Las Vegas Going Strong, Despite Gambling’s Nationwide Growth

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Las Vegas Going Strong, Despite Gambling’s Nationwide Growth
© USA Today

When legal sports betting began spreading across the U.S. five years ago, some were concerned that Las Vegas, the nation’s gambling capital, would suffer a lasting downturn.

The same concerns surfaced when New Jersey and other states began opening casinos in the late 1970s.

Tourists Visit In Record Numbers

With each expansion in the U.S. gaming industry, Las Vegas becomes more popular, observers say, partly because tourists want a better experience than they can get at home.

Nevada isn’t the nation’s largest sports betting market, trailing more populous states like New Jersey. But tourists continue to pour into Las Vegas. 

In 2022, the Las Vegas Strip alone, not including downtown’s Glitter Gulch or off-Strip casinos, led all commercial gaming markets in revenue by far, according to the American Gaming Association.

Other indicators point to Las Vegas’ continued popularity. Passenger totals at Harry Reid International Airport just east of the Strip have increased 25.4% through March this year compared with the same period in 2022.

Concerns About Competition

In May 2018, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowed states across the nation to join Nevada in offering legal sports betting. Since then, sports wagering has become legal and live in 33 states and Washington, D.C. It is legal but not yet operational in four more states.

With that federal court decision, Nevada no longer had a monopoly on legal sports betting.

Brett Abarbanel, executive director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, said the court ruling presented a possible downside for Las Vegas.

“Clearly, there’s concerns about competition,” she said on the university website. “For such a long time, Las Vegas had a veritable monopoly on sports betting. And now that it’s expanded throughout so much of the United States, we don’t have that same hold on the market.”

Geno Munari, a former Las Vegas casino executive, told the expansion of sports betting and the best online casino sites launching around the country only makes people more eager to visit Las Vegas. 

Technically, most major resorts on the Strip are outside Las Vegas city limits, though many people commonly refer to the entire area as “Las Vegas.”

Massive sportsbooks like those at the off-Strip Westgate hotel-casino and the indoor triple-decker at Circa downtown highlight the city’s allure for sports bettors wanting the real thing, Munari said.

“This is where it’s done right,” Munari said. “You don’t find these kind of sportsbooks in those other places." is doing a multi-part series on the fifth anniversary of the repeal of PASPA, which opened the door for each state to consider online gaming. Today, Las Vegas' Demise Was Greatly Exaggerated.


Mirage Casino Ushers In New Era

Munari, who has lived in Las Vegas for almost 60 years, wrote the 2022 book “The Dunes Hotel and Casino: The Mob, The Connections, The Stories.” 

The Dunes was one of the older, Mob-linked resorts demolished after casino developer Steve Wynn sparked a boom in megaresort construction by opening the Mirage hotel-casino on the Strip in 1989. 

With a 54-foot volcano out front spewing flames, water and a piña colada scent, the Mirage ushered in a grandiose new era on the Strip, shoving out the old. 

In addition to the Dunes, other mobbed-up Strip resorts, including the Desert Inn, Riviera, Stardust, Sands and Hacienda, were demolished. In most cases, these former properties were replaced by megaresorts. In 1998, for instance, Wynn opened the Bellagio hotel-casino where the Dunes once stood.

Meanwhile, the Mirage is set to undergo a transformation of its own. The Seminole Tribe of Florida has bought the property and intends to construct a guitar-shaped Hard Rock hotel tower.

Super Casinos Transform Las Vegas

In the 2001 book “Super Casino: Inside the ‘New’ Las Vegas,” author Pete Earley notes that the megaresort boom, begun by the Mirage but closely followed by the Excalibur, attracted even larger numbers of visitors to Las Vegas. This happened only about a decade after legal casinos were opened in New Jersey, supposedly threatening Las Vegas’ dominance. 

Before the Mirage and Excalibur opened, only 15 percent of Americans had ever visited Las Vegas, Earley wrote. 

“In 1995, only six years later, that figure had doubled to 30 percent,” he noted. “Pollsters determined that most came to see the super casinos.”

Glenn Schaeffer, Circus Circus’ president during those years, said tourists flock to the Strip “because we are building the most spectacular and unique buildings on this planet.”

“The super casinos are expressly designed for the purpose of gawking,” he said. “In Las Vegas, we promote the sight and the sound and the spectacle that you can’t find back home or anywhere else.”

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‘Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World’

As the growing desert city grapples with a water crisis, Las Vegas continues to create ways to attract record numbers of visitors. 

The area is now one of the top locations in the U.S. for major conventions. That focus has paid dividends. According to The Wall Street Journal, Strip casinos since 1999 have “generated more revenue from conventions, hotels, dining and entertainment than from gambling.”

The Las Vegas Valley also has become a professional sports destination.

The NFL’s Raiders and NHL’s Golden Knights make their home in Southern Nevada. Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics are poised to relocate to the area, possibly playing in a stadium to be built where the Rat Pack-era Tropicana hotel-casino now stands on the Strip near the airport. The Tropicana, which opened in 1957, would be demolished to make room for a stadium.  

Bill Hornbuckle, MGM Resorts International CEO and president, recently said on LinkedIn that the term “Sin City” to describe Las Vegas is outdated. 

“After several years of unprecedented evolution, Las Vegas has earned a new moniker: The Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World,” he wrote.

Sports Gambling Hall of Fame Unveiled

Las Vegas is honoring some of those who put Southern Nevada on the sports wagering map.

On Aug. 11, the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame will induct 10 members into the inaugural 2023 class at Circa.

Among them are Billy Walters, Michael "Roxy" Roxborough and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.

Decades ago, Rosenthal, a Chicago oddsmaker, illegally operated four Argent Corp. casinos in Las Vegas, most notably the Stardust, for Midwestern crime families.

In the 1995 movie “Casino,” Robert De Niro portrays a character based on Rosenthal. 

The movie is set during the 1970s, a volatile period when Las Vegas was home to the only legal full sports betting in the country, attracting mobsters and illegal bookies like Rosenthal, whose livelihood was unlawful in the rest of the country.

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Larry Henry

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