By Steve Beauregard
The first casino on the Las Vegas strip was the Red Rooster, at the site where the Mirage now stands.
Years before gambling arrived in Sin City, the Red Rooster was actually a popular nightclub that continued to serve alcohol during the prohibition era. It’s strange to think that both alcohol and gambling were once both outlawed in Las Vegas, but it’s true. Nevada officials had banned gaming in 1911.
So when the state of Nevada passed legislation legalizing gambling in March of 1931, owners of the Red Rooster quickly took advantage of the new law, becoming the very first recipient of a gaming licenses in Clark County, Nevada. They were granted this license on April 1, 1931. Reportedly, they opened with just a few slot machines and one blackjack table.
Oddly enough, in addition to becoming the first casino on the Las Vegas Strip, the Red Rooster became the first casino in Las Vegas to lose its gaming license.
According to the book, “License to Steal” (a great book by the way), by author Jeff Burbank, the new gaming board revoked the Red Rooster’s license on July 7, 1931, after federal authorities raided the casino for selling alcohol as prohibition was still the law of the land.
So because of its short longevity, I don’t know if the Red Rooster counts. If so, you could say that the Las Vegas strip’s very first casino lasted for less than 100 days.
The other “first casino on the Strip” contender was established on a desolate parcel a little south of where today’s Stratosphere now stands. It was the oddly named Pair O’ Dice, which had been a successful club previously, but which was granted a gaming license in May of 1931, just a month after the Red rooster.
(A Quick Video of the early Las Vegas Strip casinos.)
Like the Red Rooster, the Pair O’ Dice was built on Highway 91, also known as the Los Angeles Highway, which would later be called the Las Vegas Strip. (More on this can be found here: What Street is the Las Vegas Strip On? The Pair O’ Dice’s location was on land that would later become the Frontier Hotel and Casino (shown in the photo at the top of the page)- directly across the street from where the Wynn and Encore stand now.
Back then however, that parcel of land was in the middle of nowhere. Owners of the Pair O’ Dice purposely built the nightclub/casino south of downtown, so as to try to capture some of the Los Angeles tourist traffic headed on Hwy 91 into downtown. Like the Red Rooster, they too illegally served alcohol, but were somehow spared the wrath of the United States government, and continued to stay open.
After years and years of successfully operating as “The Frontier”, and then the “New Frontier” Hotel and Casino, the resort was closed and demolished in 2007. Grand plans to build a replica of the famous Plaza Hotel in New York City on the now-vacant land have failed to materialize, meaning this parcel of land on the Las Vegas strip was busier and more happening back in 1931 than it is today.
While the Pair O’ Dice was the first sustained casino on the Strip, the first resort (and by “resort” we mean casino with a hotel), was the El Rancho Vegas, which opened in April of 1941.
Unlike the Pair O ‘ Dice, which was basically a nightclub with a few slot machines, one blackjack table, one craps table, and one roulette wheel, the El Rancho Vegas was more like the grandpa of the Strip casinos we know today. It had a swimming pool (a big feature for hotel guests at the time), a showroom, the first buffet in the nation, and fancier accommodations than at the hotels on Freemont Street a few miles to the North.
According to UNLV, the resort also had a whopping 70 slot machines, and 4 table games, and the largest restaurant in Las Vegas. The hotel portion consisted of 63 rooms. This Las Vegas first sat on the land across from the recently-closed Sahara.
One false, but common belief is that the Flamingo was the first hotel/casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The Warren Beatty/Annette Bening 1991 hit film “Bugsy” helped spread the misconception around. In one dramatic scene, Warren Beatty’s character Bugsy, (based on mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel) stops his car in the middle of a lonely desolate highway in the desert. Here, as it was told, Bugsy came up with his vision of what would soon be the luxurious Flamingo Hotel and Casino. In reality however, Siegel and his mob associates purchased a majority interest in the already-planned resort, with Bugsy forcibly taking over the design and construction aspects.
In fact, the Flamingo opened on December 26, 1946 – a good 15 years after the opening of the Pair O’ Dice a mile up the road, and five years after the opening of El Rancho Vegas. For their part, Flamingo officials can brag that they were the first casino on the southern part of the Las Vegas strip.
What the Pair O ‘ Dice, El Rancho Vegas, and Flamingo started, has turned
into a multi-billion dollar miles-long stretch of entertainment that is the premier gambling destination in the country.
Of the Strip, and nearby Strip properties, twenty-two are mega resorts, which the UNLV Center for Gaming defines as a resort having gaming revenues of at least $72 million per year.
In 2011, the properties on the Strip had a pre-tax net income of minus $1.6 billion. Yes, you read that right, MINUS. This compares to 2007, when the Strip casinos had a pre-tax net income of $1.5 billion, according the UNLV Center for Gaming Research. Either way, it’s a pretty big change from the small, humble Red Rooster, Pair O’ Dice and some of the other first hotel/casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.