7 Celebrities Who Shaped the History of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of the top most visited destinations in the world. Its short history is rich with many admirable and notable figures.

Of course, everyone in Vegas, visiting and residing, plays an essential role in putting the city on the global map. However, some figures stand out due to their impressive contribution. These people range from top entertainers to hotel developers.

  1. Bugsy Siegel

Bugsy Siegel is a celebrity gangster who is celebrated in Las Vegas. He’s not remembered for his criminal activities but for his contribution to the development of the Las Vegas Strip. Before he was brutally murdered, the young mobster played a key role in building the modern Las Vegas.

Early Exploits

In 1945, Siegel grabbed a golden opportunity of being a legal business owner in Las Vegas. He purchased the El Cortez, a casino in Downtown Vegas. Just a year later, in 1946, he and a partner opened The Flamingo Hotel Casino. Siegel and his associates owned a 2/3 stake.

Siegel wanted Flamingo Hotel to be the most high-end and stylish hotel in Las Vegas. He demanded the best building; by the time it was completed, he had spent over $4 million. Local observers report that the mobster’s “maniacal chest-puffing” spearheaded several generations of unforgettable casino moguls.

The Flamingo Hotel was opened on the 26th of December 1946. Celebrities who attended the grand opening included June Haver, Vivian Blaine, Brian Donlevy, and Sonny Tufts, among many others.

Siegel was brutally killed 18 months later, in June 1947. The Flamingo still stands as one of the most high-end hotels on the Las Vegas Strip.

  1. Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra is one of the most celebrated artists and performers in the history of Las Vegas. He was a member of the Rat Pack, composed of actors and singers. The members of the Pack were:

  • Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)
  • Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990)
  • Dean Martin (1917-1995)
  • Peter Lawford (1923-1984)
  • Joey Bishop (1918-2007)

The peak of their successful career in the Las Vegas entertainment scene was in the 1960s. The group attracted more than 34,000 fans during their Sands Hotel and Casino performances.

Frank Sinatra soon become a solo entertainer for the Las Vegas hotels. His performances lured gamblers to Sin City, with the opportunity for them to enjoy a slice of celebrity entertainment before hitting the tables. Sinatra transformed Las Vegas from a gambling capital to the world’s entrainment capital. He ruled Las Vegas from Sept 1951 to May 1994. His last performance was at the MGM Grand.

Apart from being a celebrated entertainer, Frank Sinatra also invested in the gambling scene. The entertainer purchased the Cal Neva Lodge & Casino in 1960 with other investors, including Sam Giancana and Dean Martin.

  1. Kirk Kerkorian

Kirk Kerkorian is a respected name in the Las Vegas gaming scene. The American investor and businessman is remembered for constructing the largest hotels in Las Vegas. Kerkorian didn’t build the largest hotel in Las Vegas once, but three times. He’s revered for the following three hotels:

  • International Hotel (1969)
  • MGM Grand Hotel (1973)
  • MGM Grand (1993).

With the help of Martin Stern Jr, an American architect, Kerkorian gained the title of “father of the mega-resort” in the Las Vegas gaming scene. How did the fantastic casino and hotel ownership of Kerkorian begin?

In 1962 Kerkorian bought 80 acres of land on the Las Vegas Strip, valued at $960,000. He used the land to build the Caesars Palace, which was sold in 1968 at $9 million. In 1968 Kerkorian teamed up with Martin Stern Jr to buy 82 acres of land at Paradise Road, costing them $5 million. The duo went ahead to build the biggest hotel in the world, the International Hotel (1969). Elvis Presley and Barbra Streisand were the first two performers to grace the hotel’s massive Showroom Internationale.

Kerkorian also purchased the Flamingo Hotel in 1969. The business mogul effectively ran the two hotels in Las Vegas for four years before selling them and using the money to build MGM Grand Hotel (1973). The MGM Grand Hotel (1973) was the largest in the world and was later renamed Bally’s. Kerkorian continued to expand his investments in the gaming scene of Nevada. At his death, Kerkorian owned 39% of the MGM Mirage gaming company.

  1. Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes is remembered as one of the world’s most successful businessmen. During his time, he was incredibly influential. His interest in the business world cut across the different industries from film, aviation, and aerospace to the Vegas gaming industry. Howard Hughes made his first entrance in North Las Vegas on Thanksgiving Day in 1966. The businessman and his entourage stayed in the Desert Inn on the Las Vegas Strip for four years.

In 1967, Moe Dalitz, co-owner of the Desert Inn, asked Hughes to leave the hotel. According to Dalitz, Hughes and his team were occupying valuable rooms. Instead of moving out, Hughes opted to purchase the Desert Inn for $6.2 million (cash) and $7 million (loans). Hughes, however, refused to make a public appearance for a gaming license in Nevada. Governor Paul Laxalt pleaded on his behalf to the state officials.

The business magnet was awarded a state gaming license after the state officials realized his fame and wealth could greatly benefit the economy of Sin City. The Nevada state officials and lawmakers also went ahead to pass the Corporate Gaming Act. The act allowed corporate companies to own casinos in the state without undergoing any financial background checks.

Las Vegas History

During the four years at the Desert Inn, Hughes became more involved in the Las Vegas business world. He became the largest hotel and casino owner, private employer, and mining claims owner.

After realizing the potential of earning more profits from the Desert Inn, Hughes wanted to increase his ownership of properties on the Las Vegas strip. In one year, he spent $65 million on property acquisition and controlled one-third of the profits collected from casinos on the Strip. A monopoly suit was issued against Hughes by the United States Justice Department, which ended his continuous purchase of properties on the Las Vegas Strip. Hotels and Casinos owned by Hughes included:

  • Desert Inn
  • Castaways and Landmark
  • Frontier
  • Sands
  • Silver Slipper Casino

Unfortunately, the businessman experiences massive losses from the casinos due to unscrupulous casino middle managers, gaming staff, and syndicates. Hughes lost $50 million in less than four years. Due to failing health and losing money, Hughes left Las Vegas in 1970 after his four years stay. During his four years in Las Vegas, Hughes never left the Desert Inn but left an unforgettable impression on the city’s economy.

5. Steve Wynn

The name Steve Wynn was once very powerful in Las Vegas, as he was considered one of the most successful hoteliers in the world. His business journey in Sin City started when he moved with his family to Las Vegas in 1967 and bought a portion of the Frontier Hotel and Casino.

The Bank of Las Vegas handled most of the early casino deals done by Wynn. In 1971 the businessman bought shares of the Golden Nugget Las Vegas and became the majority shareholder in 1973. Steve Wynn was the youngest casino owner at that time. During his expansion and operations of the Golden Nugget, Wynn developed a close relationship with Frank Sinatra. Sinatra frequently performed at the Golden Nugget casino.

First Opening

The Mirage was opened on the 22nd of November 1989 and was Wynn’s first big gaming project. He was involved in developing and constructing the casino, spending nearly $630 million. It was the first casino in Vegas to use security cameras on the gaming tables. Wynn decided to participate in the next big casino project, the Bellagio Casino and Hotel construction. Bellagio remains one of the most impressive hotels globally and is one of the prominent landmarks in Las Vegas. Wynn’s company worked with Jon Jerde, an American architect, to create the magnificent resort.

The estate developer sold the Mirage for $6.6 billion to MGM Grand Inc. Steve Wynn went ahead to start his Wynn Resorts to expand his gaming operations worldwide and streamline his Vegas business operations. The company owns four high-end gaming establishments around the world:

  • Wynn Las Vegas,
  • Encore is located at Wynn Las Vegas
  • Wynn Macau Resort
  • Encore is located at Wynn Macau Resort

Wynn Resorts was made public in 2002. Wynn stepped down as the CEO of the company in 2018.

  1. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley is one big name in the entertainment scene that propelled Las Vegas to the limelight. The music superstar was one of Vegas’ most enduring attractions during his glorious days. Elvis was starting his flight to stardom when he had his first performance in Vegas in 1956 at the famous New Frontier Hotel. The singer had been branded as the “The Atomic Powered Singer” and had just released his first national single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was topping the charts.

Elvis struggled for two weeks to impress the older wealthy generation that frequented the Vegas gaming scene. The conservative views of the older generation temporarily halted his popularity. He was never discouraged and made frequent trips back to Vegas to make a few performances. His time for fame was in the 1960s when he made a stunning comeback to live music performances after his memorable 1968 TV Comeback Special.

Vegas Fame

Elvis spent the next decade from 1969 till 1977, when he passed away, keeping the Vegas live entertainment scene blazing. He was soon given the title of” King of Las Vegas” and held most of his performances at the International Hotel. Between July and August 1969, he held 57 shows while breaking the attendance records of shows at that time.

His determination was evident in his performances. Elvis held two shows at night, ending up at 663 shows total.

Besides music, Levis also starred in a Hollywood film in 1963 named “Viva Las Vegas.” The film’s wedding scene inspired the rock star to wed his fiancée Priscilla Beaulieu on the 1st of May, 1967.

  1. Sarann Knight-Preddy

Sarann Knight-Preddy is greatly remembered and revered in the Vegas gambling scene. She was the first African American woman to be granted a gambling license in Nevada. Sarann opened a club in 1950 in a small town in Central Nevada.

Sarann was born in 1920. The Oklahoma native was a daughter to multiracial parents. In 1942 she relocated to Las Vegas, where she found a segregated small town where blacks were given employment opportunities in clubs and casinos. However, these entertainment spots didn’t allow any black patrons. While working in the clubs and casinos, Preddy mastered the fundamentals of the gambling and gaming business; running keno games and dealing blackjack.

She later relocated to distant Hawthorne with her husband, where she purchased the Lincoln Bar. The bar was a lone bar for the black community. With her impressive background and knowledge in the gaming industry, she transformed the bar into a gaming spot named the Tonga Club.

Las Vegas

Sarann Preddy was greatly interested in setting up a business in Las Vegas. In the 1950s, she relocated back to Las Vegas only to be disappointed that the city had limited business opportunities for women and non-whites. She bought the Playhouse Lounge but could not get a local gaming license. At that time, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) pushed for integration into the Las Vegas gambling scene. The NAACP got a pledge from a Las Vegas casino to offer a dealer position to a non-white female dealer. Sarann secured the job due to her impressive background and professional experience.

While the pledge was to offer Sarann a six-month employment contract, she ended up working at the casino for seven years. The long-time gaming entrepreneur was ready to dive her claws more profound into the Vegas gaming scene. Sarann bought the Moulin Rouge in 1985. The Moulin Rouge was Vegas’s first integrated casino–hotel in the 1950s. Sarann spent more than ten years trying to bring the establishment back to its glory days.

Unfortunately, Moulin Rouge was permanently closed in 1997. In 1992 the hotel-casino was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Sarann Knight-Preddy has received plenty of recognition from the Las Vegas gaming community as a gaming pioneer. She has featured in wot documentaries; The Gaming Queen (2012) and MAKERS: Women in Nevada History (2014). Preddy died in 2014 and published her biography 72 Years in Las Vegas.



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