Anybody know the history of Vegas and basically why that location was chosen as the main hub for gambling, hotels, and entertainment given that (at that time) it was pretty much a random desert in the middle of nowhere?

  • 7
    The history of Las Vegas is pretty thoroughly documented in Wikipedia, see: History of the Las Vegas Valley
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 18:10
  • Thanks for the welcome! Actually Wikipedia was the first place I had checked before posting my question, however I had hard time finding any information about the original reasoning behind selecting that location. Which section is that in?
    – paul smith
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 18:28
  • 1
    Given that the people wishing to run the gambling etc... were not exactly on friendliest terms with the Law, "random desert in the middle of nowhere" seems like a recommendation for a site.
    – DVK
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 18:31
  • 1
    @paulsmith It's in the first paragraph of the section titled "1829–1905: origins". To wit, "By following the Pike and Smith routes through a tributary of Colorado River they came upon the Las Vegas Valley described by Smith as the best point to re-supply before going onto California." Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 6:02
  • @paul smith: I think the problem might be that you are assuming some sort of overall plan, when it was more a case of things just growing. That is, gambling was legal in Nevada, Las Vegas was about as close as you could get to the major population centers of southern California, the first casinos made profits, so they expanded and attracted more business. And of course, unlike e.g. Reno, there's really nothing in Las Vegas to distract gamblers from losing their money...
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 21:35

2 Answers 2


Las Vegas was not founded in a particularly random desert. It was founded on a meadow (las vegas is Spanish for "the meadows") watered by the nearby Big Springs, or Las Vegas Springs. As such it was a watering spot on the Old Spanish Trail.

After the Civil War, O.D. Gass set up the first permanent white settlement there. Other settlers followed, and it was an important enough agricultural center to attract a stop on the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. This put them within a day's reach of Los Angeles and the sea, contributing to substantial growth.

As the nearest major settlement to the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas also enjoyed an influx of population and money during its construction, and cheap electricity and tourists headed for Lake Mead after its completion. They were boosted again with the construction of nearby Nellis Air Force Base.

The aquifer feeding the springs that had first attracted settlers to the area were sucked dry by the 1950s, but by then the city was already by far the largest population center in southern Nevada, and tourism and the military had long since displaced agriculture in the local economy.


The main reason that comes to mind at once are legal issues:


Nevada, legalizing casino gambling in 1931, was for almost 50 years one of two states with legalized casinos. (Maryland had them from 1949 to 1968, in some years with slot revenue exceeding Nevada's. Waldorf was the main center for this, but it was legal throughout the four Southern Maryland counties.) More states started legalizing casinos later, beginning with New Jersey in 1976.

  • This really doesn't answer the question of why Las Vegas is where it is. After all, Reno had legal gambling before Las Vegas had anything major. A good answer would have to address things like proximity to the Los Angeles metro area and the activities of Bugsy Siegel and others who were active in the Hollywood movie scene.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 17:40

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