No, Las Vegas was not created as a desert oasis for adults to access sex and gambling and drinking. Those aspects each were cultural outcomes that grew from the creation and development of Las Vegas, but sex, gambling, and, drinking were not the main reasons for creating Las Vegas, Nevada.
Human innovation is the single most important reason why Las Vegas developed into what we know it to be today. That hard-driven spirit to create something new out of what already exists defined Las Vegas. That same or similar vibe can be found at the heart of Las Vegas of the 21st century. The 1931 to 1936 construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River about 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas stands as one of the most innovative projects in American history.
Building the great dam in the desert set in motion an unstoppable chain of events responding to basic human needs. The men who worked building what became a gigantic cement structure needed a place to live so Boulder City, Nevada was created. To ensure clear-thinking minds of the men who built the dam laws were passed to prohibit beverages containing alcohol in Boulder City (which continues today.) That meant if you worked on the dam and on your off-duty time you wanted whiskey or beer or any similar refreshment, you had to go to Las Vegas.
The physical location of Las Vegas, Nevada is the most obvious reason why this place exists at all. What we now call Las Vegas started as a small stop for water in an isolated valley within the vast Mojave Desert in the American Southwest.
Water and Weather
Two naturally-occurring aspects worked in opposing directions in those early days. Las Vegas was first established on a major trade route that people took in the 1800s riding on horses and in wagons. They traveled a difficult 700-mile stretch of territory from old Santa Fe (founded during the 1600s and today is the state capitol of New Mexico) to reach Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The name Las Vegas comes from the Spanish language spoken by early settlers of this region. It means “the meadows”—a reference to the green grasses growing above an abundant underground freshwater source. Since People needed to stop for water as they made the long and exhausting trek on the Old Spanish Trail through the Mojave Desert, that need was satisfied by the waters of the meadows.
But, the blazing hot temperatures of the Mojave Desert for at least half of each year challenged those early settlements in Las Vegas where air temperatures as experienced by human beings could be both unpleasant and life-threatening. Two missionary efforts—by Spanish-speaking Roman Catholic explorers and English-speaking Mormon Church explorers—were an essential part of the history of the initial taming of the west in the Las Vegas Valley. Were it not for the technology of air conditioning invented and refined during the early decades of the 20th century, Las Vegas surely would have remained a wild and small settlement suited only for the most bold and adventurous types of people.
The eternal nickname of Sin City was earned by Las Vegas as the reputation for catering to vices spread nationally and worldwide during the early 20th century. The stock market crash of 1929 produced major economic suffering in the United States at that same time. There just was no incentive for people to choose to move to live and work in Las Vegas beyond the 1931 start of construction on the Hoover Dam. But, that kind of work was not for everyone and it was only a five-year span resulting in an ahead-of-schedule opening. So it was that in 1931 Nevada legalized gambling. Immediately, Las Vegas became an internationally-renowned venue for attracting adults seeking to satisfy their needs for drinking, gambling, and sex.
What Happens Here
Organized crime in the United States developed in 1920 as one response to federal laws prohibiting alcohol because bootleg liquor was highly desirable to many Americans. In turn, Las Vegas attracted gangsters at this same time. The historical importance of organized crime to the expansion of Las Vegas resorts and casinos can be neither dismissed nor denied. The impact upon Las Vegas by organized crime and infamous gangsters immortalized by Hollywood movies was forever shifted, however, during the 1960s when Howard Hughes personally bought several Las Vegas casino companies. Hughes enabled a new era of corporation-owned versus gangster-owned gambling that became standard operating practice and remains firmly in place today in Las Vegas.
However, Las Vegas cannot shake old reputations that nobody should expect ever to fade away. In the aftermath of the 2001 terrorism in New York City, Las Vegas tourism suffered severe financial losses. In 2004 the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority revealed a marketing campaign to change the downward slump. “What Happens Here, Stays Here” was only five words. Yet, those simple words had a deep impact. People started coming in large numbers to Las Vegas to spend their money.
In reality, the famous marketing slogan invites and encourages people to indulge themselves in unrestrained seeking of pleasure and wealth. The one essential core truth about Las Vegas is that here you can seek pleasure and wealth without limiting yourself in any away. Along with the Sin City reputation and the ready and constant availability of adult-oriented seeking of pleasure while avoiding pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, Las Vegas grew into a clear invitation for living your life without any self-restraint.
This enhanced and exaggerated American hedonism is invisible everywhere you go in Las Vegas today. But, the impact of this strong Las Vegas hedonism is plain to see.
You see it when you look locals in the eye as they tell you they don’t want to go to do anything on the Las Vegas Strip because of wanting to steer clear of visitors there.
You see it when you look at the statistics for the high number of people who move in and out of Las Vegas each month. It is common for people to move here but only stay for a few weeks when their dreams of seeking pleasure while avoiding pain cannot be supported because they are unable to find steady employment.
You see it if you look at the way locals in Las Vegas respond disrespectfully or dismissively towards newcomers who recently moved in. If you come here other than for visiting and expect to survive here, you must invest the time patiently so that other locals do not keep seeing you merely as a newcomer.