Throwback: Las Vegas’ Oldest Casinos

You Can Still Stay and Gamble in Several of These Vintage Las Vegas Casinos

Las Vegas has changed quite a bit since its humble beginning as a desolate railroad town 115 years ago. Gone are the days of 50 cent shrimp cocktails and $1 buffets, as well as the mob-run casinos―many of which were replaced by massive, family-friendly megaresorts―that made Vegas what it is today.

While a vast number of Vegas’ early casinos have since been imploded or found a renewed life at the Neon Museum, a few 20th-century relics from Sin City’s golden era are still open for business.

Here’s a look at Las Vegas’ five oldest casinos:

Sahara Las Vegas

Sahara Las Vegas

Opening Date: October 7, 1952

Address: 2355 S. Las Vegas Blvd.

Originally opened as The Sahara, the hotel-casino opened nearly 70 years ago with an African Sahara theme.

The project was completed for $5 million―or almost $50 million with inflation―and featured lavish amenities including two restaurants, an 85-foot long bar, a theater, and the first Olympic-size pool in Vegas.

The casino also featured some of Las Vegas’ most iconic headliners including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Liberace.

Over time, the casino became unprofitable and closed in 2011. SBE Entertainment Group and Stockbridge Real Estate Group―who originally purchased the casino in 2007―reopened the casino as the SLS Las Vegas to reflect SBE’s SLS Hotel chain. While undergoing renovation, the new owners ditched its Saharan theme for a modern-chic redesign. 

The Meruelo Group purchased the property in 2018, and renamed it Sahara Las Vegas the following year. While the theme is still modern, references to the original Sahara can still be found on the property.

Flamingo Hotel and Casino

Flamingo Hotel and Casino

Opening Date: Dec. 26, 1946

Address: 3555 S. Las Vegas Blvd

Originally the third casino to join the Las Vegas Strip, it is now the oldest remaining casino on The Strip.

Notorious mob boss Bugsy Siegel oversaw the final development of the property, and significantly invested in the property which opened as the Fabulous Flamingo in 1946. Siegel didn’t get to see The Flamingo flourish for long though, as he was murdered the following year.

The Flamingo has since gone through numerous ownership changes, but has kept its design close to the original 1940s Miami-Area Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style. The casino notably features a garden that’s home to flamingos, ducks, koi fish, and other exotic animals.

Golden Nugget Exterior

Golden Nugget Las Vegas

Opening Date: Aug. 30, 1946

Address: 129 Fremont St.

The Golden Nugget was originally opened as a luxury hotel and casino in 1946 by Guy McAfee, a former gambling kingpin who’s credited with “inventing” The Strip. At the time of its grand opening, it was billed as the “biggest casino in the world.”

Eventually, ownership passed through other prominent hands including Jackie Gaughn who famously owned The El Cortez, and Steve Wynn. 

The property is now owned by Landry’s Inc, and has undergone significant upgrades over the decades including the addition of several high-end restaurants, and a three-story pool complex that features a shark-filled aquarium space.

El Cortez Hotel and Casino

El Cortez

Opening Date: Nov. 7, 1941

Address: 600 E. Fremont Street

The El Cortez is Las Vegas’ oldest continuously operating casino in the city, as well as the first major resort to join Downtown. The casino was originally built and opened by John Kell Houssels, Marion Hicks, J.C. Grayson, but was later acquired by Bugsy Siegel and his associates in 1946.

Casino owner and operator Jackie Gaughan―who at one point owned about 25 percent of Downtown’s real estate―purchased the El Cortez for $4 million in 1963. The casino magnate was a regular presence at the El Cortez gaming floor and lived in the casino’s penthouse suite until his death in 2014.

While owners have come and gone and the interior has undergone numerous renovations, the casino’s Spanish ranch-style facade has remained virtually unchanged since 1952. The casino was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. 

Golden Gate Hotel and Casino

Golden Gate Hotel and Casino

Opening Date: Jan. 13, 1906

Address: 1 Fremont Street

While The El Cortez, is the oldest continuously operating casino in Las Vegas, The OLDEST casino is the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino. It’s also the smallest on Fremont Street, with only 106 rooms.

The Golden Gate opened its doors as the first hotel in Fremont Street as the Hotel Nevada in 1906. However, it was forced to close its casino operations in 1909 following a statewide ban on gambling. However, gambling resumed again in 1931 following Nevada’s legalization of gambling, and the casino.

The Golden Gate established many firsts for Las Vegas, including the city’s first telephone in 1906, and popularized the 50-cent shrimp cocktail―now a Vegas staple.

As one would imagine―the casino has undergone significant renovations over the past century, but it still maintains much of its vintage charm and features artifacts from its past throughout the building.

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