What Was the First Casino in Las Vegas?

This city built by railroad workers and ranchers is continually reinventing itself. In just a century of existence, this desert city became the home of gambling. Have a look at Sin City’s extraordinary history from its beginning.

The History of Sin City Expansion

In 1905 the railroad connected the state of Nevada with the country’s main rail network bringing new plans for the future. Eventually, a couple of nightclubs flourished offering entertainment and serving liquor, but they were operating under the radar due to the prohibition era and its restrictions. Although it’s hard to imagine, Sin City was once alcohol and gambling free. The state of Nevada officially outlawed gambling and serving alcohol during 1911 and this practice continued for another twenty years.

In March of 1931, the state passed legislation officially legalizing gambling and providing licences to the venues who wished to provide such services. One of the first to use this were the owners of the Red Rooster, one of many nightclubs in Vegas that was hosting and serving alcohol even though the prohibition law was still banning it. From the moment that gambling was legalized, the owners of Red Rooster reacted quickly and requested to be the very first recipient of the gaming licence in the whole county. From the moment they received their licence during April 1931, they renovated their small club, adding a couple of slot machines and one blackjack table.

The board revoked their licence six months later once they discovered that they were serving alcohol illegally during the prohibition era. The Red Rooster was the first to gain its licence and the first to lose it, lasting successfully for around 100 days. Many don’t consider Red Rooster to be the first casino in Las Vegas mainly due to its short longevity.

Pair O’ Dice

Pair O’ Dice

At the same spot where famous Stratosphere resort is today, there used to be a desolate parcel named Pair O’ Dice that started as a nightclub that operated successfully on Highway 91. This would later become what we all know today as the famous Las Vegas Strip. In May of 1931, Pair O’ Dice wanted to follow their neighbours’ footsteps and applied for a gaming licence as well. Same as their competitors, they also served alcohol illegally, but they were not caught in the act by the local government and managed to stay open.

Just two years later, the county permitted serving beer making this club even more appealing to many customers. They had a licence to run a Roulette table, Craps and a Blackjack table. The Vegas Strip became busier and that was attributed to the popularity of the Hoover Dam project. During 1933, around 300,000 people visited Vegas, and they needed accommodation. After becoming the first state that allowed gambling—that has easy-divorce laws—the city was infused with visitors.

During 1938, Pair O’ Dice was sold to the most recent arrival, Guy McAfee who ran the nightlife in LA.  He refurbished Pair O’ Dice with more interesting decor similar to the one at Sunset Strip making it more appealing. The club received a new name: 91 Club, with a lavish interior, casino gaming, and what was the most needed — accommodation. This venue continued to strive until 2007 when it was seriously demolished and closed. However, the Pair O’ Dice remains as one of the first resorts in Vegas, holding both a casino venue and a place to stay.

El Rancho Vegas

However, the first so-called resort was opened during April of 1941. El Rancho Vegas was more glamorous and offered a more exciting nightlife. Within their venue, guests could enjoy a showroom, deluxe accommodation, and a swimming pool which was an exclusive feature back then.

El Rancho Vegas had an incredible offer of 70 slot machines, 4 table games, the largest dining restaurant in Vegas and a whopping 63 rooms at their hotel.

The History of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino

Flamingo Hotel and Casino

In the heart of the Strip, the Flamingo hotel and casino opened as the brainchild of a notorious gangster — Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. This venue is what counts as the first casino venue within the borders of Las Vegas.

In 1945, Bugsy Siegel started with his interests in gambling and wanted to build the first gambling empire on his own. He moved with his wife, Virginia Hill, to Vegas and began expanding his project. At that time, Vegas wasn’t the source of entertainment as it is now, but Siegel was determined to change that. Soon, he purchased a property and gave it a rather unique name. The name “Flamingo” was partly due to his admiration for his wife Virginia, who devoted herself to gambling. Also, according to Siegel, her legs were long and skinny — hence why he used to compare her to a flamingo.

Initially, the costs were around $1.5 million, but overtime rose up to $6 million due to the costs of construction. Siegel had a vision, he wanted his venue to be a shining beacon in the desert.

In 1946, the Flamingo hotel and casino had a glamorous opening. The opening event hosted stars like Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and many other well-known celebrities were also present at the event. The casino, restaurant, and the showroom were ready to open; except for the hotel which needed more time for renovation. This caused a lot of stir among its audience, and during the first couple of months, the venue lost around $300,000. Just two weeks after the grand opening event, the Flamingo closed its doors.

In March of 1947, Siegel re-opened under a new name — The Fabulous Flamingo. When the renovation was finally over, the casino resort offered 105 air-conditioned rooms with gardens and a swimming pool. In the showrooms lavish events and performances were held. When visiting their casino, for the first time, guests had the opportunity to witness a complete casino experience for the first time as opposed to the mere gambling they have been used to. Staff had to wear tuxedos on the job while working at a French-style casino. This enterprise became hugely successful and brought in around $4 million in profits. The re-opening brought profit to the owners and became more affordable to all of their clients.  

The resort had its ups and downs, but the ties with the organized crime affected the future of this venue. His wife was out of the United States for a while, allegedly due to his worsened mob relationships.

On June 20, Bugsy Siegel lost his life in still-unresolved circumstances. After his death, the resort was purchased by two magnates: Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum, the owners of the El Cortez, a nearby hotel. The resort was under their ownership until 1967 when billionaire Kirk Kerkorian purchased the whole property and effective immediately ended any residual mob ties the resort used to have. Currently, the Flamingo is under the Hilton Corporation, and since then it has expanded and became one of the mega resorts in Las Vegas.

Summary

This desert metropolis started as a quiet town built by ranchers and eventually became home for many gamblers from all around the globe. Now, the famous Strip holds extravagant resorts and casinos that continue to attract millions and millions of visitors. The city continues to grow with the size of new resorts and annual visitors. It seems that the Siegel’s vision has lived on.

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