The city is a foreign trade zone, making it an attractive foreign business destination.
In addition to Nevada's lenient tax structure, the state offers several programs to entice new business. Several tax abatement and tax deferral programs exist, as well as renewable energy abatements, industrial development bonds, global trade program, community development block grants, and others.
Job training programs
The Nevada Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation offers job training programs to both employers and job seekers, including applicant recruitment and screening, tax credit benefits, training programs and career enhancement programs, and labor market information. The Train Employees Now (TEN) program, administered by the State of Nevada Commission on Economic Development, helps new and expanding firms by providing intensive skills-based training programs tailored to the company's needs. The TEN program utilizes training providers such as local businesses and community colleges. Other programs exist through the area's educational institutions.
The 1990s saw major developments in the casino/resort area, with 18 new venues alone built in the last two years of the century, many themed after famous cities throughout the world. The race to build the most outrageous casino/resort in Las Vegas may be never-ending, but the area's more established resorts are quick to follow suit with expansions to match. When finished in late 2005, a $376 million expansion at Caesars Palace will include a 949-room, 26-story tower, which will bring the resort's number of hotel rooms to more than 3,300. Part of the expansion includes an addition to the resort's convention and meeting facilities, and upgrades to existing rooms and facilities.
Off "the Strip," the new Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel opened in December 2004 on Paradise Road adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center. It offers 548 rooms on 14 floors, a variety of amenities, and more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space.
Wynn Las Vegas opened in spring 2005, topping out at the world's most expensive casino resort with a price tag of $2.7 billion. On 217 acres and with 2,716 rooms—each at a minimum of 630 square feet and built at a price tag of one million per room—the hotel is extravagantly appointed. Wynn Las Vegas features an 18-hole golf course; its own Ferrari-Maserati dealership; an art gallery featuring the likes of Picasso, Vermeer, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Rembrandt; and 18 restaurants.
At any given time in Las Vegas, planned community developments are in various construction phases. Summerlin, one such community along the western rim of the Las Vegas Valley, is the fastest growing master planned community in the country. At 22,500 acres and with 16 separate villages each with its own major park, golf course, and schools, Summerlin will continue to grow with new homes and residents until approximately 2020.
As part of efforts to revitalize the downtown area, in 2005 the Internal Revenue Service moved into its new home in a 61-acre former railroad yard west of the casino district—an area targeted by city officials for development.
Economic Development Information: Office of Business Development, City of Las Vegas, 400 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89101; telephone (702)229-6551; fax (702)385-3128. City of Las Vegas Economic Development Division, telephone (702)229-6551. Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, 3720 Howard Hughes Pkwy., Las Vegas, NV, 89109-0320; telephone (702)735-1616; fax (702) 735-2011; email [email protected]
McCarran International Airport handles more than 600,000 pounds of arriving and departing cargo annually; the airport's Air Cargo Center offers cargo storage and handling services in a designated Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). Other warehousing and support services are available, including package support and U.S. customs service. More than 50 motor freight carriers serve Southern Clark County, which is the hub of an extensive transportation network serviced by three highway corridors consisting of Interstate 15, U.S. Highway 95, and U.S. Highway 93. Union Pacific Railroad runs northeast/southwest through the county.
Labor Force and Employment Outlook
The labor force in Las Vegas continues to expand as people move into the region in record numbers (approximately 6,000 each month). Las Vegas boasts the highest rate of new job growth in the country. The Las Vegas job base continues to expand at record rates; by December 2005 that rate was 8 percent, the fastest pace in the nation. The gaming and hospitality industries in Las Vegas are expected to continue to improve.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Las Vegas metropolitan area labor force, 2004 annual averages.
Size of nonagricultural labor force: 811,700
Number of workers employed in . . .
natural resources and mining: 400
trade, transportation and utilities: 140,000
financial activities: 46,000
professional and business services: 95,400
educational and health services: 53,900
leisure and hospitality: 247,600
other services: 23,500
Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $14.60 (Nevada average)
Unemployment rate: 4.0% (February 2005)
|Largest county employers||Number of employees|
|Clark County School District||20,000+|
|Bellagio Hotel & Casino||8,000-8,999|
|MGM Grand Hotel & Casino||7,000-7,999|
|Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino||7,000-7,999|
|Mirage Hotel & Casino||5,000-5,999|
|State of Nevada||5,000-5,999|
|Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino||4,000-4,999|
|Las Vegas Metropolitan Police||4,000-4,999|
|University of Nevada, Las Vegas||4,000-4,999|
Cost of Living
Nevada's low taxes make everything else cheaper: wages, rents, and energy costs. The average rent of a two bedroom apartment at the end of 2004 was $752 per month.
The following is a summary of data regarding key cost of living factors for the Las Vegas area.
2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 113.3 (U.S. average = 100.0)
2004 (3rd Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $353,798
State income tax rate: None
State sales tax rate: 7.5%
Local income tax rate: None
Local sales tax rate: 7.5% (9% hotel room tax)
Property tax rate: 3.0815% of assessed value
Economic Information: Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, 3720 Howard Hughes Pkwy., Las Vegas, NV, 89109-0320; telephone (702) 735-1616; fax (702)735-2011; email info @lvchamber.com. Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, Information Development and Processing, Research and Analysis Bureau, 500 E. Third St., Carson City, NV 89713-0001; telephone (775)684-0450; email [email protected]
LAS VEGAS. A tourist economy and federal largesse made Las Vegas, Nevada, the only American metropolitan area founded in the twentieth century to reach one million in population. Yet its past and present are more complex and connected than its "sin city" image suggests.
Before the Neon
Native Americans lived in southern Nevada for thousands of years. Southern Paiutes were the only residents when Rafael Rivera, scouting for Mexican traders, became the first non-Native visitor in January 1830. In May 1844, John Frémont's mapmaking expedition named the area "Las Vegas," Spanish for "the Meadows," for its water and grass.
Aware of Frémont's description, the Mormon leader Brigham Young chose Las Vegas for a mission. Arriving on 14 June 1855, missionaries built a fort, part of which still stands. They left within three years. The miner Octavius Gass started buying land in 1865 and eventually owned nearly 1,000 acres, until old debts cost him his holdings. After the new owner, Archibald Stewart, died in a gunfight in 1884, his widow, Helen, ran the ranch until 1902, selling all but 160 acres to Senator William Clark, a Montana copper baron planning a Los Angeles-to-Salt Lake railroad. When the Union Pacific threatened to compete, they became partners.
After Clark auctioned land on 15 May 1905, Las Vegas became a railroad town, serving passengers and servicing trains. A railroad subsidiary, the Las Vegas Land and Water Company, controlled municipal improvements while limiting growth. Named Clark County seat in 1909 and incorporated as a city in 1911, Las Vegas catered to sin with the red-light district known as Block 16, which offered drinking, gambling, and prostitution despite laws to the contrary.
The Prewar and Postwar Boom
Hoover Dam construction, begun in March 1931, changed Las Vegas forever. Depression victims poured in, seeking jobs. The federal government built Boulder City to house workers, whose trips downtown boosted the economy—as did the dam's visitors, prompting Las Vegas to market itself as a tourist venue with the annual Helldorado, with parade and rodeo. The New Deal promoted growth: Nevada led the nation in per capita federal spending, and Las Vegas received such projects as a school and parks.
Democratic control of the presidency and Congress aided Las Vegas. Nevada Senator Pat McCarran, elected in 1932, used his seniority and power to obtain federal projects, thereby infusing payroll and attracting new residents. An Army Air Corps gunnery school opened in 1941 and became Nellis Air Force Base, still a key source of jobs and spending. To the southeast, the Basic Magnesium plant refined manganese for the war; the surrounding town, Henderson, housed southern Nevada's only heavy industry as the plant moved into chemical production and research. Northwest of town, the Nevada Test Site opened in 1951 and began conducting aboveground (later underground) atomic tests; while testing was discontinued, the site still supported research at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Las Vegas increasingly relied on gambling, which the state legalized in 1931. The downtown area benefited, especially in the late 1930s, and many illegal gamblers driven out of California relocated to Las Vegas. During World War II, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, representing gangster Meyer Lansky, invested in downtown casinos
and took over construction of the Flamingo on the nascent "strip." The El Rancho Vegas became the Las Vegas Strip's first resort in 1941, followed in 1942 by the Hotel Last Frontier—both were ranch-style. The Flamingo, Las Vegas's first luxury resort, opened late in 1946, but proved unprofitable. Its turnaround came too late for Siegel, who was killed in July 1947.
The Flamingo's profits inspired more organized crime investment, while for their part gamblers relished practicing their trade legally. A spate of hotel-casinos opened in the 1950s and 1960s, often with loans from the Teamsters and the Bank of Las Vegas, the first bank to loan to casinos; most lenders disdained gambling and feared that mobsters would refuse to repay loans. A disproportionate number of casino owners were Jewish, expanding an already thriving Jewish community.
Las Vegas's image suffered not only for its criminal connections but also for its reputation as the "Mississippi of the West." Banned from patronizing resorts where they performed, black entertainers stayed in segregated West Las Vegas until the late 1950s. While a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter formed in the late 1920s, it was not until the 1950s and 1960s—by which time the black population had grown larger and had gained an organized, educated leadership—that discrimination was overcome. Thus, Las Vegas reflected the national civil rights movement, complete with unrest and lawsuits.
The Age of Legitimacy?
The last third of the century brought corporatization to Las Vegas and casinos to new jurisdictions. State laws passed in 1967 and 1969 enabled publicly traded companies to buy casinos; previously, every stockholder would have been licensed. Thus, Kirk Kerkorian built the International, bought the Flamingo, and sold both to Hilton; he subsequently built the MGM Grand. Steve Wynn parlayed a Bank of Las Vegas loan and a small piece of Strip property into ownership of the Golden Nugget. Aided by junk bond trader Michael Milken, Wynn built the Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio, and owned other properties outside Las Vegas, before Kerkorian took over his Mirage Resorts in 2000. Local operators such as the Boyd Group, Station Casinos, and Harrah's became publicly traded, invested elsewhere, or teamed with Indian reservations operating casinos.
Las Vegas also reinvented itself. "Theming" went back to the 1930s, when operators patterned casinos on the Old West; Caesars Palace's Roman statuary restored the idea in the 1960s. Megaresort builders in the 1990s imploded old resorts, often replaced by replicas—the Luxor (Egypt), Excalibur (medieval castles), Paris, and New York, New York—and enormous properties that were almost cities unto themselves, such as the 5,000-plus-room MGM Grand and the Venetian. By 2001, Las Vegas boasted more than 120,000 hotel rooms, filled annually by millions of tourists.
The city fueled and benefited from this growth. Each census revealed Las Vegas as one of the fastest-growing American cities, if not the fastest, with the population doubling or nearly doubling every decade. The once physically small city expanded as the Howard Hughes Corporation developed Summerlin to the northwest. Green Valley helped Henderson evolve from an industrial city into a suburb. Three Sun City communities attracted "snowbirds" escaping cold winters or retirees seeking an active lifestyle and moderate cost of living. Latinos grew in influence and topped 20 percent of the population in the 2000 census. That same census showed Las Vegas to be home to 1,375,765 of Nevada's 1,998,257 residents, and more ethnically diverse than the rest of the state.
Understandably, problems accompanied growth. Growing suburban communities prompted white flight from the inner city. Schools were overcrowded. Newcomers understandably lacked a sense of community and history, prompting apathy about local affairs and difficulties in developing a cultural community—no performing arts center and classical music companies beset by financial troubles. Downtown declined and redevelopment proved difficult, while the county government controlled prime land, including the Strip. Gaming and other businesses sometimes clashed over economic diversification, yet shared ample political power. Las Vegas enjoyed a large majority in the state legislature, but its delegation voted more by party than region.
While obtaining water from Arizona's allotment from the Colorado River appeared to ease concern over Las Vegas's ability to maintain an adequate water supply, debates still raged over air quality, education, traffic, the tax structure, and concentrated political power. Neither Las Vegas's success, nor its troubles, seemed likely to abate as the twenty-first century began.
Denton, Sally, and Roger Morris. The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 1947–2000. New York: Knopf, 2001.
Elliott, Gary E. The New Western Frontier: An Illustrated History of Greater Las Vegas. Encinitas, Calif.: Heritage, 1999.
Gottdiener, M., Claudia Collins, and David R. Dickens. Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All-American City. London: Blackwell, 1998.
Hopkins, A. D., and K. J. Evans, eds. The First 100: Portraits of the Men and Women Who Shaped Las Vegas. Las Vegas: Huntington Press, 1999.
Moehring, Eugene P. Resort City in the Sunbelt: Las Vegas, 1930– 2000. 2d rev. ed. Reno and Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press, 2000.
LAS VEGAS (Sp. "The Meadows"), city in Nevada boasting 1.6 million inhabitants, 80,000 (5 percent) of whom were Jewish in 2005. With 600 new Jewish families arriving every month, Las Vegas now enjoys prime of place as the fastest-growing Jewish community in North America.
Jews first arrived in southern Nevada in 1850, attracted by the discovery of gold in Carson City. Jewish peddlers subsequently interacted with Church of the Latter Day Saints missionaries who, at the behest of Mormon Church leader Brigham Young in Utah, erected a short-lived agricultural settlement (1855–57) as a base for proselytizing nearby Paiute Indian tribes. Jews arrived in small numbers in 1905, after the establishment of a railway hub linking Phoenix, Arizona, Salt Lake City, Utah, and southern California. Typical of these merchant pioneers was Adolph Levy (1858–1936), a native of Prussian Poland who arrived from Illinois and opened a dry goods store. Levy's niece, Sallie Gordon (1908–1997), a future director of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, gave birth to the city's first Jewish baby during the early 1930s.
A nascent Jewish presence barely discernible in the city's 1910 and 1920 censuses coalesced in 1931, when some 20 Jewish Las Vegans convened as the "Sons and Daughters of Israel," providing their children with religious instruction in store-front classrooms and meeting at the Elks Club and the Odd Fellows Hall. The community, like the city itself, grew slowly until the legalization of gambling in 1941. Henceforth, Las Vegas began attracting a largely blue-collar component associated with the fledgling gaming industry. The city remained one of the last Jewish blue-collar redoubts in the country.
A Mob Town
Vegas Jewry received another boost in 1946, when Meyer *Lansky, Benjamin "Bugsy" *Siegel, Morris Barney "Moe" Dalitz, Gus Greenbaum, Dave Berman, Morris Lansburgh, Morris Rosen, Sam Cohen, and other well-known – notorious – underworld figures helped kick-start the transformation of this otherwise sleepy desert rest stop into the nation's "vice and dice" capital.
Las Vegas quickly garnered a reputation as a Jewish mob town, even as some of its more insecure Jewish residents protested that Jewish racketeers generally acted as front-men for Italian Mafioso from the Midwest. The city attracted Jewish mobsters because the initially under-regulated casinos functioned as an almost inexhaustible cash cow. To Jewish gangsters even more than their Italian and Irish counterparts, however, the desert offered an almost unique opportunity to transcend criminal origins and reputations, and to achieve a modicum of communal and civic respectability. Many began this rehabilitative process by joining synagogues and funding parochial schools. One of the city's Jewish day schools, for instance, at Temple Ner Tamid, was named for mobster Moe Dalitz.
The symbiosis between the casino operators and the organized Jewish community generated structural distortions that resounded well past the mid-1970s, when corporations took over the gaming industry. Previously, synagogues, schools, and communal programming depended almost exclusively upon the largesse of the wealthiest casino operators, who became known as "Angels," and who covered organizational budget deficits on a rotational basis with yearly cash pay-outs. This also helped the fledgling State of Israel when it began seeking money for arms purchases from U.S. Surplus and other sources. The costs of religious affiliation for less well-heeled Jewish Las Vegans thereby remained marginal for decades, habituating residents to an unsustainable level of subsidization, and rendering problematic the inevitable transition toward a more equitable and regulated pattern of funding and expenditure. The arrival, in recent decades, of young Jewish families just starting out and of Jewish retirees no longer interested in communal involvement, presented further challenges to communal attempts to increase affiliation. Despite recent gains, Las Vegas continues, like several other western cities, to lag behind comparably sized, and even smaller, communities in the east, especially in creating infrastructure. A hundred years after Jews first began arriving, the city lacks a Jewish community center, a nursing home or assisted living facility, a yeshivah, and a Bureau of Jewish Education. Efforts are underway to erect a Jewish high school and Hebrew Community Center in Summerlin.
During the 1960s, Jewish organizational life centered around the Combined Jewish Appeal (cja), which became the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas (jflv) in 1979. The cja and its successor body functioned as the central coordinating institution responsible for fundraising, planning and allocations, and communal services. Reliance on a small, self-selected coterie of communal contributors and decision-makers, however, resulted in no small degree of organizational dysfunction characterized by redundancies in public relations, fundraising, secretarial services, agency programming, and tax, legal, and accounting functions. Clashes over turf, pedigree, and job titles became increasingly common and progressively debilitating. A dispute between casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (at this writing, the world's wealthiest Jew) and a local hotel union in 1999, for instance, resulted in a vituperative spat that split Jewish congregations and organizations along personal and political lines, further undermining communal development. By 2001, several Jewish communal agencies found themselves facing impeding bankruptcy and requiring a federation bailout. A besieged and hard-pressed federation responded to successive crises by revamping, in 2003, under yet another name, the United Jewish Community (ujc). Helmed by a new, younger board of directors, the ujc began with a reassessment of traditional fundraising and allocation strategies intended to meet the needs of an increasingly dispersed, fragmented, and even disaffected community.
Jewish Life in the Early 21st Century
Today, thanks to a booming economy largely immune to vagaries of the business cycle, and to a general westward trend of young Jewish professionals, the city is experiencing a surprising profusion of Jewish communal expression. With growing Jewish concentrations in the suburbs of Summerlin, Desert Shores, Seven Hills and Green Valley, in Henderson, Las Vegas boasts 18 congregations (eight Orthodox, three Conservative, seven Reform or non-denominational), three day schools (the non-denominational Milton I. Schwartz Hebrew Academy, the Chabad-affiliated Desert Torah Academy, and a Conservative-aligned Solomon Schechter day school), and a Holocaust memorial and resource library. Chabad, which established a permanent presence in 1990, now operates four centers employing seven full-time rabbis. Orthodox residents and visitors – ultra-Orthodox visitors to Las Vegas are many despite the reputation of the city – can avail themselves of three mikva'ot (ritual baths), six kosher restaurants, a Glatt Kosher market, and two kosher stores embedded in local supermarkets. Three major casinos, meanwhile, maintain full-service (though reportedly underused) kosher kitchens and catering departments. Community affairs are chronicled in two community newspapers, the Jewish Reporter and the Israelite, and a monthly periodical, Life & Style: the Las Vegas Jewish Magazine. A Hillel Union at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tends to the needs of Jewish students on campus.
Jews continue to figure prominently in Las Vegas public life. The city's mayor since 1999, Oscar Goodman (1939– ), is a former mob lawyer unabashed about his love for drinking, gambling, and other local pastimes. Brian Greenspun, the scion of newspaper magnate, land developer, and arms smuggler to pre-state Israel, Herman "Hank" Milton Greens-pun (1909–1989), is the editor of the Las Vegas Sun and active in real estate and casino management. Casino mogul Steve Wynn (1941– ), who built the opulent Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas hotels, is credited with the Las Vegas Strip's successful marketing, during the 1990s, as a family friendly environment. Rival Sheldon Adelson (1933– ), who built the Venetian Hotel, established Las Vegas as a major convention and trade show venue. Taxi fleet owner Milton I. Schwartz (1921– ) is active in Jewish philanthropy and Republican politics. Democratic Congresswoman Shelley *Berkley (1951– ) was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, and won her fourth term in 2004. Jacob "Chic" Hecht (1928– ) served in the Nevada State Senate from 1967 to 1975, as a Republican in the U.S. Senate from 1983 to 1989, and as U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas (1989–94). Lori Lipman Brown (1958– ), an avowed civil libertarian, served as a Nevada state senator from 1992 to 1994.
A. Thomas, Jr. and J.D. Gabaldon, Las Vegas: The Fabulous First Century (2003); H. Rothman, Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century (2002); A. Balboni, Southern Italians and Eastern European Jews: Cautious Cooperation in Las Vegas Casinos, 1940–1967; H.K. Rothman and M. David (eds.), The Grit beneath the Glitter: Tales from The Real Las Vegas (2001); S. Denton and R. Morris, The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 1947–2000 (2001); D. Littlejohn and E. Gran, The Real Las Vegas: Life beyond the Strip (1999).
[Sheldon Teitelbaum (2nd ed.)]
Las Vegas: Recreation
Las Vegas: Recreation
Most people visit Las Vegas to see shows featuring world-famous entertainers and to try their luck at the gaming tables. But the city offers much more to see and do. The streets of Las Vegas, with neon and glittering lights, are themselves a popular attraction. Also within the city limits is the Old Mormon Fort; built in 1855, it is the oldest structure in the area and tours are offered daily.
East of the city, Lake Mead National Recreation area boasts 500 miles of scenic shoreline created when the Hoover Dam was constructed. Located 30 miles southeast of the city is Hoover Dam, the tallest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere. The popular site draws about one million visitors annually to its tourist center while millions more drive over it. Only 15 miles west of Las Vegas is Red Rock Canyon, where a 13-mile scenic route winds through a natural landscape inhabited by wild burros and bighorn sheep; hikers and bicyclists can also enjoy 30 miles of trails. Some 40 miles north, the Valley of Fire State Park contains beautiful desert land, rock formations, and rock drawings surviving from ancient civilizations. Tour buses travel from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona, where visitors can choose from hiking, camping, biking, fishing, and boating. Several ghost towns are within an hour's drive of Las Vegas; Bonnie Springs Old Nevada, southwest of the city, is a recreated town that evokes the lawless days of the Old West.
Arts and Culture
World famous for entertainment, Las Vegas is a city where nightlife lasts 24 hours a day and spectacular casino resorts and venues feature international stars. There is also an active and acclaimed arts community in Las Vegas; theater, dance, and concert performances as well as lectures are staged at the Reed Whipple Cultural Arts Center. The center is home to the Las Vegas All-Star High School Jazz Band, the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra, and the Rainbow Company Youth Theatre. The Charleston Heights Arts Center presents theater and musical performances as well as exhibits by local and regional artists. The Community College of Southern Nevada offers dance, theater, and musical performances.
The University of Nevada at Las Vegas, with three performing arts venues, is the heart of the cultural community. The university hosts performances by Nevada Ballet Theatre, Symphony Orchestra, Sierra Wind Quintet, Chamber Music Southwest, and the Charles Vanda Master Series.
The Las Vegas Clark County Library District kicked off a partnership with the Nevada Chamber Symphony for the 2004-2005 season, with concerts scheduled in the Clark County Library on Flamingo Road. The Library District also hosts theatrical, dance, and other musical performances.
Several museums are located in the city. The Liberace Museum exhibits a collection of rare pianos, including pianos owned by Frederic Chopin and George Gershwin. The Nevada State Museum and Historical Society specializes in the natural history of Southern Nevada, while the Las Vegas Natural History Museum focuses on the region's wildlife and natural environment, both past and present. The Lied Discovery Children's Museum offers 100 hands-on exhibits that let children explore science, arts, and humanities in a fun and educational way.
The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in the Bellagio Resort features two to three exhibitions annually, with works from top art museums and private collections. The Las Vegas Art Museum offers more than 170 works from a variety of mediums. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas maintains an art gallery in the Ham Fine Arts Building on campus, featuring the work of faculty members, touring artists, and students. Las Vegas area commercial galleries show the work of local and nationally known artists.
Festivals and Holidays
Las Vegas hosted a year of celebratory events throughout 2005, including festivals, concerts, exhibits, theater, and events honoring the city's history and unique style.
Las Vegas hosts the Antiquarian and Used Book Fair in January. The entire month of May is designated Jazz Month, showcasing local and national artists. Helldorado Days in May celebrate the Old West era with rodeos and parades. The Greek Festival in October features authentic food and dancing. National Finals Rodeo is held in December.
Sports for the Spectator
Las Vegas hosts a number of national sports competitions, including the Michelin Championship golf tournament of the PGA Tour, Seniors Golf, and the National Finals Rodeo. The city also has a baseball team, the Las Vegas 51s, the Triple A farm club of professional baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, who play at Cashmen Field. The AFL's Las Vegas Gladiators play professional indoor football at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Las Vegas Wranglers, members of the ECHL Division, also play at the Thomas & Mack Center. Collegiate sports are represented by the UNLV Rebels basketball team plus teams who play golf, baseball, soccer, football, and women's basketball. Championship boxing events are scheduled year-round in Las Vegas.
Sports for the Participant
Although Las Vegas is in the desert, there are facilities for a number of water sports, including fishing, boating, waterskiing, and canoeing at nearby Lake Mead and on the Colorado River. Las Vegas City parks and Clark County parks continue to be developed to meet the needs of an expanding population; both provide a variety of athletic programming, tennis courts and ballfields, swimming pools, golf courses, community centers, activities, classes, and workshops. Wet 'n' Wild, located on the Strip, is a 26-acre water park that contains water slides, a wave pool, and swimming area. More than 30 golf courses exist in the area.
Shopping and Dining
Shopping center construction is constantly taking place in the city. A major attraction is the $100 million Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, which opened in 1992 and expanded to 675,000 square feet (an increase of 175,000 square feet) in 2004 that brought its entrance to a prominent position on Las Vegas Boulevard. Described as combining the opulence of Rodeo Drive with the glitter of the Las Vegas Strip, the Roman-inspired complex houses about 160 upscale shops, art galleries, and a $5 million animated fountain. The Galleria at Sunset Mall in nearby Henderson features one million square feet of enclosed mall space anchored by four department stores and housing more than 140 specialty shops. Boulevard Mall is Nevada's largest indoor shopping mall with 150 shops. The Fashion Show has seven anchor stores and features "The Cloud," a canopy that is suspended 20 stories over the mall and serves the dual purpose of sunshade during the day and movie projection screen at night. Unusual shopping experiences can be found at the medieval-themed Shopping Courtyard with live jousting between stores and all that is French at the Rue de la Paix center.
More than 750 restaurants with choices ranging from haute cuisine to inexpensive fare, are located in Las Vegas. One such place is Spago, run by internationally-known chef Wolfgang Puck, who uses French cooking techniques to create an eclectic menu. Puck also features a more casual bar and grill within the city bearing his name. In 2004 Bobby Flay, successful chef and star of a popular television show on the Food Network, opened the Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace. Major resort hotels all feature gourmet menus; most hotels on "the Strip" and downtown offer buffet dining. Some examples of the culinary variety available include: AJ's Steakhouse, located in the Hard Rock Hotel; Hard Rock Cafe, residing just outside of the hotel; Planet Hollywood, at Caesars Palace; and the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, inside the Paris Las Vegas Hotel that is shaped to resemble the famous French structure.
Visitor Information: Las Vegas Visitor Information Center, 3150 Paradise Rd., Las Vegas, NV 89109-9096; telephone (702)892-7575; toll-free (877)VISITLV
Las Vegas: History
Las Vegas: History
Forts Built; Farmers Settle; Hoover Dam Built
Las Vegas was discovered by Spanish explorers, who gave the site its name—meaning "meadows"—because of the verdant grassland fed by natural aquifers. Las Vegas served as a watering place on the Spanish trail to California. In 1855 Mormon missionaries established a settlement, cultivating the land and building a fort to provide protection to travelers on the Salt Lake—Los Angeles Trail. They abandoned the place two years later when the enterprise became unprofitable, but their fort is still standing and is the oldest historical site in Las Vegas. In 1864 Fort Baker, a U.S. Army post, was built nearby; in 1867 Las Vegas was detached from the Arizona territory and became part of the Nevada territory.
Around that time Las Vegas began to expand as a series of farmers cultivated the land. The area encompassed 1,800 acres when it was sold to William Clark, a Montana senator. In 1905 Clark auctioned off parcels of land for the building of the Union Pacific Railroad link between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. The town was incorporated in 1911. Construction on the Hoover Dam—originally the Boulder Dam—on the Colorado River was begun in 1931, bringing to the area thousands of men seeking employment. The seventy-story-high dam, which is regarded as one of the wonders of the modern world, still supplies affordable power to parts of California, Arizona, and Nevada.
Gaming, Lenient Laws, Climate Attract Visitors, Settlers
Another significant event occurred in 1931: the legalization of casino gambling in Nevada. The gaming and entertainment industries boomed in Las Vegas after World War II. A street lined with large, glittering casino hotels came to be known as the "Strip"; downtown, in Casino Center, lavish palaces featured the country's top entertainers. By the 1950s Las Vegas, dubbed the "Entertainment Capital of the World," had become synonymous with the unique form of recreation it had created. Because of lenient state laws, Las Vegas also became popular as a wedding site; eventually wedding chapels were operating around the clock, and each year thousands of couples were coming to the city to be married.
Since the 1930s Las Vegas's population has steadily increased, jumping from slightly under 8,500 people in 1940 to nearly 25,000 people in 1950. By 1960 almost 65,000 people lived in Las Vegas, and in 1980 the census figure was 164,674 people. Between 1980 and 1990 there was a more than 60 percent increase, or a total of 278,000 people. Newcomers, primarily from California, are attracted by the favorable climate, the high standard of living, low tax rate, and jobs produced by a boom in business and the entertainment and gaming industries. In the 1990s an average of 6,000 to 7,000 people moved into Clark County each month; that figure remains in the mid-2000s.
Las Vegas' population continues to grow by leaps and bounds, nearly doubling between 1990 and 2000, with no real signs of slowing. On May 15, 2005, Las Vegas celebrated its centennial birthday with citywide parties and events on the day and throughout the year—one such celebration included a 130,000 pound cake registered with the Guinness Book of World Records.
Historical Information: Nevada State Museum & Historical Society, 700 Twin Lakes Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89107; telephone (702)486-5205
Las Vegas: Education and Research
Las Vegas: Education and Research
Elementary and Secondary Schools
The Clark County School District is divided into five regions and educates about 250,000 students in the entirety of Clark County with a total of 186 elementary, 51 middle, 38 high schools, 28 alternative schools, and 8 special schools or programs. Las Vegas proper is served by the district's Southeast Region. Several grants were recently awarded the school system: the Local Plan grant provides $40 million for expansion and improvements to programs serving students with disabilities; the Gear Up program will provide $845,000 towards efforts to decrease dropout rates, raise academic achievement in the high schools, and development of college preparatory coursework; the Library Books grant will provide $253,000 for library purchases in the elementary and secondary schools. The school district is constantly expanding; in 2002 the district reported a "typical year" as including 14,000 new students, 12-14 new schools, and 1,300 new employees.
The following is a summary of data regarding the Southeast Region of the Clark County School District public schools.
Total enrollment: 58,268 (2003-2004)
Number of facilities
elementary schools: 39
junior high/middle schools: 12
senior high schools:
other: 1 vocational trade center
Student/teacher ratio: 18:1 elementary; 30:1 secondary
Teacher salaries (2004-2005)
Funding per pupil: $5,501
Twenty-eight private and parochial elementary and secondary schools serve the Las Vegas metropolitan area. There are also more than 90 pre-schools and day care centers.
Public Schools Information: Clark County School District, 2832 East Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89121; telephone (702)799-5011
Colleges and Universities
Officially opened in 1957 and occupying 337 acres in the metropolitan area, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas enrolled 27,000 students in 2004 and offers them more than 200 undergraduate and graduate programs; engineering, computer science, business, economics, and hotel management are especially strong fields. The university also has a School of Medicine that is affiliated with the University Medical Center, and a School of Dental Medicine. Located in the Las Vegas area are the three campuses of the Community College of Southern Nevada (CCSN), the largest institution in the University of Nevada System, enrolling more than 30,000 students including those taking online courses. Among the top disciplines at CCSN are dental hygiene, culinary arts, computing and information technologies, resorts and gaming, nursing and other health professions, automotive technology, air conditioning, and criminal justice. The International Academy of Design & Technology offers two- and four-year programs in Fashion Design, Interior Design, and Visual Communications.
Libraries and Research Centers
Located in one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the United States, the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District supports more than 850,000 area residents with 24 branches and a comprehensive resource of informational materials. Serving an area larger than the state of Connecticut, the system's collection exceeds 2.3 million items and includes special collections focusing on fine art, the Southwestern region, the building and construction industry and trades, grants and foundations, health sciences, business and finance, aviation, Nevada history, and the hotel and gaming industry. The library is a depository for federal and state government documents.
A variety of specialized or research libraries are also located in Las Vegas; most are affiliated with local corporations, government agencies, and educational institutions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maintains a branch of its genealogical library in Las Vegas. Desert Research Institute's research centers carry out about 300 projects focusing on the environment each year. Other research activities in the region focus on the natural history, exercise physiology, computer science, information sciences, and business and economics.
Public Library Information: Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, 833 Las Vegas Boulevard North, Las Vegas, NV 89101; telephone (702)382-3493
Las Vegas, the culture characteristic of the people of southwestern Ecuador in the preceramic period between 10,000 and 6,600 years ago (based on 22-radiocarbon dates). The Las Vegas culture may be a local variant of the preceramic culture distributed in the coastal zones of northern Peru, Colombia, and Panama in the same period. In Ecuador, it is the only preceramicstage culture reconstructed in detail. Las Vegas lithic technology lacked stone projectile points and bifacial flaking techniques, both of which were characteristic of the preceramic tool kits found in the highlands of Ecuador.
The way of life of the Las Vegas people has been reconstructed from abundant remains excavated at Site 80, a large camp or village on the seasonal Las Vegas River, and from limited excavations and surface reconnaissance of thirty-one sites on the semiarid and recently deforested Santa Elena Peninsula. Lithic, shell, and bone artifacts; 192 human skeletons; faunal remains; charcoal; pollen; phytoliths; minerals; and settlement data have been analyzed. The human skeletons recovered from the site show that the people, who lived there 6,600 to 8,250 years ago, were biologically like other early Native Americans, and that they were relatively healthy and did not suffer from the deleterious effects of intensive agriculture (such as anemia and tooth decay). The sample included 122 adults and 70 subadults who were buried in various ways, reflecting a complex set of burial customs probably associated with ancestor worship. This is evidence that there was an intensification in the social activities of the local group in the period after 8,000 years ago.
The Las Vegas people were unspecialized gatherers, hunters, and fishermen living in a tropical, littoral zone with high biotic potential. The people exploited comprehensively an environment which included a seasonally dry tropical forest, more heavily wooded river bottoms, limited mangrove swamps, estuaries, beaches, and a very productive marine ecosystem. The animal bones recovered from the midden at Site 80 suggest that the ancient environment was similar to the present one (semiarid), although it had not yet suffered the desertification caused by deforestation: the ancient environment was not very moist, because tropical forest animals were not identified from bones in the Las Vegas sites.
Counting the animal bones recovered from Site 80 suggests that the people consumed calories from animal sources in the following proportions: terrestrial fauna (like deer) accounted for about 54 percent of the calories, while fish contributed about 35 percent and shellfish about 11 percent. It is likely that plant food contributed most to the people's diet, but ancient plant remains are only rarely preserved in these sites. Evidence of squash, bottle gourd, and primitive maize found in Site 80 indicates that the people added plant cultivation to their subsistence system before 8,000 years ago. At that time they occupied Site 80 on a semipermanent basis, moving irregularly to subsidiary camps. A trench suitable for supporting the wall poles of a shelter is evidence that the earliest Las Vegans built circular huts about 6 feet in diameter.
Preceramic people like those of Las Vegas probably inhabited both the lowlands of the Guayas River basin and the littoral zones of the coast of Ecuador, where they exploited a wide variety of tropical resources from permanent villages, but regrettably preceramic sites have been identified only on the Santa Elena Peninsula, and there is a gap of over 1,000 years at the end of the preceramic period. Still, the proto-agricultural way of life of the Las Vegas preceramic people on the coast and in the Guayas basin may have been the foundation for the development of the ceramic-stage Valdivia culture around 5,000 years ago.
Three interpretive works by Karen E. Stothert describe the Las Vegas data: "Review of the Early Preceramic Complexes of the Santa Elena Peninsula, Ecuador," in American Antiquity 48, no. 1 (1983): 122-127; "The Preceramic Las Vegas Culture of Coastal Ecuador," in American Antiquity 50, no. 3 (1985): 613-637; and La prehistoria temprana de la peninsula de Santa Elena: Cultura Las Vegas (1988).
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Las Vegas, located in southwestern Nevada, is the gambling mecca—the place most gamblers dream of visiting—of the United States. Surrounded by a combination of mountains and desert, it is a city of glitz, of neon-lit streets, and of luxurious casinos that attract visitors to wager their money and, perhaps, if luck shines on them, win.
Las Vegas was established by a land grant in 1835. The area originally was called Nuestra Se?ora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes (Our Lady of the Sorrows of the Great Meadows). The name eventually was shortened to Las Vegas (The Meadows). The area soon was charted by explorer John C. Frémont (1813–1890). Las Vegas became a trading post along the Santa Fe Trail. The Mormons also colonized it. Just after the turn of the twentieth century, Las Vegas was a small watering hole with several hotels and stores, a saloon, and a few thousand residents.
Most of Las Vegas's development before World War II (1939–45) came about in the early 1930s, in conjunction with construction of the Boulder Dam, located 40 miles away on the Nevada-Arizona border, and the legalization of gambling throughout most of Nevada. However, by 1941, only a handful of casinos and hotels had been constructed in the city. Then, with the opening of two hotels—the El Rancho, a 63-room resort, in 1941, and the Hotel Last Frontier, a 107-room facility, the following year—came the birth of what today is known as the Las Vegas Strip.
New York mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906–1947) sensed that Las Vegas was an untapped source of riches for organized crime. In 1946, just after the end of the war, he over-saw construction of the Flamingo, an extravagant gambling house-nightspot-hotel that ushered in the city's modern era. Other lavish casinos followed, including the Thunderbird, the Sahara, the Sands, the Dunes, the Desert Inn, and the Riviera. The casinos sported mammoth swimming pools, thousands of rooms, gaudy decor, and nightclubs that spotlighted the era's top entertainers. Mobsters ruled the town through the 1950s, with millions in laundered money pouring through Las Vegas. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (see entry under 1940s—The Way We Lived in volume 3) eventually began cracking down on the hoodlums who were most openly operating the casinos.
In 1966, legendary, eccentric aviation-pioneer Howard Hughes (1905–1976) moved into the fifteenth-floor penthouse of the Desert Inn. The following year, he purchased the hotel for $14 million and also bought several other hotels and casinos, the city's airport, and additional prime real estate. A reputable businessman finally controlled much of Las Vegas. Eventually, the city's image became more corporate and more positive. In 1971, Hilton became the first hotel chain to open a branch in Las Vegas. Others followed; the most impressive among them was the massive MGM Grand.
In 2002, Las Vegas had over thirty-five thousand hotel rooms. Thirty million people visit the city each year. The Nevada Gaming Commission and the FBI watch over Las Vegas's gambling operation. Supposedly, little if any mob involvement remains.
For More Information
Balboni, Alan Richard. Beyond the Mafia: Italian Americans and theDevelopment of Las Vegas. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1996.
Berman, Susan. Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story Behind America's NeonOasis. New York: TV Books, 1996.
Land, Barbara, and Myrick Land. A Short History of Las Vegas. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1999.
McCracken, Robert D. Las Vegas: The Great American Playground. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1997.