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Timeline: Las Vegas

1829-1945 | 1946-2005  


Flamingo Hotel pool. The state of Nevada begins levying gaming taxes. Gaming becomes a supplemental source of the state's revenue.

December 26: The Flamingo Hotel, built with mob money by Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, opens prematurely. Unlike other resorts on the strip that flaunt an Old West style, the Flamingo is a glamorous destination for high rollers. But without a finished hotel, Siegel loses revenue and is forced to close the resort until construction is completed.


March: The Flamingo reopens for business. This time, Siegel's attempt is successful, and the resort begins turning a profit by the end of the month.

June: Ben Siegel is murdered in Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills estate. His death sparks an enormous amount of publicity for Las Vegas, and Americans begin to see Las Vegas as a more glamorous, risky city.


McCarran Field airport neon sign. Alamo Airport is purchased by Clark County and eventually named McCarran airport after Nevada U.S. Senator Pat McCarran, for whom the development of aviation had been a cause.


By this time, McCarran Airport directs sixteen daily flights, and the Clark County population has exploded to 48,811. The post-war economic boom of the Fifties gives rise to a resort boom, as owners, following the model set by Siegel's Flamingo, build up resorts on the Strip. The majority of these resorts are funded by Syndicate money.

Estes Kefauver. Spring: The Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, known popularly as the Kefauver Committee, hearings begin. Senator Estes Kefauver and his colleagues interrogate hundreds of witnesses in fourteen cities over the course of fifteen months in an investigation of organized crime in America. Some 30 million Americans watch the hearings broadcast live on television.

November 15: The Kefauver Committee comes to Las Vegas. The committee hears the testimony of merely six witnesses, and after less than a full day of inquiries, calls the Las Vegas portion of the investigation to an end.

December 18: President Harry Truman approves the creation of the Nevada Proving Grounds, the only peacetime, above ground nuclear testing facility in the continental United States. Merely 65 miles away, Las Vegas is the nearest city to the proving grounds.


January 27: The first of a series of nuclear tests occurs on the Nevada Proving Grounds, 65 miles from downtown Las Vegas. There were 235 aboveground tests, roughly one every three weeks, for the next 12 years. Capitalizing on the publicity garnered by the tests, Las Vegans begin marketing the detonations as one of their city's attractions.


Observing Nuclear Explosion. April 22: For the first time, the press is invited to view and broadcast the detonation of a nuclear device on the Nevada Proving Grounds. Americans watch the detonation of the 31-kiloton device from the safety of their living rooms. The atomic craze sweeps the nation, and Las Vegas becomes the "Atomic City."


An estimated eight million people visit Las Vegas each year.

Showgirl by pool, Moulin Rouge, summer of 1955. The Moulin Rouge Hotel-Casino, co-owned by boxer Joe Louis, opens. It is the first establishment on the Vegas Strip in which African American staff, entertainers and guests are not restricted. The hotel is deemed a national historic site in 1992.

In an attempt to provide greater oversight of gaming, the Gaming Control Board is created within the Nevada Tax Commission. The Board makes a change requiring all shareholders of a casino to pass a gaming review board.


January 10: Topless showgirls make their Las Vegas debut with Minsky's Follies at the Desert Inn.


Las Vegas Convention Center. April: The Las Vegas Convention Center opens one block from the Strip. The center is a 90,000 square foot convention hall seating 6,300.

The Nevada State Legislature creates the Nevada Gaming Commission.

Welcome to Las Vegas Sign. Betty Willis designs "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas." In 1959, when the sign is completed, Willis sells it for $4,000 to Clark County officials, who place the sign on an island on the southern tip of the Strip, where it remains to this day.


The population of Clark County reaches 128,732.

Moulin Rouge Agreement Meeting. March 25: One day before a planned protest, NAACP members, Las Vegas' mayor, governor and businessmen meet and agree to lift all Jim Crow restrictions. While it will be more than ten years before the city is fully integrated, the swiftness with which the agreement is made is proof that the smooth operation of business was more important than outside cultural forces.

September: United Airlines provides nonstop jetliner service to McCarran Airport. By 1963, the airport serves 1.5 million passengers annually.


Huge airport relocation and expansion project completed at McCarran Airport to accommodate increasing customers and flights.

The Atomic age comes to an end when the Limited Test Ban Treaty goes into effect, banning aboveground nuclear testing at the Nevada Proving Grounds site. Underground testing continues for the next thirty years.

The Green Felt Jungle, an exposé on the organized crime connections in Las Vegas, is published. Along with a secret FBI investigation of the Syndicate's "skim," Las Vegas' tarnished image continues to draw tourists.


Howard Hughes. Thanksgiving: Howard Hughes arrives in Las Vegas, taking over the top two floors of the Desert Inn. For four years, Hughes remains in his room, from where he negotiates business deals that change Las Vegas forever.


April: Hughes buys the Desert Inn instead of submitting to eviction. It is the first of a slew of hotels he buys in the next three years.


Nevada legislature passes the 2nd Corporate Gaming Act, paving the way for corporations to own casinos.

Kirk Kerkorian in front of International Hotel construction. July: At a cost of $80 million, Kirk Kerkorian builds the International Hotel, the largest in the country, with 1,500 guest rooms and three showrooms.

International Hotel marquee with Elvis Presley name. July 26: Elvis Presley debuts his Las Vegas act at the International, eventually signing a five-year contract for four weeks, twice a year for a sum of $125,000 per week. Between 1969 and 1977, Elvis plays Las Vegas exclusively at the International, 837 shows in total.


The population of Clark County reaches 277,230.

Thanksgiving: Hughes leaves Las Vegas four years after arriving. In that time, Hughes had become Nevada's largest private employer, largest casino owner, largest property owner and largest mining claims owner. Hughes' ventures also lead to the downfall of Attorney General John Mitchell, who is bribed not to file anti-trust action against Hughes' casino acquisitions. But more importantly to Las Vegans, Hughes' presence had put Las Vegas back in the country's good graces, making way for the city's corporate, mainstream era.


Kerkorian opens the MGM Grand hotel. At a cost of $106 million, the hotel has 2,100 guest rooms, five gourmet restaurants and the world's largest casino. At 26 stories high, the MGM Grand is the tallest casino in the free world.


The revenue generated by Nevada gaming amounts to more than $1 billion dollars.


Gambling is made legal in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Las Vegas, no longer the sole gambling destination in the country, must now compete. With Atlantic City's proximity to the more populated Eastern shore, the city sees twice as many gamblers as Las Vegas by the end of the decade.


Las Vegas celebrates its 75th birthday. The county's population is 463,087.

MGM Grand fire. November: The MGM Grand Hotel catches fire. In all, 85 people are killed and 700 are injured. A few months later, a fire erupts in the Las Vegas Hilton, killing eight.


Trans World Airline cancels its nonstop service from New York City to Las Vegas. The cancellation is part of an era in which Las Vegas' growth has stalled.


Mirage. Using junk bonds to finance construction, Steve Wynn builds the Mirage, the first new resort on the Strip in 16 years. With 3,000 rooms, at a cost of $640 million, the Mirage is more than two times the size of the MGM Grand. The largest casino in the world, the Mirage features a host of attractions, including a 54-foot manmade volcano, which erupts every half hour.


Clark County's population reaches 770,280.


MGM Grand exterior. December 18: The mega-resort era comes to a head as the largest hotel in the world, Kirk Kerkorian's new MGM Grand Hotel & theme park, opens on the Las Vegas Strip. At a cost of $1 billion dollars, the hotel boasts a 33-acre theme park, a casino, 12 theme restaurants, 3 swimming pools, five tennis courts, arena, and 5,009 hotel rooms.


At 37 million tourists annually, Las Vegas is the most visited place in the world. By this time, Las Vegas is seen as a resort destination, and the revenue earned from entertainment surpasses that earned by the casinos.


Clark County's population reaches 1,620,748.


By this time, gaming generates 40 percent of Las Vegas' revenue.


McCarran International Airport annually sees 42 million passengers through its gates. It is the 12th busiest airport in the world and is unique in having more than 1,000 slot machines throughout its terminals.

One of the nation's fastest growing counties, Clark County welcomes more than 5,000 new residents each month. The County makes up 75 percent of Nevada's total state population.

The Las Vegas skyline at night. More than 38 million tourists come to Las Vegas each year.

1829-1945 | 1946-2005  

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