Las Vegas is a town that’s continuously reinventing itself. New casinos, shows and attractions spring up on a regular basis. Out with the old, in with the new. Because of this, many of Vegas’ older casinos are no longer here. They’ve been demolished in order to make room for newer casinos. Fortunately, there is at least one casino that has stood the test of time and in fact it is the oldest casino in Las Vegas.
The oldest casino in Las Vegas is the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. Opened in 1906, the Golden Gate is located on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. The casinos, along what is today known as The Strip, opened much later, with the oldest still standing casino being The Flamingo which opened in 1946.
In this article, I’ll tell you a bit of the history surrounding some of the earliest casinos in Las Vegas as well as which ones you can still enjoy today!
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The Oldest Original Casino in Downtown Las Vegas
When coming to Las Vegas, you’ll certainly want to visit the “Downtown Las Vegas Area” originally known as Glitter Gulch. It’s the spot where Vegas was born, and includes many hotels, casinos, and attractions you shouldn’t miss.
The main street in downtown is Fremont Street (part of the famous Fremont Street Experience) where you can experience one of the best pedestrian-friendly party streets in the world!
The Vegas gaming industry started right here as well. Of course, the scene developed and became much more flamboyant as the years went by, but this is where it all started and this is where we’ll start our tour of the oldest casinos in Vegas.
Hotel Nevada on Fremont Street
In 1905, a man named John F. Miller opened a temporary tent hotel – called the Miller Hotel – on his property located at 1 Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas; he bought the property for just $1,750. This was a temporary move, as he planned to open a more permanent hotel structure.
Once built, the Hotel Nevada officially opened in downtown Las Vegas on January 13, 1906, as the first hotel and casino in town. It’s also famous for being the first lodging in Las Vegas to receive plumbing, which was a big deal in 1906! When the two-story hotel building was constructed, it was the first and only concrete hotel in southern Nevada!
Hotel Nevada also became the first building in Las Vegas to have a telephone, with its phone number being 1. The rooms – 10 square feet, costing just a $1 per night – were described by the local press as being “first class” and Miller had a good start to his hotel and casino business.
A problem arose, however, in 1909. The State of Nevada officially outlawed gambling! This led to the closing of the casino in the Hotel Nevada. The hotel stayed open but the gaming equipment was moved to storage.
The Golden Gate Casino is Born
Miller used the hiatus to further upgrade the hotel and despite the closing of the casino, the hotel remained very popular. Gambling was legalized once again in 1931, when Miller reopened the casino and renamed the hotel Sal Sagev, which is just Las Vegas spelled backward if you look at it closely (clever right?!).
Another milestone event happened in 1955, when Miller’s son Abe leased the ground floor of the hotel to a group of men who then subleased it to a group of Italian-Americans, who in turn invested in the opening of the grand Golden Gate casino on the ground floor.
It was a massive renovation that cost around $330,000, while the Miller’s would receive $2,300 per month and 5% of the gambling profits. The Golden Gate Casino opened in 1955 and became one of Vegas’ best-known casinos.
After John F. Miller died in 1957, his son Abe continued to run the hotel, initially by himself and later with his sister, Helen Nugent. In 1974, the entire complex changed its name to Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
By 1985, Abe Miller and Helen Nugent had died, with the latter leaving her share of the property to a group of nuns; the Italians, who still ran the casino side of things, bought off that share in 1990 and became the sole owners of the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino is, thus, the oldest hotel and casino in Las Vegas. It’s been active since 1906, although gambling was prohibited for a while (1909–1931). Interestingly enough, despite its popularity, it’s the smallest (just 106 rooms) hotel on Fremont Street.
You can check out our article here for the complete history of the Golden Gate Casino.
The Oldest Casino on the Las Vegas Strip
Now that we know that the Golden Gate is the oldest casino in Las Vegas, it’s time to find out what is the oldest casino on the Las Vegas Strip?
The oldest original casino still standing on the Las Vegas Strip is The Flamingo which was first opened in 1946. Over the years The Flamingo has gone through many owners and renovations but still maintains much of its classic charm today.
A Brief History of the First Casinos on The Las Vegas Strip
Now, the situation with the oldest casino on The Strip is not as cut and dried as it is with the casinos in downtown Las Vegas and there are some conflicting viewpoints, but here are the facts.
Pair-O-Dice aka New Frontier Hotel and Casino
The first casino that opened on Vegas’ Highway 91 was the Pair-O-Dice nightclub that opened in 1931. The nightclub itself was opened in 1930, with the casino opening a year later when gambling was once again made legal in Las Vegas. The Pair-O-Dice club changed its name quite a few times before eventually being torn down and rebuilt in 1942 under the name Hotel Last Frontier.
This hotel ultimately became known as the New Frontier Hotel and Casino and was one of the best-known casinos in Las Vegas. Was? Yes, this resort – which was once owned by the legendary Howard Hughes – was actually closed in 2007 and demolished by implosion. This was a very memorable moment in Vegas’s history since a piece of the town’s history was destroyed.
The whole demolition process was even filmed as part of a National Geographic Channel documentary feature titled Blowdown: Vegas Casino. The famous marquee was left standing until 2008 before being taken down.
You can still see the old Frontier sign, it’s in the boneyard at the Neon Museum. You can find out more about the Neon Museum in our article here.
The controversy with the New Frontier is that it was built on Highway 91, which is – today at least – not considered to be part of The Strip (Las Vegas Blvd). That is why we have to add another name to this list to see the oldest casino in the area that is today known as The Strip.
El Rancho Vegas
On April 3, 1941 the El Rancho Vegas hotel and casino opened on what is today known as The Strip. For a brief period, it was the biggest hotel and casino in Vegas with 110 guest rooms and it was one of the central locations in the city. This was the first resort on the Las Vegas Strip as it’s defined today.
The El Rancho was immensely popular and was for a while the location where a lot of American celebrities gathered and performed. Although it was – sadly – short-lived, it has a truly rich history.
In 1957, Shirley Bassey made her stage debut in the resort, while Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward were married there in 1958.
Some of the names that regularly performed there include Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker, Julius LaRosa, funnymen Buddy Hackett, and Joe Lewis, famous opera star Roberta Sherwood, actresses Gloria DeHaven, Jane Russell, Rita Moreno, Eartha Kitt, and even the elegant Zsa Zsa Gabor, so you can imagine how big of a deal the El Rancho actually was.
Unfortunately, a large fire broke out in the resort in 1960, completely destroying the whole building. Luckily, there were no human casualties. But the resort was destroyed.
There were plans to rebuild the whole thing – even Howard Hughes (yes, him again) – wanted to buy it and reopen it, but none of these plans ever came into fruition. The property was later opened as a non-gaming motel, but the whole property became vacant by 1979, which marked the official end of the El Rancho.
So to come full circle, this leaves The Flamingo as the oldest casino remaining on the Las Vegas Strip today.
Now you have some insight into the early history of Las Vegas’ casinos, both in Downtown Las Vegas and on The Strip. Because you know the oldest casinos in town, you can enjoy a piece of history next time you’re living it up in Las Vegas, Nevada!