Gaming hotspots really took off in the 1950s and 60s in places like Reno, Monte Carlo, and, of course, Las Vegas. Nevada had an edge because, in 1931, following the Great Depression and construction of the Hoover Dam, Nevada became the only state in the US where casino gambling was legal.
Casinos and Vegas are practically synonymous now and the casino culture we know from film and popular culture was invented on that strip in the desert. But what were casinos like 50 years ago?
A Trip Down Memory Lane
When you think of casinos, the Las Vegas Strip is usually the first place that comes to mind. The iconic “Sin City” has been the land of glitz, glamour, parties, and gambling since it’s birth in the 1940s. It’s a different world now from its early days so let’s take a peek into the past to see what the Strip was like through the decades.
The 1940s: The Birth of the Vegas Strip
In early 1940, the hotel magnate, Thomas Hull, was driving through the desert and his car broke down just outside the city limits. Popular lore tells of his wish for an oasis to escape the heat and he would later make that dream a reality.
He opened the ultra luxurious El Rancho Vegas in 1941 and invited the Hollywood elite to the grand opening. Later, Bugsy Siegel opened The Flamingo in 1946 and as new casinos sprang up, each tried to outdo the others in grandeur, opulence, and luxury. Las Vegas was born.
The 1950s: The Boom
With a population of 50,000 and no longer a frontier town, Las Vegas of the 50s saw a boom in extraordinary hotel growth and legendary names like the Sahara, the Dunes, the Sands, and the Tropicana all beginning to gain prominence.
The Vegas wedding chapel scene was introduced in this decade too, making Vegas a destination for not only gambling and entertainment but also to tie the knot.
Taking the term “boom” quite literally, the 1950s saw the start of atomic bomb testing taking place just 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Drawing loads of tourists, this monthly exercise went on for the entirety of the decade, heralding the atomic age in Sin City.
The 1960s: Elvis & the Rat Pack
In January 1960, the Sands hosted a 3-week “Summit Meeting” in the Copa Room featuring Frank Sinatra and Rat Pack cronies Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The ongoing series of performances helped to form the Rat Pack, making Vegas “hip and cool” in the process, the ultimate ’60s swinging retreat.
Elvis actually first debuted in Las Vegas in 1956 but didn’t make a huge splash at the time. His fans were too young to fit in with the Vegas crowd early on. He officially became part of the town with the release of Viva Las Vegas in 1964,
The 1970s: The Glamour Begins to Fade
With a swift halt to growth in the 60s due to a crackdown on organized crime, the mob’s money dried up and construction ceased at the end of the decade. Desperate for revenue and a return to the “good times,” Vegas dwindled from a playground for the rich and famous to an aging husk of its former glory.
In 1976, gambling was legalized in Atlantic City and two years later, the east coast got its first casino: Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Now forced to compete with the brand new, sleek resorts going up on the east coast, Vegas began to decline.
It was during this decade that Las Vegas developed the unfortunate reputation that took 30 years to recover from: the sleazy tourist trap, full of aging relics past their prime — oh, and the buildings were getting old too.
All About the Shows and Games
Nowadays, night clubs are the main attractions in Vegas. Not in the 1960s and early 70s — it was about adult entertainment; namely shows, cocktails, and gambling. Advertisements abound from that era, displaying naughty images of scantily-clad showgirls and burlesque dancers.
Casino floors were packed with well-dressed men in suits, women on their arms bedecked in jewels and furs, trying their luck at the tables or pulling levers on now-antiquated slot machines.
It’s hard to imagine that what once was a flight, hotel, and planned trip to play casino games is now only a few clicks away. Now you have to turn on your machine and simply select from hundreds of online casinos to get to play an astounding variety of every casino game you can imagine (in every genre too). Times really have changed.
Casinos in the 1970s
Throughout their history, casinos have always radiated a glamour of fantasy, a luxurious escape from normal life, and spectacular sights and sounds. The casinos of the 70s, filled with old-fashioned slot machines and elegantly-dressed Hollywood elite are now replaced by electronic slot machines and a family-friendly vibe of vacationers and holidaymakers.