Las Vegas, Nevada
United States of America
Las Vegas (Nevada), city in southern
seat of Clark County, Las Vegas is located in the Las Vegas Valley, a
desert surrounded by the Spring Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Las
Vegas serves as the center of one of the fastest-growing metropolitan
areas in the United States. Its population has multiplied by a factor
of 30 since the 1940s—more than that of any other major American city.
Las Vegas is renowned for tourism, gaming, a dry and vigorous climate,
and an assortment of indoor and outdoor recreational activities. The
city is also booming in manufacturing and industrial employment, in
the construction of new houses, and in the creation of new service
Las Vegas and Its
The city of Las Vegas
covers a land area of 215.2 sq km (83.1 sq mi). In addition to Las
Vegas, the city’s metropolitan region includes North Las Vegas,
Boulder City, Henderson, Mesquite, and a large number of
downtown area of Las Vegas, known as Glitter Gulch, is characterized
by long-established casinos. It is the site of the Fremont Street
Experience, a renovation project completed in 1995, designed to
revitalize the downtown area and attract more people to the street’s
casinos. Covering a five-block stretch of Fremont Street, this section
is a covered pedestrian mall where thousands of lights play out
animated scenes overhead. In addition to the casinos and attractions
downtown, more are located on The Strip, a 6-km (4-mi) neon-lined
portion of Las Vegas Boulevard, located slightly south of downtown.
Some of the extravagant casinos on The Strip play on epic Hollywood
themes, such as the Treasure Island Casino, while others advertise
attractions, such as an Egyptian pyramid, a medieval castle, or an
erupting volcano. Ever-grander casinos open each year, attracting
patrons with such draws as replicas of New York City landmarks or
roller-coasters atop tall towers. Outside the city lies Hoover Dam, a
massive concrete dam that was completed in 1936 as part of a federally
funded water works project.
The population of Las
Vegas increased markedly in recent decades, rising from 164,674 in
1980 to 258,295 in 1990. The city’s population in 2000 was 478,434.
According to the 2000 census, whites constitute 69.9 percent of the
city’s population; blacks, 10.4 percent; Asians, 4.8 percent; Native
Americans, 0.7 percent; Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders,
0.4 percent; and people of mixed heritage or not reporting race, 13.8
percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, make up 23.6 percent of
the population. Increasingly, Las Vegas is home to people who have
left California for Nevada. California migrants constitute about
one-third of the newcomers to Las Vegas and contribute to the growth
in home construction, landscaping, residential security, and light
manufacturing in the increasingly varied Vegas economy.
growth of the Las Vegas metropolitan region was the fastest in the
nation in the 1990s, increasing 83 percent between 1990 and 2000. The
population of the region jumped from 528,000 in 1980 to 853,000 in
1990. By 2000 the population reached 1,563,000.
Las Vegas bills itself as
the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” and tourism, gaming, and
entertainment represent a large portion of the city’s revenue. In
addition to its renowned casinos, Las Vegas attracts visitors to its
outdoor shows, including simulated volcanic eruptions, pirate duels on
artificial lakes, and laser cannon displays. Indoor casino shows, with
world-famous entertainers, are also popular. Annual events include the
National Finals Rodeo and the Las Vegas Invitational Golf Tournament.
Las Vegas is a popular destination for tours and conventions,
including COMDEX, an annual computer show. The Las Vegas Motor
Speedway opened in 1996.
federal government is also a major presence in Las Vegas. Nellis Air
Force Base is the city’s largest single employer. In addition, there
are a number of military bases headquartered nearby, and a permanent
nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain has been proposed.
Vegas is served by McCarran International Airport, rail service, and
several major highways.
Educational and Cultural
The University of Nevada,
Las Vegas (UNLV), was founded in 1957. It is the main university in
southern Nevada. The Community College of Southern Nevada has its main
campus in North Las Vegas.
Specialty museums include the Liberace Museum (a museum dedicated to
the flamboyant 20th-century Las Vegas performer) and the Guinness
World of Records Museum. Other museums in Las Vegas include the Nevada
State Museum and Historical Society, which features exhibits on
Nevada’s history from 12,000 bc to 1950; the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, which houses wildlife
and dinosaur exhibits; and the Las Vegas Art Museum.
In addition to gambling,
there are many recreational opportunities available in and near Las
Vegas. The UNLV athletic teams, especially the men’s basketball team,
which was tremendously successful during the late 1980s and early
1990s, provide entertainment for sports fans. Red Rock Canyon National
Conservation Area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and the Grand
Canyon are accessible from the city.
Las Vegas has a
council-manager system of government, consisting of a mayor, four city
council members, and a city manager. The mayor is elected by the
population of the entire city, while each of the city’s four wards
elects one council member. The mayor and council appoint the city
manager, who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city
Native American groups
such as the Anasazi settled the area that is now Las Vegas about 2300
years ago. The Anasazi abandoned the region in about 1150, making way
for the Paiute people. In the late 1820s early Spanish explorers
searching for water discovered an oasis in the region that now
contains the city. They named the oasis “Las Vegas,” Spanish for “the
meadows.” These expanses of wetlands, once irrigated by artesian
waters carried under pressure from the nearby mountain ranges, were a
main draw to southern Nevada until the 1940s.
Vegas was an important stop along the Old Spanish Trail between Santa
Fe, New Mexico, and southern California for much of the 19th century
because the oasis enabled Spanish traders to shorten their route to
Los Angeles by cutting directly across the desert. Descriptions of the
lush valley, made in 1829 and widely circulated, generated much
interest. In 1844 explorer John C. Frémont camped in the Las Vegas
Valley and described the fertile landscape in his journals.
Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the
Mormon Church) began an intermittent settlement of the Las Vegas
Valley in 1855. This settlement served as a link to California and the
Pacific Ocean. The coming of the railroad in 1905 stabilized the Las
Vegas Valley, and an era of slow growth ensued. In the early 1900s
Nevada passed laws allowing divorce after only six months’ residency
in the state. By 1931 the requirement was reduced to six weeks, and
Las Vegas gained a reputation as an easy place to get a divorce.
Population growth accelerated in the 1930s with two innovations. In
1931 the Bureau of Reclamation started construction of Boulder (later
Hoover) Dam on the nearby Colorado River. The Boulder was then the
largest dam in the world. Dam construction brought jobs, growth, city
development, and major federal funds to Las Vegas. That same year the
state of Nevada legalized gambling, facilitating the modern era of Las
Vegas, which began with the construction of the Flamingo Casino by
gangster Bugsy Siegel in 1945. Other lavish casinos opened soon after,
most of which were influenced or owned by criminals.
Eighty-three percent of Nevada’s land is owned by the federal
government, and federal funds have significantly affected the
development of southern Nevada. The Las Vegas Aerial Gunnery School
began the militarization of Las Vegas. In addition, the government
required vast quantities of magnesium, a strategic metal used by the
military, for its efforts in World War II (1939-1945). In an attempt
to keep those involved in organized crime out of Nevada casinos, in
1967 the Nevada legislature passed a law that allowed publicly held
corporations to own casinos in the state.
and motel construction boomed after the war, with showy new casinos
being built. A trend began toward huge resorts and family-oriented
theme parks. Las Vegas now has several huge hotels, including the MGM
Grand Hotel and Theme Park, which opened in 1993 as the largest hotel
in the world. These hotels and resorts play a vital role in attracting
more than 29 million guests to the city each year.