Las Vegas (Spanish for "The Meadows"), officially the City of Las Vegas and often known simply as Vegas, is the 28th-most populated city in the United States, the most populated city in the state of Nevada, and the county seat of Clark County. The city anchors the Las Vegas Valley metropolitan area and is the largest city within the greater Mojave Desert. Las Vegas is an internationally renowned major resort city, known primarily for its gambling, shopping, fine dining, entertainment, and nightlife. The Las Vegas Valley as a whole serves as the leading financial, commercial, and cultural center for Nevada.
The city bills itself as The Entertainment Capital of the World, and is famous for its mega casino-hotels and associated activities. It is a top three destination in the United States for business conventions and a global leader in the hospitality industry, claiming more AAA Five Diamond hotels than any other city in the world. Today, Las Vegas annually ranks as one of the world's most visited tourist destinations. The city's tolerance for numerous forms of adult entertainment earned it the title of "Sin City", and has made Las Vegas a popular setting for literature, films, television programs, and music videos.
Las Vegas was settled in 1905 and officially incorporated in 1911. At the close of the 20th century, it was the most populated American city founded within that century (a similar distinction was earned by Chicago in the 19th century). Population growth has accelerated since the 1960s, and between 1990 and 2000 the population nearly doubled, increasing by 85.2%. Rapid growth has continued into the 21st century, and according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had 651,319 residents in 2019, with a metropolitan population of 2,227,053.
As with most major metropolitan areas, the name of the primary city ("Las Vegas" in this case) is often used to describe areas beyond official city limits. In the case of Las Vegas, this especially applies to the areas on and near the Las Vegas Strip, which is actually located within the unincorporated communities of Paradise and Winchester.
Nomadic Paleo-Indians traveled to Las Vegas 10,000 years ago, leaving behind petroglyphs. Anasazi and Paiute tribes followed at least 2,000 years ago.
A young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera is credited as the first non-Native American to encounter the valley, in 1829. Trader Antonio Armijo led a 60-man party along the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, California in 1829. The area was named Las Vegas, which is Spanish for "the meadows," as it featured abundant wild grasses, as well as the desert spring waters needed by westward travelers. The year 1844 marked the arrival of John C. Frémont, whose writings helped lure pioneers to the area. Downtown Las Vegas's Fremont Street is named after him.
Eleven years later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chose Las Vegas as the site to build a fort halfway between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, where they would travel to gather supplies. The fort was abandoned several years afterward. The remainder of this Old Mormon Fort can still be seen at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue.
Las Vegas was founded as a city in 1905, when 110 acres (45 ha) of land adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks were auctioned in what would become the downtown area. In 1911, Las Vegas was incorporated as a city.
1931 was a pivotal year for Las Vegas. At that time, Nevada legalized casino gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This year also witnessed the beginning of construction on nearby Hoover Dam. The influx of construction workers and their families helped Las Vegas avoid economic calamity during the Great Depression. The construction work was completed in 1935.
In late 1941, Las Vegas Army Airfield was established. Renamed Nellis Air Force Base in 1950, it is now home to the United States Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatic team.
Following World War II, lavishly decorated hotels, gambling casinos, and big-name entertainment became synonymous with Las Vegas.
This view of downtown Las Vegas shows a mushroom cloud in the background. Scenes such as this were typical during the 1950s. From 1951 to 1962, the government conducted 100 atmospheric tests at the nearby Nevada Test Site.
In 1951, nuclear weapons testing began at the Nevada Test Site, 65 miles (105 km) northwest of Las Vegas. During this time, the city was nicknamed the "Atomic City". Residents and visitors were able to witness the mushroom clouds (and were exposed to the fallout) until 1963, when the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty required that nuclear tests be moved underground.
In 1955, the Moulin Rouge Hotel opened and became the first racially integrated casino-hotel in Las Vegas.
The iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, which has never been located within municipal limits, was created in 1959 by Betty Willis.
Fremont Street in the late 1960s
During the 1960s, corporations and business tycoons such as Howard Hughes were building and buying hotel-casino properties. Gambling was referred to as "gaming", which transitioned it into a legitimate business.
The year 1995 marked the opening of the Fremont Street Experience, in Las Vegas's downtown area. This canopied five-block area features 12.5 million LED lights and 550,000 watts of sound from dusk until midnight during shows held at the top of each hour.
Due to the realization of many revitalization efforts, 2012 was dubbed "The Year of Downtown." Projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars made their debut at this time, including the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, the DISCOVERY Children's Museum, the Mob Museum, the Neon Museum, a new City Hall complex, and renovations for a new Zappos.com corporate headquarters in the old City Hall building.
Las Vegas is situated within Clark County, in a basin on the floor of the Mojave Desert, and is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides. Much of the landscape is rocky and arid, with desert vegetation and wildlife. It can be subjected to torrential flash floods, although much has been done to mitigate the effects of flash floods through improved drainage systems.
The peaks surrounding Las Vegas reach elevations of over 10,000 feet (3,000 m), and act as barriers to the strong flow of moisture from the surrounding area. The elevation is approximately 2,030 ft (620 m) above sea level. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 135.86 sq mi (351.9 km2), of which 135.81 sq mi (351.7 km2) is land and 0.05 sq mi (0.13 km2) (0.03%) is water.
After Alaska and California, Nevada is the third most seismically active state in the U.S. It has been estimated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that over the next 50 years, there is a 10–20% chance of a M6.0 or greater earthquake occurring within 50 km (31 mi) of Las Vegas.
Within the city, there are many lawns, trees and other greenery. Due to water resource issues, there has been a movement to encourage xeriscapes. Another part of conservation efforts is scheduled watering days for residential landscaping. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant in 2008 funded a program that analyzed and forecast growth and environmental impacts through the year 2019.
Las Vegas has a subtropical hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification: BWh), typical of the Mojave Desert in which it lies. This climate is typified by long, extremely hot summers; warm transitional seasons; and short winters with mild days and cool nights. There is abundant sunshine throughout the year, with an average of 310 sunny days and bright sunshine during 86% of all daylight hours. Rainfall is scarce, with an average of 4.2 in (110 mm) dispersed between roughly 26 to 27 total rainy days per year. Las Vegas is among the sunniest, driest, and least humid locations in North America, with exceptionally low dew points and humidity that sometimes remain below 10%.
The summer months of June through September are extremely hot, though moderated by extremely low humidity. July is the hottest month, with an average daytime high of 104.2 °F (40.1 °C). On average, 134 days per year reach or exceed 90 °F (32 °C), of which 74 days reach 100 °F (38 °C) and 7 days reach 110 °F (43 °C). During the peak intensity of summer, overnight lows frequently remain above 80 °F (27 °C), and occasionally above 85 °F (29 °C). While most summer days are consistently hot, dry, and cloudless, the North American Monsoon sporadically interrupts this pattern and brings more cloud cover, thunderstorms, lightning, increased humidity, and brief spells of heavy rain. The window of opportunity for the monsoon to affect Las Vegas usually falls between July and August, although this is inconsistent and varies considerably in its impact from year to year. Summer in Las Vegas is marked by a significant diurnal variation; while less extreme than other parts of the state, nighttime lows in Las Vegas are often 30 °F (16.7 °C) or more lower than daytime highs.
Las Vegas winters are short and generally very mild, with chilly (but rarely cold) daytime temperatures. Like all seasons, sunshine is abundant. December is both the year's coolest and cloudiest month, with an average daytime high of 56.6 °F (13.7 °C) and sunshine occurring during 78% of its daylight hours. Winter evenings are defined by clear skies and swift drops in temperature after sunset, with overnight minima averaging around 39 °F (3.9 °C) in December and January. Owing to its elevation that ranges from 2,000 feet to 3,000 feet, Las Vegas experiences markedly cooler winters than other areas of the Mojave Desert and the adjacent Sonoran Desert that are closer to sea level. Consequently, the city records freezing temperatures an average of 16 nights per winter. However, it is exceptionally rare for temperatures to reach or fall below 25 °F (−4 °C), or for temperatures to remain below 45 °F (7 °C) for an entire day. Most of the annual precipitation falls during the winter months, but even February, the wettest month, averages only four days of measurable rain. The mountains immediately surrounding the Las Vegas Valley accumulate snow every winter, but significant accumulation within the city is rare, although moderate accumulations do occur every few years. The most recent accumulations occurred on February 18, 2019 when parts of the city received about 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) of snow and on February 20 when the city received almost 0.5 inches (1.3 cm). Other recent significant snow accumulations occurred on December 25, 2015 and December 17, 2008. Unofficially, Las Vegas' largest snowfall on record was the 12 inches (30 cm) that fell in 1909.
The highest temperature officially observed for Las Vegas, as measured at McCarran International Airport, is 117 °F (47 °C), reached June 20, 2017, the last of four occasions. Conversely, the lowest temperature was 8 °F (−13 °C), recorded on 2 days: January 25, 1937 and January 13, 1963. However, the highest temperature ever measured within the city of Las Vegas was 118 °F (48 °C) on July 26, 1931. The official record hot daily minimum is 95 °F (35 °C) on July 1, 2013 and July 19, 2005, while, conversely the official record cold daily maximum is 28 °F (−2 °C) on January 8 and 21, 1937.
Due to concerns about climate change in the wake of a 2002 drought, daily water consumption has been reduced from 314 US gallons (1,190 l) per resident in 2003 to around 205 US gallons (780 l).
The city's most populous ethnic group, non-Hispanic Whites, have proportionally declined from 72.1% of the population in 1990 to 47.9% in 2010, even as total numbers of all ethnicities have increased with the population. Hispanics or Latinos of any race make up 31.5% of the population. Of those 24.0% are of Mexican, 1.4% of Salvadoran, 0.9% of Puerto Rican, 0.9% of Cuban, 0.6% of Guatemalan, 0.2% of Peruvian, 0.2% of Colombian, 0.2% of Honduran and 0.2% of Nicaraguan descent.
According to research by demographer William H. Frey, using data from the 2010 United States Census, Las Vegas has the second lowest level of black-white segregation of any of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, after Tucson, Arizona.
Hawaiians and Las Vegans alike sometimes refer to Las Vegas as the "ninth island of Hawaii" because so many Hawaiians have moved to the city.
As of the census of 2010, there were 583,756 people, 211,689 households, and 117,538 families residing in the city. The population density was 4,222.5/sq mi (1,630.3/km2). There were 190,724 housing units at an average density of 1,683.3/sq mi (649.9/km2).
As of 2006, there were 176,750 households, out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.3% were married couples living together, 12.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.5% were non-families. 25.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.66 and the average family size was 3.20.
In the city, the population age distribution was as follows:
25.9% under the age of 18
8.8% from 18 to 24
32.0% from 25 to 44
21.7% from 45 to 64
11.6% who were 65 years of age or older
The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 103.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $53,000 and the median income for a family was $58,465. Males had a median income of $35,511 versus $27,554 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,060. About 6.6% of families and 8.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.4% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.
According to a 2004 study, Las Vegas has one of the highest divorce rates. The city's high divorce rate is not wholly due to Las Vegans themselves getting divorced. Since divorce is easier in Nevada than most other states, many people come from across the country for the easier process. Similarly, Nevada marriages are notoriously easy to get. Las Vegas has one of the highest marriage rates of U.S. cities, with many licenses issued to people from outside the area.
The primary drivers of the Las Vegas economy are tourism, gaming and conventions, which in turn feed the retail and restaurant industries.
The major attractions in Las Vegas are the casinos and the hotels, although in recent years other new attractions have begun to emerge.
Most casinos in the downtown area are located on Fremont Street, with The Stratosphere being one of the exceptions. Fremont East, adjacent to the Fremont Street Experience, was granted variances to allow bars to be closer together, similar to the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego, the goal being to attract a different demographic than the Strip attracts.
The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, located downtown along the Fremont Street Experience, is the oldest continuously operating hotel and casino in Las Vegas; it opened in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada.
The year 1931 marked the opening of the Northern Club (now the La Bayou). The most notable of the early casinos may have been Binion's Horseshoe (now Binion's Gambling Hall and Hotel) while it was run by Benny Binion.
Boyd Gaming has a major presence downtown operating the California Hotel & Casino, the Fremont Hotel & Casino and the Main Street Casino. The Four Queens also operates downtown along the Fremont Street Experience.
Downtown casinos that have undergone major renovations and revitalization in recent years include the Golden Nugget Las Vegas, The D Las Vegas (formerly Fitzgerald's), the Downtown Grand Las Vegas (formerly Lady Luck), the El Cortez Hotel & Casino and the Plaza Hotel & Casino.
Las Vegas Strip
The center of the gambling and entertainment industry is located on the Las Vegas Strip, outside the city limits in the surrounding unincorporated communities of Paradise and Winchester in Clark County. The largest and most notable casinos and buildings are located there.
When The Mirage opened in 1989, it started a trend of major resort development on the Las Vegas Strip outside of the city. This resulted in a drop in tourism in the downtown area, but many recent projects have increased the number of visitors to downtown.
An effort has been made by city officials to diversify the economy by attracting health-related, high-tech and other commercial interests. No state tax for individuals or corporations, as well as a lack of other forms of business-related taxes, have aided the success of these efforts.
The Fremont Street Experience was built in an effort to draw tourists back to the area, and has been popular since its startup in 1995.
The city purchased 61 acres (25 ha) of property from the Union Pacific Railroad in 1995 with the goal of creating a better draw for more people to the downtown area. In 2004, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman announced plans for Symphony Park, which could include a mixture of offerings, such as residential space and office buildings.
Already operating in Symphony Park is the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health (opened in 2010), The Smith Center for the Performing Arts (opened in 2012) and the DISCOVERY Children's Museum (opened in 2013).
On land across from Symphony Park, the World Market Center Las Vegas opened in 2005. It currently encompasses three large buildings with a total of 5.1 million square feet. Trade shows for the furniture and furnishing industries are held there semiannually.
Also located nearby is the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets. A second expansion was completed in May 2015, with the mall currently offering 175 stores.
A new Las Vegas City Hall opened in February 2013 on downtown's Main Street. The former City Hall building is now occupied by the corporate headquarters for the major online retailer, Zappos.com, which opened downtown in 2013. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has taken an interest in the urban area and has contributed $350 million toward a revitalization effort called the Downtown Project. Projects funded include Las Vegas's first independent bookstore, The Writer's Block.
A number of new industries have moved to Las Vegas in recent decades. Online shoe retailer Zappos.com (now an Amazon subsidiary) was founded in San Francisco but by 2013 had moved its headquarters to downtown Las Vegas. Allegiant Air, a low-cost air carrier, launched in 1997 with its first hub at McCarran International Airport and headquarters in nearby Summerlin.
Planet 13 Holdings, a cannabis company, have opened the world's largest cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas at 112,000 square feet.
Impact of growth on water supply
A growing population means the Las Vegas Valley used 1.2 billion gallons more water in 2014 than in 2011. Although water conservation efforts implemented in the wake of a 2002 drought have had some success, local water consumption remains 30 percent more than in Los Angeles, and over three times that of San Francisco metropolitan area residents. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is building a $1.4 billion tunnel and pumping station to bring water from Lake Mead, has purchased water rights throughout Nevada, and has planned a controversial $3.2 billion pipeline across half the state. By law, the Las Vegas Water Service District "may deny any request for a water commitment or request for a water connection if the District has an inadequate supply of water." However, limiting growth on the basis of inadequate water supply has been unpopular with the casino and building industries.
The Las Vegas Valley is the home of three major professional teams: the Vegas Golden Knights of the National Hockey League, an expansion team that began play in the 2017–18 NHL season out of T-Mobile Arena in nearby Paradise, the Las Vegas Raiders of the National Football league who relocated from Oakland, California in 2020 and play at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, and the Las Vegas Aces of the Women's National Basketball Association who play at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
There are two minor league sports teams that play in the Las Vegas area. The Las Vegas Aviators of the Pacific Coast League, the AAA farm club of the Oakland Athletics play at Las Vegas Ballpark in nearby Summerlin. The Las Vegas Lights FC of the United Soccer League, play out of Cashman Field in Downtown Las Vegas.
Primary and secondary schools
Primary and secondary public education is provided by the Clark County School District, which is the fifth most populous school district in the nation. Students totaled 314,653 in grades K-12 for school year 2013–2014.
Colleges and universities
The College of Southern Nevada (the third largest community college in the United States by enrollment) is the main higher education facility in the city. Other institutions include the University of Nevada School of Medicine, with a campus in the city, and the for-profit private school Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Educational opportunities exist around the city; among them are the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Nevada State College run by the Nevada System of Higher Education, Desert Research Institute, The International Academy of Design & Technology Las Vegas and Touro University Nevada.