There are dozens of reasons to visit Las Vegas – whether for the grandiose live performances, hot nightlife scene, or poolside parties. But when it comes to Sin City, gambling almost always comes in at number one. Even if you don’t fancy betting on cards, most people find themselves throwing a few pennies into the slots on the way back to the hotel room. From European settlement to gambler’s paradise, here is how this desert city quickly found itself at the epicenter of the casino business.
Archeologists claim that ancient Native American tribes had occupied Southern Nevada for thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century. The land, once a wet marshland, turned to arid desert over hundreds of years, water only rising from time to time to water the vegetation in present-day Las Vegas. Explorer Rafael Rivera, who was currently en route to California by way of the Old Spanish Trail, discovered the oasis in 1829, naming it Las Vegas, or ‘the meadows,’ after the green valley grasses. Over the course of the next century, Mexican and Mormon settlers filtered into Las Vegas, and then out again. Little changed until the arrival of the railroad in 1905, connecting the city to major cities on the Pacific Coast. Plans for the new downtown were developed, and auctioned off by railroad investors. Las Vegas was officially incorporated in 1911.
Founded by railroad workers and ranchers, Old West theology resonated throughout the town. And with it came an appetite for prostitution and gambling, the perfect breeding grounds for organized crime. Clandestine speakeasies and bootleg casinos continued to operate despite Nevada‘s ban on gambling in 1910, and many East Coast mobsters quickly established roots in the city. In 1931, construction began on the Hoover Dam just outside Las Vegas, and thousands of workers came to work. And with gambling legalized, new casinos and showgirl venues opened up along the only paved road in the city, Fremont Street, in hopes of attracting workers.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
In 1941, the first hotel opened up off Highway 91: El Rancho Vegas resort. Other hotel-casinos followed suit, and this section quickly became known as ‘the Strip.’ In 1946, East Coast mobster Bugsy Siegel, backed by fellow mob boss Meyer Lansky’s Mexican drug money, opened the Flamingo – a high-end resort modeled after Hollywood, drawing in first-rate talent and celebrities. Siegel was murdered in 1947, but other gangsters carried out his vision for Sin City, many helping to open the Riviera, the New Frontier, the Sands, and the Sahara in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of the construction was funded by drug trafficking and illegal business practices, using the hotel-casino to launder money; many mobsters received investments from reputable groups such as Wall Street banks and the Mormon Church. With a booming casino scene, tourists flocked to Vegas for gambling, slot machines, and to see famous performers such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
In 1966, Howard Hughes, a billionaire and savvy businessman, purchased the Desert Inn after deciding not to leave. He went on to purchase over a dozen more hotels, pushing out the former monopoly of mobsters. By the 1980s, the era of Mafia-financed casinos had ended, and many casinos had been cleaned up and sold to legitimate owners. In 1989, Steve Wynn ushered in a new wave of glamorous Las Vegas resorts with the opening of the Mirage. The Strip became transformed, many developments inspired by iconic cities like New York, Paris, and Rome. Resorts expanded, and casinos grew; today, entertainment and casinos remain the city’s biggest source of income. In 2013, Las Vegas received nearly 40 million visitors.
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Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.