Las Vegas as we know it today, with large casinos, hotels, and restaurants, was not always as glamorous. Over the years, Vegas has seen rapid growth and development, thanks to a few influential individuals. But before Vegas was a wild vacation destination, the region saw lots of history, including Native American populations, a visit from Rafael Rivera, who named the valley Las Vegas, meaning “the meadows,” a Mormon settlement, and pioneers in the Wild West.
But their history doesn’t end there. Over the next century, Vegas would see rapid expansion and growth as a city, all starting with the arrival of the railroad, the construction of the Hoover Dam, and ultimately, the first casinos, all of which contributed to the building of Las Vegas as we know it today.
In 1905, the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake railroad arrived in the city of Las Vegas. The arrival of the railroad led to a great boom in the city, which connected Las Vegas to the Pacific and main rail networks, allowing thousands of visitors to come to Las Vegas. There’s no surprise that Las Vegas hotel history started shortly after the arrival of the railroad.
In 1906, the first hotel opened in Las Vegas. Then called the Hotel Nevada, it later became the Golden Gate in 1955, making Golden Gate Hotel & Casino the first Las Vegas hotel, setting the standard for Las Vegas hospitality. Golden Gate has a rich Las Vegas hotel history, from Prohibition Era and the Roaring 20s. But the hotel lives on today, better than ever, paying homage to their past with their vintage feel and Bar Prohibition!
In 1910, Nevada outlawed gambling, which led to underground speakeasies and casinos where the practice lived on. Secretive gambling lived on until Nevada legalized it again in 1931. But by then, organized crime had already established itself in Las Vegas.
Construction of the massive Boulder Dam (eventually renamed the Hoover Dam) also started in 1931, which brought thousands of workers to Las Vegas. And with them, came the development of more casinos and showgirl venues on Fremont Street, which was the city’s only paved road at the time.
In 1946, mobster Bugsy Siegel, financed by East Coast Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky’s Mexican drug money, opened the Flamingo, a resort drawing from Hollywood style and glamour. The Flamingo attracted top tier talent and brought dozens of celebrities through its doors.
But when Siegel was murdered in 1947, Las Vegas mobsters built the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier, and the Riviera, fulfilling Siegel’s vision for what Las Vegas could become. By 1954, 8 million tourists were visiting Las Vegas a year, drawn by the allure of Vegas glamour, Las Vegas hospitality, the casinos and the legendary performers like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Dean Martin.
However, Las Vegas would not be the Vegas it is today without Howard Hughes, who checked into the penthouse at the Desert Inn in 1966 and bought the hotel to stay rather than leave the city of Las Vegas. He later would invest over $300 million in other Las Vegas hotels.
Steven Wynn, a long time casino developer, would then open the Mirage in 1989, marking the city’s first ever mega resort and changing Las Vegas hotel history. Wynn set the tone for the transformation that Las Vegas would see over the next two decades, as resort after resort would pop up all over The Strip. Vegas became a prime destination for casinos, hotels, restaurants, and the city’s allure.
Today, Las Vegas is a prime destination for gambling, luxury, and an experience like no other. Even still, Las Vegas is growing, as downtown Vegas is changing the scene in 2021 and the brand new Circa Resort & Casino just opened its doors. Casinos, entertainment, and hospitality are still the focus of Las Vegas. Every year, nearly 40 million people from all over the world visit Las Vegas to experience the glamour, gambling, and hospitality that makes Vegas so unique.
Las Vegas hotel history lives on today through many historic sites in the city. To revisit the building blocks of Las Vegas hospitality, visit Golden Gate Hotel & Casino and book a room today to visit the first hotel in Vegas that helped the city become the entertainment and gambling capital of the world. You can even book one of the original 10 rooms that date back to the hotel’s opening in 1906 when it all started! Golden Gate also has bits of Vegas history throughout the property, so be sure to explore to get in a bit of a history lesson while having some fun.