Why is Las Vegas Called Sin City? (Explained!)

Las Vegas aka “Sin City” is a destination full of lights, action and adult entertainment. But if you really want to know why Las Vegas is called Sin City, you’ll have to go back a few years into Vegas’s history, to a time even before mobsters and crime bosses controlled the action in Las Vegas.

The sin in Sin City began in 1906 when an area of downtown Las Vegas, known as Block 16, became home to many of the vices available in the day. Whiskey, gambling, and ladies of ill repute could all be found here. This is where Sin City (aka Las Vegas) was born.

Let’s dive in and take a look at Las Vegas in the early 1900’s.

Sin City sign and Las Vegas skyline

Block 16 in Las Vegas: The Original Sin City

In the early days of urban development in Vegas, the town was divided into 40 blocks, the most famous of which was Block 16, located on First Street, between Ogden Ave. and Stewart Ave.

Block 16 and 17 were the only two areas of Las Vegas where liquor could be served without restrictions but Block 16 became much more famous because it openly offered something that Block 17 didn’t have.

Block 16 was the original site of Las Vegas’s bordellos, where you could – starting in 1906 until World War II – easily find a lady of the evening (or morning, or mid-afternoon, or whenever). That easy access to a primary vice and a relatively cheap market made Las Vegas the center of “sin” during the first half of the 20th century.

Although it was technically illegal, brothel owners could “secure” their businesses by paying a $500 license. Even then they were still regularly raided and fined, which was really just a way of filling the municipal coffers.

The workers in these establishments had to undergo weekly medical checks, which became a great source of revenue for local physicians, as well. So while business was booming and customers had easy access to all of their vices, the owners of these establishments had a lot of trouble with the law.

Finally, during World War II, as Nellis Air Force Base was being constructed, the city government decided to shut down the vices happening on Block 16 to keep the military brass happy (the military was a huge source of revenue for the city), effectively ending Block 16’s notorious run.

You can still visit the area known as Block 16 today, though it’s nowhere as exciting as it was back in its heyday. It’s mostly just a parking area behind Binion’s Casino (google maps).

All of these elements make it clear why Las Vegas is called “Sin City”.

The Sin in Sin City Today – Las Vegas

You know the saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”? Well, there’s a good reason why Las Vegas is deserving of that saying.

The vices that made Block 16 what it once was are still mostly alive and well today in modern day Las Vegas. Drinking and gambling are not only legal, they are the centerpieces of Vegas today.

While gaming is the city’s number one industry, there are also a lot of related activities such as bookmaking, easy marriage, easy divorce, organized crime, cabarets, clubbing, and 24-hour liquor sales.

Drinking and gaming are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Drinking on the street in Las Vegas is also quite acceptable in certain areas.

While brothels and bordellos aren’t legal in Las Vegas today, you have to remember that they weren’t actually legal back in the early 1900s either. Having said that, the “World’s Oldest Profession” is actually legal in the state of Nevada but you have to head outside of Las Vegas an hour or so to get to one of the legal brothels.

So I think it’s safe to say that for today’s visitors to Las Vegas, the sin is still alive and well.

14 Sin Cities Around the World

Sin sign Las Vegas

The term “Sin City” is a relatively common nickname for a certain type of city, known for its adult entertainment industry, but it might also refer to a city filled with corruption or crime, depending on the context. The former use is a bit more common than the latter.

Sin City is really a term given to cities with plenty of available vices. Some legal and some not so legal, but still tolerated. Here is a list of some of the other top sin cities in the world:

  • Caracas, Venezuela
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Macau, China
  • Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Baku, Azerbaijan
  • Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Beirut, Lebanon
  • Bangkok, Thailand
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Tijuana, Mexico
  • Shanghai, China
  • Miami, Florida, USA

As far as Las Vegas goes, it’s quite possibly the most famous “Sin City” in the world. While these other cities around the world may be known as sin cities, Las Vegas, Nevada is the one and only Sin City!

Related Articles

How Las Vegas Got Its Start! – Article here

History of Golden Gate Casino – Read here

Is the Neon Museum Worth Visiting? Find out here!

The Oldest Las Vegas Casino Still Standing (The Strip & Downtown) – Article here

Sources

Las Vegas Sun: Home of Sin City’s original sin

Wikipedia: Sin City

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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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