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Why Are So Many Things Legal in Las Vegas? (Explained)

Las Vegas, better known as the entertainment capital of the world, is a beacon to those seeking excitement and adventure in their lives. The city welcomes those looking to fulfill some of their darkest desires, and it may seem at times that there’s no limit to what’s allowed in Vegas.

So many things are legal in Las Vegas because the government relaxed the laws so businesses like casinos could attract more customers and help the city bounce back after the Great Depression. While many things in Vegas are legal, there are still state and federal laws that Sin City must adhere to.

While it may seem like you have the freedom to do whatever you want in Vegas, this isn’t the case. In this article, we’ll look at what’s allowed in Vegas and at some things that most people assume are legal but actually aren’t.

Sin City: Why is everything legal in Vegas

What’s Legal in Las Vegas

While Las Vegas may seem like a free for all, the county still follows laws laid out by the state of Nevada and the federal laws of the United States. Having said that, several things ARE legal in Las Vegas that aren’t in many other places. Here are a few popular pastimes in Vegas that are currently legal.

  • Gambling above the age of 21 is legal.
  • 24/7 Liquor sales
  • Open-container drinking (drinking alcohol outdoors) is permitted on The Strip and downtown.
  • Quickie Weddings
  • Marijuana is legal to purchase

Of Course, Las Vegas Has Legal Gambling

Las Vegas Has Legal Gambling
What would Vegas be without the ability to gamble legally?

The legalization of gambling is perhaps one of the most impactful laws passed in the state of Nevada, as this activity accounts for a significant portion of the income made by its residents. Gambling was legalized back in 1931 by Fred Balzar, who saw it as a means to lift Nevada out of the Great Depression and allow the influx of funds into the state.

The state eventually added sports betting and horse racing in 1975, and people could visit casinos to bet on their favorite teams. Finally, the state included online poker as a legal activity and allowed for games between Nevada and players from other states. 

As such, gambling is one of the primary activities in Nevada that most outsiders would deem illegal. And it’s this freedom to gamble that most people mistake for a license to do whatever they want when they visit Vegas, which isn’t the case.

Open Container Laws Allow Drinking On The Street in Vegas (Sometimes)

Open Container Laws Allow Drinking On The Street in Vegas (Sometimes)
Drinking out on the street is quite acceptable in Las Vegas, but only in certain areas.

Outdoor drinking is another reason why Vegas is so popular among tourists. Who doesn’t want to sip on a beer and walk around soaking in the excitement Vegas has to offer? And with so many excellent bars on the Strip, we can’t blame you for wanting a cocktail as you work your way through the best attractions Vegas has to offer!

However, the laws about drinking are somewhat skewed. While you can drink out in the open, the drinking must be limited to when you’re walking on the Strip or downtown on Fremont Street. Drinking while walking around other parts of the city isn’t tolerated.

The freedom to walk around with a drink in your hand can make people feel like anything goes in Vegas, but it’s important to mention again that this isn’t the case. Misunderstanding the laws in Vegas can land you in serious trouble.

Likely, you can even bring drinks on the Monorail in Vegas. To learn more about it, read my in-depth guide. [Can You Bring Drinks on the Las Vegas Monorail?]

24/7 Liquor Sales in Las Vegas

Bar and liquor stores in las vegas
Liquor stores and bars like Atomic Liquors in downtown Las Vegas can sell or serve alcohol 24 hours a day.

While most places you visit have a limit on the times in which you buy alcohol. Las Vegas does not. You can purchase liquor from a bar, liquor store, or market 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There is no last call in Sin City!

Quickie Weddings in Las Vegas Are Legal

If you want to get married quickly, then there is no place better than Las Vegas.

While getting a marriage license in most places can be a time-consuming process requiring a blood test and a waiting period, Las Vegas has a low-barrier marriage license process that legally allows couples to get engaged and married all on the same day.

You can learn more about the requirements for getting married in Las Vegas in my article here.

Marijuana Is Legal to Purchase in Las Vegas

Marijuana is legal to purchase in Las Vegas, and you can safely carry up to an ounce of an ounce for personal use without facing prosecution. Dozens of dispensaries are open throughout Las Vegas, including on the Strip and downtown.

As with alcohol sales, dispensaries can legally be open 24 hours a day (and many of them are).

What’s Actually Illegal in Vegas

As mentioned, the freedom to drink and gamble lull people into the idea that everything is legal in Vegas. But this isn’t the case. While many things appear legal in a city like Vegas, there are two activities that are actually illegal and can land you in a heap of trouble.

  • Prostitution
  • Marijuana use (in most locations)

Prostitution Is NOT Legal in Las Vegas

Prostitution Is NOT Legal in Las Vegas
This is one of those things people think is legal in Las Vegas, but they’d be wrong.

Prostitution is legal in Nevada, but only in certain counties under licensed brothels. Some of these counties include:

  • Churchill County 
  • Esmeralda County
  • Nye County 
  • Mineral County

There are a few more places where prostitution is legal, but Las Vegas isn’t one of them. In fact, you can be fined and face jail time for engaging in prostitution and even solicitation.

For example, if an illegal sex worker offers you a favor and you accept, you can be arrested by an undercover cop who happened to be nearby and heard the exchange. As such, solicitation is a criminal offense treated with the same severity as prostitution. 

So while strip clubs are legal in Vegas, prostitution isn’t. The nearest county to Vegas where prostitution is legal happens to be Nye county, and the closest brothel is roughly 63 miles (101.4 km) away from Sin City.

Marijuana Is Illegal to Use In Most Places in Las Vegas

Marijuana Is Legal to Purchase
While marijuana is legal to purchase in Las Vegas, it is illegal to use it anywhere but in a private residence.

Medical marijuana was first legalized in Nevada back in the year 2000, and people were allowed to buy and consume the drug if they had a prescription. Fast forward fifteen years, marijuana for recreational use was legalized in 2016, and the law was fully enforced in January 2017. 

However, in Vegas, you can only consume marijuana on private property, but not on the Strip, in casinos, or anywhere in public. The casinos risk losing their license if they allow customers to smoke within the premises, and you may be heavily fined if you’re caught doing the same.

While you can possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, you must find a marijuana-friendly residence to consume it. Hotel rooms on the Strip don’t count as private residences either, so you can’t smoke marijuana unless you find the right place to do it. Driving under the influence of marijuana is also treated as a punishable offense.

While marijuana use is legal, it’s the only drug you can safely consume in Vegas. Other schedule one and schedule two drugs are still illegal in Las Vegas, and violators can face severe punishment if found in possession of these substances. Some substances include cocaine, LSD, ecstasy (MDMA), and opium.

Why Are So Many Things Legal in Las Vegas – Final Thoughts 

Vegas is often called Sin City and is famous for being a center for various criminal activities in the past. However, its titles and history give most people the impression that everything is legal in Las Vegas.

However, while seemingly illegal activities like gambling or drinking in public are allowed here, Vegas is still subject to various laws set by the country and the state of Nevada.

So if you’re visiting Vegas, be cautious about how you spend your time here. The free atmosphere could lull you into thinking anything goes, but remember that this isn’t the case.

Wendy Mullennix

My name is Wendy Mullennix. I love travel & travel, in that order :) I'm also a Las Vegas local. I enjoy exploring this crazy city with my hubby and riding fat tire bikes in the desert.

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