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First Casinos on Las Vegas Strip

26 Jan 2023

The original casino resorts on the now legendary street - Las Vegas Strip!

Looking at the century-old photos of Las Vegas, when the now famous Sin City was nothing more than a simple train stop in the middle of the Nevada desert, you can’t help but be amazed at the wondrous transformation the gambling capital has gone through. From a dusty small town to the bustling urban hub soaked in the neon lights, Las Vegas has become an iconic place where people go for the ultimate entertainment and pleasure rush. 

las vegas city in sunset

The driving force behind Las Vegas’ evolution has been the gambling industry. Although the criminal money laundering history of certain casinos is no secret, the truth is that mobsters like Bugsy Siegel powered Las Vegas’ growth. Today, the famous Strip is a focal point of the city, lined up with luxurious casino resorts providing their guests with superb forms of entertainment from giant gambling halls to concerts venues. But when was the Strip built and what were the first casinos to appear on the side of this now legendary street?  

El Rancho Vegas - First Casino on The Strip 

Las Vegas Strip is a 4 miles long section of the Las Vegas Boulevard and the home to some of the world’s most expensive and luxurious casino resorts. However, before the 1940s, the area known today as the Strip was pretty much vast hot nothingness with a lot of sand. Highway 91, which led travelers directly to Los Angeles, was the only thing cutting through that sand and the predecessor of the Strip. 

The first casino resort on the Strip to open its doors to the public was El Rancho Vegas in April 1941. However, it’s important to mention that casinos have been operating in Las Vegas (legally and illegally) pretty much from the moment the city was established (the first Las Vegas casino was opened in 1906, just 1 year after the city was founded) but most of them were located downtown on Fremont Street. Also, Red Rooster and Pair O’ Dice were two successful nightclubs located on Highway 91 that offered gambling services but with only a few slot machines and blackjack tables. 

las vegas sign

El Rancho Vegas was the first to offer what we can see today in pretty much every Las Vegas casino on the Strip -  comfortable accommodations with 63 rooms, a swimming pool (something not many hotels offered at the time), a showroom, the first buffet in the USA,  Round-Up Room - restaurant with a dance floor (renovated in 1947 and upgraded to the Opera House with a full-size stage due to high demand), and, of course, the great assortment of casino games (70 slot machines and 4 table games). Man behind the first casino resort on the Strip was Thomas Hill who, truth be told, was primarily aiming to attract tired drivers not gambling aficionados.       

Many famous entertainers such as Dean Martin and Eartha Kitt performed in El Rancho Vegas. The casino resort was also known for its iconic 50ft neon tower with a slogan “Stop at The Sign of Windmill” that could be seen from miles away by those traveling from California. El Rancho Vegas was operating for decades but in June 1960, the main building of this Strip pioneer was destroyed by fire and that marked the end of the legendary casino resort.

Flamingo - The Oldest Casino on The Strip 

In 2021, Flamingo celebrated its 75th anniversary, making it the longest-running casino resort on the Strip. Billy Wilkerson, the owner of the Hollywood Reporter, bought the land on the east side of Highway 91 in 1945 with a vision to open the grand hotel casino that will differ from casinos on Fremont Street in style and size. Wilkerson’s plan was to offer luxurious experience to the guests - deluxe rooms, a spa, a showroom, a nightclub, a health club, a golf course, fancy restaurant and a French-styled casino. However, due to financial difficulties Wilkerson was seeking extra funding and that’s when none other than Bugsy Siegel came in with an offer. 

flamingo hotel building

Bugsy Siegel was a mobster who saw Las Vegas and its legalized gambling business as a great chance for him and his partners. After his plans for El Cortez casino on Fremont Street went bust, Bugsy started looking for something outside city limits and that’s how he ended up owning two thirds of the Flamingo project. The first high-luxury hotel on the Strip, The Flamingo Hotel & Casino opened in December 1946 and the total investment in the project was $6 million dollars. 

flamingo hotel entrance

However, Bugsy was killed in 1947 and the hotel got new owners and a new name - The Fabulous Flamingo. Under new management, the hotel was able to garner big success, earning $4 million profit in 1948 alone. In the decades to come Flamingo will change its owners several times and with each new management the look of the hotel was upgraded but the iconic neon flamingo sign still stands. 

The history of Flamingo is the history of Las Vegas! Today, it is the only casino resort built before 1950 that is still working on the Strip. 

Hotel Last Frontier - The Early West in Modern Splendor 

On October 30, 1942, the second casino hotel opened on the Strip - Last Frontier. This new gambling hub was built in the same location as Pair O’ Dice in the 1930s. “The Early West in Modern Splendor” was the slogan of the hotel and the Wild West theme was seen all over this resort with 105 rooms and the Little Church of the West on the property grounds.     

The first modernization of the property ended with the hotel changing its name to New Frontier in 1955. But it won’t be the last time something like that happens. The New Frontier Hotel was demolished and a new resort called The Frontier opened in 1967. In the next couple of decades the ownership changed a few times but it was businessman Phil Ruffin who renamed it back to New Frontier in 1998. The resort was demolished in 2007 and the new resort, although planned, was never built. 

little church of west

Just like the previous 2 casino resorts, this one also hosted a number of famous entertainers and performers over the decades of its existence. Elvis Presley’s first Vegas appearance happened in the New Frontier in 1956 while Diana Ross & The Supremes took the resort's stage in 1970. It would be nice to see a new casino resort in the same location that would revive the memory of the Last Frontier Hotel. After all, it has a significant place in Las Vegas history and represents one of the key moments in the evolution of the famous Strip as the second casino resort to be built in that now world-famous location.  

Las Vegas Strip - Every Gambler’s Dream 

From a dusty highway to the street every gambler wants to walk on, the Las Vegas Strip has deserved its place in the gambling history books! The development of this location that started with El Rancho Vegas casino resort in the 1940s continues to this day. Every decade brought something new for the Strip and made it a gambling capital of the world. 

However, the first casinos on the Strip and the visionaries who built them represent a key turning point in the history of this city. It’s regrettable that all of them are not operating still today but at least there is Flamingo reminding us what the Las Vegas Strip once was and what it has become!


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