Las Vegas, Nevada
United States of America

Introduction

Las Vegas (Nevada), city in southern Nevada. The 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 jobs.

Las Vegas and Its Metropolitan Area

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 unincorporated communities.

The 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.

Population

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.

The 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.

Economy

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.

The 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.

Las Vegas is served by McCarran International Airport, rail service, and several major highways.

Educational and Cultural Institutions

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.

Recreation

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.

Government

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 government.

History

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.

Las 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.

Hotel 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.