Las Vegas is known as “Sin City” and the ultimate playground for adults. Some liken it to a city of illusions where neon lights dazzle, casinos seduce, hotel lounges brim, and live entertainment from topless revues to hocus pocus performances reign the night scene. Whether or not Las Vegas is all just smoke and mirrors, it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is the 35 million visitors each year who seem to buy the mirage Las Vegas sells. They come in waves from all corners of the globe, especially during the summer months and holiday season. The city is filled with extravagant hotels, casinos, night life, restaurants, and shopping -- and brilliantly marketed as a destination where people can live and let loose. After all, "Everything that happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
The hotels in Vegas come in a variety – there are the themed hotels and casinos like New York New York, Paris, Caesar’s Palace, Bally’s, Monte Carlo, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, the Venetian, the Wynn Las Vegas, the MGM Grand, and the Bellagio, which in particular features an art gallery with Van Gogh’s masterpieces on display. And these hotels also house some of the world’s best restaurants with celebrity chefs working the helm. If you're tight on the budget, have no fear as there are plenty of inexpensive buffets and accommodations at casino hotels are usually cheap as they are more intent on making money off of you at the tables and slots. Just make sure you make your hotel reservations ahead of time, especially if you want to visit during peak seasons.
Of course, Las Vegas is all about the gambling. If you're feeling lucky and want to ride the lady luck to the bank, there is no shortage of Black Jack tables, Poker tables, and Slots. Most of the glamorous hotel casinos frequented by tourists are located along the Las Vegas strip, but beyond the strip and in downtown are some of the digs preferred by locals.
Rest assured, long gone are the days when the mafia used to control all of the major gambling joints. Las Vegas has resurrected itself as a wholesome family destination. The casinos are now owned by large corporations and the city has erected theme parks, golf courses, shopping malls, and museums like the Las Vegas Natural History Museum. Today, Las Vegas does not project the image of an underground world of vice and seedy entertainment, but that of a world class tourist destination with something for everyone.
Las Vegas was first settled by Mormon missionaries in the mid-19th century shortly after the U.S. annexed the territory from Mexico. A fort was established near the present site of downtown Las Vegas, but it was abandoned in 1857 after the missionary team suffered internal conflicts. In 1865, the fort was re-occupied by Octavius Gass who named it Los Vegas Rancho. He established a ranch and the area would be used for farming for the next 20 or 30 years, with wells being used to irrigate the crops.
Las Vegas grew in the early 20th century after it was linked to Salt Lake City by a railroad and was connected later in 1926 to the U.S. Highway 91 from the Los Angeles area.
During the Great Depression, the Hoover Dam began construction, turning the reservoir, Lake Mead, just miles outside of Las Vegas into a tourist attraction. With the legalization of gambling as well, the first casinos in Las Vegas were built. In the 1940s, mobsters like Bugsy Siegel and others moved into the town, setting up The Flamingo in 1946. From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Las Vegas Strip exploded with dozens of casinos like the famous Sands, Tropicana, and the Sahara. Celebrities and musicians like Sinatra, Elvis, and Bing Crosby began performing in town to attract tourists.
In the 1970s and 80s, many of the casinos run by the mafia were sold to larger corporations and the image of Las Vegas improved. Slowly, the city transformed from “Sin City” to the more family-oriented destination it is today.