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Las Vegas History

A couple of centuries ago, Las Vegas was a little-known oasis in the Nevada desert. It’s thought that the first non-Native American to set foot in the region was a young Mexican scouting for water in the 1800s, who happened to find natural springs where Vegas now stands.

Though the spot became better known, there were still only 30 residents here at the dawn of the 20th century. A railway line found its way to the settlement by 1904 and Las Vegas was officially founded a year later when the railroad company auctioned off 1,200 lots that would later make up the city.

After a few decades as a slightly unruly desert town, it witnessed a population boom thanks to an influx of thousands of construction workers on the nearby Hoover Dam.

New arrivals helped combat the impact of the Great Depression. There was a betting culture here even when Nevada laws strictly prohibited the practice, but it was only in 1931, with the advent of a legalised gambling bill, that Las Vegas began its meteoric rise.

Progress stalled during WWII, but by the 1950s, resorts like The Flamingo, The Desert Inn and The Sands Hotel helped its national (and international) reputation to grow quickly.

Stars like Frank Sinatra and his attendant Rat Pack helped cement the city as somewhere to see and be seen as the range of gaming and nightlife options continued to augment over the decades. The truly next big step came with the advent of the mega-resort in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The Strip began to resemble the neon jungle of legend, and as investment continued to flood in, so the scale and ambition of the main resorts continued to escalate.

By the turn of the millennium, the metropolis stood as the largest city in the world founded in the 20th century. Today, despite the scares caused by the global downturn, Las Vegas can now lay claim to offering some of the most exclusive accommodation, dining and entertainment facilities on Earth.

Did you know?
• After spending $25 million of building Caesars Palace, the owners spent another $1 million on a three-day opening party in 1966. There were 1,800 on the guest list.
• Gambling was first legalised in Nevada in 1931 to raise tax money for schools.
• The city’s first racially integrated hotel was The Moulin Rouge, which opened in 1955.

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New York New York Hotel and Casino

This 2,000-room resort and casino is easy to spot: it's the one with the Statue of Liberty out front, standing proudly beside a miniature Brooklyn Bridge. Rooms in its Empire State and Chrysler Building towers are large, well-appointed and can be surprisingly good value. If you pick upon the faint sounds of screaming coming from outside, don't be alarmed. It's adrenaline junkies hurtling around the full-size rollercoaster that loops around the perimeter.

Fremont Hotel

It may not have an Eiffel Tower outside or a Grand Canal running through it, but the Fremont has a longer-standing claim to be one of Las Vegas's best-loved landmarks. Now the heart of the Fremont Street Experience, when it was built in 1956 it was the first high-rise hotel in the downtown area. Its history might be long in the tooth (for this city), but the 447 spacious guestrooms are regularly renovated and modernised.

El Cortez Hotel

One of the more modest casinos in Las Vegas, El Cortez's roots actually go back to the era of 'Bugsy' Siegel, one of the city's founders. These days, this Las Vegas hotel advertises a modest selection of rooms with furnishings that are generally simple but comfortable. The friendly atmosphere and central location to downtown attractions have long been one of the draws, despite it now being outmatched by the grandiose casinos of the Strip.

MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

An inventory of over 5,000 rooms makes the MGM Grand one of the big players in terms of volume, but they've done their best to retain some character. Black-and-white movie photos adorn the guest rooms, and the art deco furniture also helps. Joël Robuchon, Michael Mina and Tom Colicchio add their names to the top-class dining rooms. The casino is gigantic, with Cirque du Soleil among the entertainment options.

Green Valley Ranch Resort

Located in Henderson, a short drive outside of Las Vegas, Green Valley Ranch Resort puts the focus on pampering and provides a break from the pace of The Strip. The resort is a rambling Mediterranean hacienda and houses eight restaurants, a cinema and a European-inspired intimate casino. The main buildings open onto the pool area with a small sand beach and private lounging beds in a more modern European setting.

Palms Casino Resort

The Palms is one of the newer hotel/casino resorts in Las Vegas, and caters to the young, moneyed celebrity and wannabe crowd. Chicago's famous Ghostbar has a franchise here, and is one of the gathering spots for the rich and beautiful. Guest rooms feature the usual amenities as well as the not so usual, including private outdoor Jacuzzis and an on-resort palm-reader.