I’ve never really thought much about the US state of Nevada beyond that it is the location of the city of Las Vegas – possibly the cultural home of casino gambling but at the very least one of the cities that has defined for the world what casino gambling is all about. But when you scratch a little deeper, there is a lot of interesting trivia facts not just about Las Vegas but regarding the wider state itself. In this article we take a look at three of the best.
When gambling was first legalised in the state of Nevada, there were a high number of African-Americans working in the casinos of Las Vegas. However as tourism from the southern states began to increase, customers began to complain about the racially mixed atmosphere and so the Las Vegas city council passed regulations that required all of the African-American residents and workers to live on the west-side of the city – racial segregation in its purist form. At that time, West Las Vegas mainly consisted of unpaved dirt roads and residents were forced to live in tents and shacks without running water. As a result of the city’s regulations, African-Americans were limited to working jobs in the kitchens of casinos where they would not be seen by tourists. Even well known singers and artists booked to perform in the casinos were forced to use the back entrances. One of the key signals of the social change that began to gain momentum in the 1950s was that the Rat Pack (Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr. , Frank Sinatra, Joey Bishop and Dean Martin) refused to play at the Sands Casino unless Sammy Davis Jr. was allowed to stay at the hotel along with the rest of the group. It’s hard to imagine, but that is how America worked at that time.
For many years, the casinos of Las Vegas were controlled by organised crime. One of the key factors that changed this was the eccentricity and enormous wealth of Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes bought his first casino in 1966 when he took up residence in the Desert Inn. He had been there for several months when the management requested that he leave – he didn’t leave, he bought the entire casino instead. Hughes didn’t stop with one casino but went on to buy another five casinos – effectively breaking the grip of organised crime on the city.
One of America’s worst fire disasters happened in 1980 in Las Vegas. It was the 23-storey MGM grand where an electrical fire broke out in a ground-floor restaurant in the middle of the night. Military helicopters were used to airlift people from the upper stories of the casino. Of the 5,000 people that were estimated to be in the building at the time of the fire, 2,000 were airlifted to safety, 679 people were injured, and 85 people died (with most of the deaths caused by smoke inhalation).
There is a lot more to the state of Nevada than just Las Vegas and casino gambling. Whether you’re a high-roller or just hoping to win a few dollars on the slot machines, make sure you make the most of your visit to the cultural home of casino gambling.