80s | Retro

What Las Vegas Casinos Were Like in the '80s

Las Vegas might be enduring a tough time right now, but history says Sin City will bounce back.

Vegas has gone through periods where its future appears to be in doubt before only to come out the other side a lot stronger, though it has been saddening to see it as a virtual ghost town.

We love the 1980s here, so we decided to take a look at what Vegas casinos were like then - this story of reinvention could show the path forward for Sin City.

A crisis of identity

The 1980s was a strange time for Vegas. The decade started in disaster, with a fire at the original MGM Grand accounting for the lives of more than 80 people. Not too long afterwards, another fire at the Las Vegas Hilton resulted in the deaths of another eight people.

Those two incidents contributed to a period of reinvention for Vegas, which faced increased competition for visitors after gambling was legalised in Atlantic City during the same era. In the eyes of the general public, it was now clear that Vegas could not be considered to be fully safe.

Vegas therefore decided to try to become a more family-friendly destination, turning its back on the Mafia influence that had been so pervasive through the historic development of Sin City. The city's police had gradually been wresting control from the Mafia, which previously dominated.

By the end of the 1980s, the reputation of Vegas had shifted. One of the key moments in this switch was the construction and opening of the Mirage, which was developed by Steve Wynn - no doubt one of the most important figures in the history of the city.

Having previously failed in a bid to buy the Dunes Resort, which was suffering from huge financial problems, Wynn opted to develop a brand new site. The Mirage had a total construction cost of $630 million, making it the most expensive hotel-casino resort in the world at the time.

The Mirage helped to take Vegas resorts to a new standard of quality and luxury. No longer was Vegas seen as just a cheap and trashy place to spend a wild weekend. It was now possible to enjoy Vegas in style. In one fell swoop, Vegas was appealing to a brand new type of clientele.

People loved the Mirage as it set new guidelines for what a hotel could be. Not only did it boast more than 3,000 rooms, the Mirage had a gigantic volcano that regularly erupted to the delight of guests, while its high-end restaurants helped to forge Vegas' new reputation as a top destination for food and drink in America. The Mirage was even one of Nevada's top tourist traps for a time.

Amazingly, the Mirage was the first new casino to be built on the famous Las Vegas Strip during the 1980s. But its immediate success opened the door for a huge amount of development.

Not much technology in place

Nowadays, casinos in Vegas are at the vanguard of new technology, with each of them in competition to make sure that they have all of the latest state-of-the-art gadgets.

This is in sharp contrast to back in the 1980s, when casino technology used in Sin City was somewhat rudimentary.

The influence of technology in more modern times simply cannot be understated, with technology having become a key battleground for safety and security at Las Vegas casinos.

Due to the fact that most casino customers have a smartphone, it has arguably been never easier to try to cheat the system when visiting casinos in Vegas.

This is why casinos have had to use technology to fight back and protect their profits. Surveillance is now massive at Vegas casinos, which are often packed with hundreds of cameras in order to keep a close eye on customers while they are inside the facility.

Facial recognition software is one of the top developments of the latest few years that Vegas casinos have adopted in the battle against cheaters.

Excalibur follows in footsteps of the Mirage

Once Wynn started to develop his own mega casino resort, others started to follow.

William Pennington and William Bennett developed the Excalibur, a Medieval-themed resort that spanned 70 acres - its castle could be seen from many miles away.

Excalibur eclipsed the Mirage to become the largest hotel in the world, featuring over 4,000 rooms to stay in.

All of a sudden, Vegas was packed full of brand new local landmarks, transforming the skyline of the city for good.

The future of Vegas was set - showing just how quickly everything can change in Sin City.