7 Notable Figures Who Shaped Las Vegas History

Vintage Photo of Bugsy Siegel and George Raft in Las Vegas

Though Las Vegas has a relatively short history, it sure does have a rich one. What started as a small desert town is now a vibrant city that has more stories to tell than a lot of other places around the world! Though a lot contributed to the amazing growth of Vegas, there are some people who really helped put the city on the map. Learn more about some of the notable figures who helped shape Vegas into the vibrant city it is today, from hotel developers to famous performers.


Bugsy Siegel


In, 1946 Las Vegas mobster Bugsy Siegel, backed by East Coast gangster Meyer Lansky, opened the Flamingo, a swank resort where top-drawer talent was booked for its lounges. Siegel was murdered in 1947, but his vision for Las Vegas lived on: During the 1950s and 1960s, mobsters helped build the Sahara, the Sands, the New Frontier, and the Riviera. Money from organized crime combined with funds from more respectable investors. Tourists flocked to the resorts – 8 million a year by 1954 – drawn by performers such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley, and by rows of slot machines and gaming tables.


Frank Sinatra


Sinatra made his first Vegas headlining appearance at the Desert Inn in 1951, he was a seasoned solo artist whose career was ripe for a stunning rebirth; and the city was just beginning to emerge as a “fabulous” desert destination. Sinatra’s performances largely defined the city’s image as a sophisticated adult playground. The blend of impeccable showmanship and suave attitude Sinatra embodied in his Las Vegas engagements established the city as a home to world-class entertainment. In Vegas, Sinatra reassembled the Rat Pack, living it up on stage and off with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford who defined Las Vegas cool.


Founding Father Kirk Kerkorian in Las VegasSource: New York Times


Kirk Kerkorian


In 1962, Kirk Kerkorian bought 80 acres on the Strip across from the Flamingo Hotel, which eventually became the site of Caesars Palace. With proceeds from the sale of this land and other smart investments, Kerkorian built the International (now Westgate) in 1969 and bought the Flamingo Hotel the same year. In 1973, after selling the International and the Flamingo to the Hilton Corporation, he built the MGM Grand (now Bally’s). Over the years, the hospitality and entertainment company went global and now operates 13 iconic properties on the Las Vegas Strip including Bellagio, The Mirage, Mandalay Bay, and ARIA.


Howard Hughes


After a long career, Hughes made his way to Las Vegas in 1966 and soon established himself as one of the first founders of Las Vegas and he changed the face of legalized gaming forever. He was instrumental in changing the Nevada law to allow corporations to purchase casinos and helped clean up Nevada gaming’s image. He bought nine major properties on the Strip and revitalized Las Vegas and the state’s economy. Hughes gave the state money to create a medical school and a community college system, and the property he got from the Bureau of Land Management on the western edge of town was later developed into the master-planned community of Summerlin.


Steve Wynn


Few casino builders or operators have had a greater impact on their industry – and especially on contemporary Las Vegas, than Steve Wynn. Wynn came to Vegas in 1967, and in the 1970s, he rebuilt the aging Golden Nugget, leading to the revitalization of the Downtown Las Vegas area, and also expanded into Atlantic City. He used profits from the sale of his Atlantic City property, as well as junk bonds, to finance the Mirage, which opened in 1989 as the first major Las Vegas Strip resort built since 1973. The Mirage ushered in the era of the mega-resort, followed in the 1990s by Treasure Island and Wynn’s showpiece property, Bellagio.


Elvis Presley Performing in Las VegasSource: Los Angeles Times


Elvis Presley


It was 1956 when Elvis first performed in Las Vegas with a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel, when he was just breaking out. However, conservative views made his performances fall short. Presley’s success in Vegas didn’t hit Vegas until the late 60s. Elvis agreed to cement his comeback effort in 1969 with 57 shows in July and August at the new International Hotel. Elvis was worshiped by the Las Vegas crowds and broke every known attendance record at the time – which ended in a five-year deal at the International. During his career, Elvis Presley had an amazing 636 sold-out concerts at the International Hotel.


Derek Stevens


When it comes to modern-day advancements in Vegas, Derek Stevens continues to pour his heart and soul into the building of Downtown. On real estate that was formerly occupied by such storied Vegas establishments as the Las Vegas Club, Mermaids Casino, and the legendary Glitter Gulch now resides the spectacular AAA Four Diamond Circa Las Vegas Resort & Casino. On top of the D, Golden Gate, and the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, Stevens has been an integral part of revitalizing the glory days of Vegas and shaping the future of Downtown Las Vegas and Vegas in general.


If you want to be a part of Vegas history, and even make your own, be sure to book a room at Golden Gate Hotel. As the first hotel in Vegas, since 1906 we’ve gone through all stages of our city’s history, and it’s been a wild journey! Who knows, maybe your next stay in Vegas will inspire you to continue building Vegas just like it inspired the legends like Howard Hughes, Elvis Presley, and our very own Derek Stevens.