Las Vegas has earned itself the cheeky nickname of Sin City. There is an obvious reason why it has garnered this title. Even when gambling and selling alcohol was illegal, Las Vegas was home to saloons, casinos, and brothels.
Although it has changed its image in recent years, with lots of family-friendly attractions, this Nevada city is geared towards adults.
So why did it garner the name of Sin City and when did it adopt this name?
What Is the History of Sin City?
Up until the turn of the century, Las Vegas was a sparsely popular area. Before then, it was home to pioneers heading west in the search of gold and the Mormons who built their fort in the spot. Las Vegas really became the city we all know when a mining magnate arrived. He recognized the potential of the location, securing rights to the water springs and building a railroad depot.
Las Vegas was founded on 15 May 1905 when Clark auctioned off his landholdings, including the city’s first casino, which was at the station café. Opened in 1906, The Golden Gate Casino on Fremont Street is the city’s first and longest-running gambling establishment.
Las Vegas took a while to turn into the grand city we know now, the limited water, hot weather and unproductive soil, meaning it was a harsh city. One area where it flourished above the other is in the red light and gambling district.
Even when Nevada outlawed gambling in 1910, illegal casinos carried on running underground until 1931, when it became legal again. It’s in this period of underground casinos the name Sin City was coined. Specifically, it was used to talk about the two original blocks of Fremont Street, where gambling, ladies of the night, and liquor were all easy to access.
Town authorities tolerated the gambling, alcohol consumption, and prostitution on Fremont Street’s Block 16 because it was a fantastic source of revenue. Las Vegas closed the Block in 1941, but by then, Las Vegas’ reputation was set.
It’s these sinful acts that put Vegas on the map as a popular holiday destination. It was especially enjoyed by Los Angeles residents, who were employed in the entertainment industry. People stayed in their droves, attracted by the gambling establishment, loose women and relaxes divorce laws.
Although it gained a sinful reputation early on, the first written reference to Las Vegas being called Sin City or The City of Sin was in the title of a 1963 book. ‘Las Vegas: City of Sin?’ by casino executives, Dick Taylor and Pat Howell was an expose of the seedy underbelly of crime, murder and glamor. Pop culture has only kept this nickname going.
It wasn’t until the 1980s when Las Vegas turned into the family friendly vacation spot it is today. With huge resorts, hotels, casinos, shopping malls, and theme parks, it truly caters to all holidays. Although it has cleaned up its act since these early days, sin is there for those who seek it.
What Was Block 16?
The city’s reputation comes from two blocks in the town and the activities they took host to. When Las Vegas was founded, it only had 40 blocks, but Block 16 and 17 became infamous in the early days of Sin City. It started with illegal liquor and moved into prostitution. Saloons often rented out the bathroom or even built a second floor to accommodate this sinful activity.
When the 18th Amendment came in and banned the sale, distribution, or manufacture of alcohol, many predicted it would be the end of Block 16. However, the saloon owners continued to sell liquor, regardless of raids of fines. Nevada outlawed gambling back in 1910, Blocks 16 and 17 also ignored these laws.
Despite the illegal behavior, the town authorities enjoyed the visitors and the income they brought. Town authorities also hoped that by keeping the gambling halls and saloons contained in one area, the other parts of the town wouldn’t be seedy.
Block 16 was torn down in 1946 and is now the parking lot behind Binion’s Casino. It wasn’t the sinful operation that killed this area; it was World War II. The military commanders didn’t want the trouble that would come from soldiers visiting Block 16, so they told town officials that they would make the city off-limits to the troops.
So, instead of losing money from the troops avoiding Las Vegas, they shut Block 16 down.
Why Wasn’t Block 16 Shut Down Earlier?
The town charged saloons $500 a day licensing fee and raids would even bring in additional income for the city. Whilst politicians and citizens would demand that they close these establishments down, the loss of income that the illicit activities brought in would be too much for the city.
Where Did the Phrase What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas?
Most of us have heard that phrase whether it’s through a song, a film or our own experienced in Sin City. It was actually created by R&R Partners, an ad agency who were tasked with helping the city recover from the 2009 recession.
Although Vegas is nothing like the Sin City where it gained its name from, the phrase serves as a reminder of when Las Vegas was a playground of adult entertainment.