Set in the middle of the vast Mojave Desert, Las Vegas was created entirely to entertain and has been described as the world’s largest theme park. This psychedelic city of sin is home to over a million people and welcomes 35 million more each year to its lavish hotels and casinos. Visitors today are amazed that only 70 years ago this thriving metropolis was a backwater with less than a thousand inhabitants whose only guests were railway passengers stopping off to stretch their legs on the long journey between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
Things started to change in March 1931 when the State of Nevada legalised gambling; one month later the City issued six licenses. Then in 1946, Mafia don Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel opened the sensationally lavish Flamingo Hilton on Highway 91. Las Vegas Boulevard was born and the city would never be the same again.
Soon stars like Elvis, Liberace and Sinatra were making the pilgrimage to what was fast becoming America’s premier entertainment centre. In the early days the Mafia dominated the gambling industry but in the 1960s their influence waned and soon all the large hotels and casinos were controlled by big business.
Las Vegas has 18 out of 21 of the largest hotels in the world and walking down ‘The Strip’ visitors will see the skylines of New York and Paris, discover the canals of Venice and the Pyramids of Egypt and, at Treasure Island, see a full on-sea battle between a Pirate ship and a British Galleon. Despite these excesses, room rates and restaurant bills are the lowest in the western world – all subsidised by gamblers intent on a free holiday.
Although the principal draw card is still gambling, Las Vegas is now marketed as a family destination and there is no shortage of theme parks, shopping malls or golf courses. However, the vast majority of visitors come to gamble and the incredible displays are mostly designed to lure passers-by into the casinos, and once there it’s hard to leave; the exits are discreetly hidden.