We here at Vegas Seven have had the privilege of covering Las Vegas for five years now—its people, its places, its couldn’t-happen-anywhere-else events. We feel grateful to have been a part of this city for so long, and we look forward to being here for many years to come.
That said, sometimes we wonder—usually after post-deadline beers—where we might be now if certain historical events hadn’t happened … or had happened on a different timeline: What if the Great Recession had hit us 10 years earlier? What if “Viva Las Vegas” had never been written? What if Zappos had never left Henderson?
The more thought we give to these alternate-universe/It’s a Wonderful Life possibilities, the weirder we feel when we return to work the following day. Are we in the Vegas we’re supposed to be in? Is a butterfly flapping its wings in the Brazilian rainforest right now, with the express intent of compelling Britney Spears to run for mayor?
So, in the interest of preserving our own sanity, we’re taking the occasion of our fifth anniversary to share some of these coulda-happened scenarios with you. Read them, ponder them or imagine them as feature films starring Steve Buscemi as Oscar Goodman. Just be aware that, as you take in these wild conjectures, you might be changing the course of Las Vegas history. Though if you do, we’ll still write about it.
What if the Mormons hadn’t settled in Las Vegas?
In 1902, Senator William Andrews Clark bought Helen Stewart’s land so that he would have the water rights and the territory to build the railroad that gave birth to the town of Las Vegas in 1905. If Stewart’s family hadn’t obtained that land from Octavius Decatur Gass, who took it over after Mormon missionaries left the area, would Clark have been able to build his railroad? Probably, but not necessarily as he built it, which could have changed the layout and thus the destiny of Downtown, as well as how our use of water evolved. We might still have an underground water supply—but we might have used it sooner. – Michael Green
What if we had gotten our fair share of water from the Colorado River Compact?
Greater Los Angeles would have 2 million residents and greater Las Vegas would have 10 million. Plus: No throwing down half a ton of crushed granite and calling it “landscaping”! – James P. Reza
What if the federal government hadn’t banned gambling and drinking in Boulder City during and after construction of Hoover Dam?
Aside from probably ensuring that the insides of the dam weren’t stuffed with old Schlitz bottles, the feds’ kibosh on boozing and gambling drove untold business north to Las Vegas and Block 16. Thus, the legend of Las Vegas as a freewheeling Xanadu was born. If the government had been more relaxed with its dam builders, Boulder City could have grown up as a lakeside South Tahoe, with Vegas its Reno-like neighbor. – Jason Scavone
What if prostitution had remained legal on Block 16?
Tony Hsieh doesn’t get to buy up Downtown. Because Hugh Hefner already owns it. – Lissa Townsend Rodgers
What if California’s 1950 gambling referendum had succeeded?
In November 1950, Californians voted down a ballot measure that would have legalized gambling in the Golden State. Reportedly, illegal gambling figures from around the country—and legal Nevada operators—were ready to begin pouring money into California. So what if Californian voters had rolled the dice?
Las Vegas at the time was still playing second fiddle to Reno, and without the influx of capital and development that gambling brought us throughout the 1950s, there’s no reason to believe that would have changed. At the same time, Los Angeles probably would’ve become notorious as America’s real Sin City, with luxurious casinos augmenting the Hollywood glamour and golden beaches. Perhaps most importantly, if not for Angelenos being our most loyal customers, Las Vegas never would have the tourism base to become a national, let alone international, destination. – David G. Schwartz
What if Howard Hughes hadn’t lost his mind?
The line between wealthy eccentric and bat-shit billionaire is a fine one, and Howard Hughes walked it so well that it’s tough to tell how many of his public-facing Las Vegas decisions were truly crazy. Putting aside the stuff he did behind the closed doors of his Desert Inn suite—the tissue-box shoes, the germ-free zone, Ice Station Zebra—many of the decisions Hughes made were very shrewd. His dislike of Coney Island-style kitsch—not to mention a giant, spinning, sparkly shoe atop the Silver Slipper that he was convinced was being used for government surveillance—led to him buying several Strip properties (the DI, Sands, the Frontier, the Silver Slipper) in the hope of restoring the glamour he thought Vegas was in danger of losing. In essence, Hughes changed the character of the resort district forever.
More importantly, he changed how that resort district did business. His presence here made the gaming industry palatable to corporations, which started snapping up casinos, which ultimately drove the mob out of town. And in purchasing virtually the entire northwest side of the Valley in the hopes of building a massive airport, Hughes set the stage for Summerlin, the master-planned community that helped to enable our 1990s population boom.
If Howard Hughes hadn’t gone into hiding at the DI on Thanksgiving Day 1966, I would be willing to bet that half of us wouldn’t be here now. He looked at this town and did what came naturally to him: created a place to land. – Geoff Carter
What if Jay Sarno had actually liked Las Vegas?
Jay Sarno was so disappointed with his first visit to Las Vegas that he vowed to give the city a “real hotel.” The result was Caesars Palace. If Sarno had found things to his liking, there probably wouldn’t have been themed casinos–at the time, many thought Sarno’s idea was ridiculous, and it’s only the success of Caesars that made themed casinos salable to investors. Also, Steve Wynn’s career might have been quite different, as he was very much influenced by Sarno in his early years. Imagine a Las Vegas Boulevard with one Bally’s or Westgate Resort after another, rather than the fantasyscape that exists today. – DGS
What if the Moulin Rouge had never opened?
In 1955, when the Moulin Rouge opened, it became nationally renowned as an interracial resort in the heavily segregated Las Vegas gaming industry, and as a playground for African-American entertainers who couldn’t stay on the Strip, as well as their white friends who joined them at the Rouge. Its closure after six months was because of a variety of factors and remains a source of conspiracy theories. But those six months were enough to finally convince Strip casino operators that they actually could make money from African-American tourists. Additionally, without the Moulin Rouge, the civil rights movement as it developed in Las Vegas could have gone in different directions, while the often-heartbreaking efforts to reopen and redevelop the Moulin Rouge wouldn’t have happened—and perhaps West Las Vegas would even have benefited from a different approach. – MG
What if JFK had died in bed at the Sands with Judith Campbell Exner?
John F. Kennedy briefly visited the Las Vegas area in December 1962, inspecting nuclear technology at Indian Springs Air Force Base before spending the weekend at the Palm Springs home of Bing Crosby. While here, Kennedy had originally intended to stay with Frank Sinatra, but his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, refused to allow it, citing Sinatra’s mob ties. But what if Jack, rather than acquiescing to his brother’s demands, had pitched a compromise: Maybe he couldn’t bunk at Frank’s house, but he could at least spend the night at the Sands, which was licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, whose Black Book kept mob types at bay (well, in theory anyway). Kennedy might have extended his Las Vegas stay for a few days, making public appearances to support Nevada Democrats such as Governor Grant Sawyer.
That still would’ve left plenty of free time for Kennedy’s nights, and it’s possible that he might have had a dalliance with Judith Campbell Exner. Sinatra introduced the two during Kennedy’s 1960 visit to Vegas, after which they carried on a lengthy affair while Exner was simultaneously seeing Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana.
A Sin City rendezvous in December 1962 would not have been unlikely at all. And what if JFK suffered a fatal heart attack while in a moment of passion with Exner, dying in Las Vegas in late 1962, like John Garfield, only not alone or unappreciated?
The Secret Service likely would have covered up the details of the president’s demise, so the general public would have been none the wiser. But Bobby Kennedy would have unleashed the full might of the Justice Department on Las Vegas in retribution. He’d tried before, but had been held back by his brother. Now, with nobody to stop him, an avenging Bobby Kennedy wouldn’t be satisfied until federal agents had raided and closed every casino, looking for evidence of skimming and mob influence.
Under that kind of onslaught, and with the weight of the negative publicity that Kennedy’s death would bring, Nevada would not have had time to get its regulatory system in order, and certainly would not have been an attractive target for corporate investment. Furthermore, perhaps RFK takes down Jimmy Hoffa, ending the flow of Teamster money into Las Vegas. Conspiracy theorists no doubt would allege that Kennedy’s death was a mob plot; while not believed by most of the public, the rumors would give Las Vegas an unsavory aura that it never would overcome. Lacking significant investment, the gaming industry may have never grown, instead remaining nothing more than a local curiosity. (And imagine a 21st century in which the words Zapruder and grassy knoll aren’t part of the American lexicon.)
Sinatra might have thought differently at the time, but Kennedy spending the weekend with Bing wasn’t such a bad idea after all. – DGS
What if Steve Wynn had remained in Atlantic City?
We all know what a big impact The Mirage had on Las Vegas, kick-starting the megaresort era and launching the 1990s building boom that made the city what it is today. But as much as (in retrospect) it’s clear that Las Vegas needed Steve Wynn, the builder had other options. His Golden Nugget Atlantic City casino was the seaside resort’s most profitable, and as difficult as it is to fathom today, the truth is that in the early 1980s, Las Vegas lost ground to that East Coast up-and-comer. Wynn had bought land and was planning to build a second, larger, more luxurious resort in Atlantic City when, in 1986, he decided to sell his interests in New Jersey and focus on developing a Las Vegas Strip resort.
But what if Wynn had found New Jersey more to his liking? What if The Mirage had been built on Brigantine (not Las Vegas) Boulevard? The Strip still would’ve received a makeover at some point, but it would’ve been more along the lines of Excalibur than The Mirage. No white tigers and no dolphins, as Siegfried & Roy might have ditched the Frontier for Atlantic City.
With a successful Mirage, Atlantic City would have cartwheeled ahead of Las Vegas in terms of bringing in both tourists and new developments. Add to that an easing of gaming regulations, and Atlantic City could have cemented itself as the world’s gambling center—and forever kept Las Vegas in second place. – DGS
What if Hank Greenspun had bought land in North Las Vegas instead of Henderson?
The Green Valley master-planned community was predicated on Hank Greenspun’s 1971 purchase of 4,720 acres of Henderson land that had been released from the federal government. With Green Valley under way, Henderson’s population grew by 166.6 percent in the 1980s—a stark contrast to North Las Vegas, which grew by 11.6 percent during that decade. Had Greenspun planted a Green Valley in North Las Vegas, it could’ve accelerated that city’s growth in the ’80s and ’90s, increased its tax revenues sooner and perhaps averted the city’s current financial crisis. On the flip side, without Green Valley, Henderson’s growth undoubtedly would have been slowed and perhaps even stalled after the 1988 Pepcon solid-rocket-fuel plant explosion. – Paul Szydelko
What if Elvis hadn’t died so young?
Picture Elvis having just turned 80. Only he isn’t “Elvis” anymore. Unlike James Dean or Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix, he hasn’t reaped the pop culture benefits of dying young, the memory of youthful dynamism and artistic brilliance frozen in our collective idolatry for eternity, unmolested by time. Like onetime thespian god Marlon Brando, Elvis has aged into a fat, old, eccentric punch line, ridiculed by TMZ, mocked on social media. Only rock historians and AARP-aged groupies deify The King today.
Yes, he still plays Vegas if his arthritis doesn’t flare up and he can stave off that third heart attack. The Westgate—once his playpen as the International and then the Hilton—books him for nostalgia’s sake. Never a sellout, though. As for the Elvis impersonator industry, it’s limited to a few guys rotated in and out of Legends in Concert with the other retreads. But if you see a guy in a spangled jumpsuit heading for the hotel buffet, that’s the real Elvis, searching for that food station with the fried peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwiches. – Steve Bornfeld
What if Elvis hadn’t recorded “Viva Las Vegas”?
Without Elvis, what would we have for an unofficial anthem? “Luck Be a Lady?” “Leaving Las Vegas?” “Sin City?” Not bad, but none of it would have lent the jittery aura of anything-can-happen that likely influenced 90 percent of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s ad campaigns. If Frank had been up to bat for our soundtrack, maybe Vegas would be known for its sophisticated cool. On the other hand, we would have been spared all those “Viva Viagra” commercials. – JS
What if the 1980 MGM fire had never happened?
It’s difficult to find any good in such a horrible tragedy, but the MGM Grand fire did directly lead to Las Vegas becoming a global game changer in large-building fire safety. Additionally, had the fire not happened, the dangers of smoke inhalation may not have been revealed until another (and potentially larger) tragedy struck. More trivially, Bally’s never would’ve sprouted up on the old MGM site, and who knows what the northeast corner of Tropicana and the Strip would look like today. Of course, the most important fact is this: If the worst disaster in state history had never happened on the morning of November 21, 1980, those 85 victims would have lived to see another day. – JPR
What if John Ensign defeated Harry Reid in the 1998 U.S. Senate race?
A switch of only 428 votes in a bitter election in which 435,790 votes were cast would have denied Reid a third term and halted his stunning ascent up the national ladder (first as Minority Whip in 2003, then Majority Leader in 2007). Ensign finally made it to Washington, D.C., two years later when he handily defeated attorney Ed Bernstein after Richard Bryan chose not to seek a third term (talk about what if’s!), and he forged an unlikely bond with Reid that focused on common interests—such as the opposition of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository—before he resigned amid an investigation of an ethics violation in May 2011. Had those 428 votes gone the other way in 1998, Reid—now 75—wouldn’t be one of only three senators in history to serve at least eight years as Majority Leader; he wouldn’t be by far the most prominent politician Nevada has ever had on the national stage; and he wouldn’t be heavily favored to win a sixth term in 2016. – PS
What if Oscar and Carolyn Goodman had never come to town?
There would be no Meadows School. Reid—a Gaming Control Board member during the famous gaming license suitability hearings of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, whose attorney was Oscar Goodman—might never have risen to his position in the U.S. Senate. Zappos would still be in Green Valley. Downtown Las Vegas would have half as many bars as it does. Our gin supply would be roughly twice what it is now. And Stavros Anthony wouldn’t be running for mayor. – JPR
What if there were no mayoral term limits in Las Vegas?
Flash forward to June 2027, as an 87-year-old Oscar Goodman—no doubt propped up by two sexy showgirls—gets sworn in for his eighth term as the Happiest Mayor on Earth. – Matt Jacob
What if Clark County had adopted a historical preservation ordinance?
The Strip would look more like Palm Springs; there would be no Neon Museum because the entire city would be a museum. And Macau would be kicking our ass all day, every day. – JPR
What if the Fremont Street Experience had never been approved?
Regardless of how I feel about the light canopy (I’m not a fan of it, to say nothing of Slotzilla), even I have to admit that it saved Downtown Las Vegas at a time the area desperately needed saving. If the Fremont Street Experience hadn’t brought tourists back Downtown in December 1995, many of the dominoes that fell around it—the redirection of northbound traffic down Fourth Street, the Fremont East Entertainment District, the Mob Museum—might never have materialized. As a result, Downtown redevelopment would be years behind where it is now. – GC
What if Neonopolis had never been built?
It’s tempting to say we’d still have Fremont Street Reggae and Blues (Downtown’s first great local music venue) and Rancho Market (neighborhood grocery). And since I miss Fremont Street R&B terribly, that’s precisely what I’m going to say. – GC
What if Beauty Bar had never opened?
When Paul Devitt opened a Las Vegas outpost of his small national chain of music venues in May 2004, it was pretty much the only action on Fremont Street east of Las Vegas Boulevard. So in that respect, Beauty Bar was Fremont East’s first man in space. Yet, while it’s a notable and respectable accomplishment, if it hadn’t been Devitt, it would have been someone else. That’s because Oscar Goodman wanted a Bourbon Street-like strip of bars and venues in Fremont East. This was pre-Great Recession Las Vegas, after all, back when speculating Downtown was cheap—and the City worked hard to make it easy. – GC
What if Tony Hsieh had decided to take over Water Street instead of Fremont Street?
I can’t speak to how Henderson’s miracle mile might have developed had Hsieh decided to relocate Zappos’ corporate headquarters there, but I can tell you how Fremont Street would be doing today: The “entertainment district” would stop dead at Sixth Street, and boast maybe half the bars and restaurants it does now. Look at Main Street, a short distance away: That’s how a depressed neighborhood comes back to life when a billionaire doesn’t spend millions of his own dollars to rush the process along. There are two bars on the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Main (Velveteen Rabbit and Hop Nuts), and two restaurants (Casa Don Juan and Makers and Finders). They took several years to get there, where Fremont has welcomed more than a dozen such properties in the same time frame.
That’s what money does; it’s a kind of crazy, hot-tub time machine. Would Water Street be as big as Fremont is right now? Unlikely, since the City of Henderson probably wouldn’t have yielded to the Zappos leader’s ambitions quite the way the City of Las Vegas has. Hsieh is right where he was meant to be. – GC
What if Steve Wynn had built his canals Downtown?
Perhaps the only thing Steve Wynn loves more than money is a water feature, whether it’s an aquatic volcano, dancing fountains or a “Lake of Dreams.” Back when his lone Vegas property was the Golden Nugget, he hatched a plan to flood Downtown and create a system of canals. Picture “Las Venice” today: Drunken tourists spill their yard-long formaldehyde margaritas into the canals, before falling into said canals. Even better, Slotzilla dumps zipline riders into the water, where they’re “rescued” by gondolas, while off in the distance, a Journey tribute band belts out “Don’t Stop Believing.” – LTR
What if the Las Vegas Monorail had been done correctly?
“Correctly” could mean one of two things. Either we could have had a monorail that cruises straight down the median of the Strip, affording spectacular views from its windows (it would have been one of this city’s biggest tourist draws). Or we could have had a monorail that follows its current route behind the Strip, but stretches from Downtown to McCarran, transporting millions of tourists and locals a year. Either option would have proved more popular and more profitable than the pleasant but markedly less scenic and functional compromise we ended up with. – GC
What if ‘Family Vegas’ had worked?
The good news is that we’d still have IMAX motion rides at Luxor and Caesars Palace; MGM Grand Adventures would still be around to throw the city’s most beloved all-ages Halloween party; the pirate battle at Treasure Island might have continued for a few more years, with actual pirates instead of knockoff Pussycat Dolls; and maybe–just maybe–steady business would’ve saved Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton.
But it would’ve only been a temporary stay of execution. All those family attractions would be facing extinction by now…because the thing about kids is, they grow up and discover sex, drugs and festivals in the desert. They want more clubs and more bars, neither of which require a massive crew of technicians and underpaid high school kids to run. Hell, Disneyland just doubled the size of its speakeasy restaurant bar, Club33. The real money is in shooters, not flume rides. – GC
What if Bob Stupak had built his proposed Titanic-themed hotel?
We didn’t concoct this collision with bad taste. In 1999, contrary to the expectations (and hopes) of many, the Las Vegas City Council actually gave eccentric developer Bob Stupak (who died in 2009) the thumb’s up to create a $400 million, 15-story hotel on the Strip just south of Charleston Boulevard, themed to—and shaped like—the RMS Titanic.
Imagine if this had become a … thing: The Orleans? That’s now The Katrina—with its violent, wind-whipped fountain shows that put the Bellagio’s to shame, and its FEMA Poker Room, where you’re guaranteed to lose your shirt. Now in discussions: The Pearl Harbor, which is expected to become a hub for sushi restaurants, with hotel suites designed like internment camps. Oh, and that Titanic Exhibition of artifacts? The Tropicana and the Luxor both wanted it, but of course it’s at The Titanic—adjacent to the Iceberg Ballroom, where you can hear a live hip-hop performance of “Nearer My God to Thee.” – SB
What if Montecore had never bitten Roy?
With Siegfried & Roy still in the picture, Danny Gans never would have turned into the sole headliner at The Mirage. That means The Mirage wouldn’t have gone for Gans-alike Terry Fator in that spot after Gans moved to Encore. And without Fator, puppetry wouldn’t have been established as a viable headlining gig—meaning no Jeff Dunham residency. So, thanks, Montecore. Thanks for that. – JS
What if Lefty Rosenthal hadn’t pioneered sports betting in casinos?
Someone, somewhere along the way would have brought sports betting out of the independent shops and onto the casino floor. The real tragedy is that we never would have got Casino. Seriously, in what other all-time classic would Robert De Niro have starred in ’95? Cutthroat Island? Probably Cutthroat Island. – JS
What if Las Vegas Park had survived?
There’s a laundry list of reasons why a thoroughbred racetrack lasted here all of six weeks. Chief among them: The 13-day meet started on a 100-plus-degree day, September 4, 1953. Had they just moved that meet to early October, the track would have had a shot to stay operating through the racing-mad ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, keeping it in the game long enough to get in the Breeders’ Cup mix in the ’80s. Then again, Las Vegas Park’s success would’ve kept Marvin Kratter from building the Las Vegas Country Club and Kirk Kerkorian from snapping up the land for the International. Elvis: Live From the Desert Inn just sounds weird, man. – JS
What if Gorgeous George hadn’t been wrestling in Las Vegas the same week a young Cassius Clay was fighting here?
June 26, 1961. Cassius Clay takes on Duke Sabedong at the Convention Center, his first fight in Vegas. To promote the card, he goes on Channel 8, but is overshadowed by Gorgeous George, who was wrestling at the Convention Center the same week. George supposedly tells Clay he needs to sprinkle a little showbiz into his public persona.
Sure, the talent would have been undeniable regardless, but without the mouth, Muhammad Ali goes down as the Lennox Lewis of his era: unquestionably great, but forgettable. On the plus side, it never would’ve led us down a road that ends in Justin Bieber walking a champion into the ring. – JS
What if Mike Tyson hadn’t bitten off Evander Holyfield’s ear on November 9, 1996?
We all would’ve missed out on one of life’s rare, “I’ll never forget where I was when this happened” moments. Me? I was in the press room at the MGM Grand Garden Arena watching it unfold on TV (because my media seat was in the rafters). In the blink of an eye (make that the bite of an ear), the tone of my Las Vegas Review-Journal story—an atmosphere piece—changed dramatically. So, too, did the location the story appeared: from inside the sports section to the top of Page One. – MJ
What if UNLV had never hired Jerry Tarkanian?
In 1973, Las Vegans were hungry for something to call their own, and UNLV supporters would have kept searching for the right man. But there was no man more right for the job than Tark—a risk-taker with West Coast roots and a very-Vegas disregard for the establishment. UNLV would have had a winning program without Tark—there was an impressive Rebel prehistory under Rolland Todd and Ed Gregory—but it would not have risen so fast or so far. The city, meanwhile, would not have found the perfect, persecuted embodiment of its own chip on the shoulder. And without the pure prolific beauty of those mid-1970s teams—110.5 points per game in 1975-76 and 12 straight games scoring 100 or more in 1976-77—the world would never have known what a Runnin’ Rebel truly is. – Greg Blake Miller
What if UNLV hadn’t lost to Duke in the 1991 Final Four?
The 1990-91 Rebels, at 35-0, would be unequivocally regarded as one of the top 10 college basketball teams of all time—perhaps the best. But without an amicable conclusion to the feud between Tarkanian and then-UNLV President Robert Maxson—not to mention a soothing end to the NCAA’s shark hunt—we still would have seen the fall of the Rebel empire. – GBM
What if the Fertitta family hadn’t branched out beyond the locals casinos business?
Fifteen years ago, nobody would’ve bet that the Fertitta name in 2015 would be more synonymous with combat sports than locals casinos. But thanks to the mind-boggling success of the UFC, that’s exactly what has happened. Without Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta’s money and influence, it’s very likely that mixed-martial arts would’ve remained a niche sport; boxing wouldn’t be on life support; and few would’ve ever had the joy of hearing one of Dana White’s epic rants. – MJ
What if the Binion family hadn’t brought the World Series of Poker to Las Vegas from Reno in 1970?
Benny (or Jack) Binion may have been the one to first call it the World Series of Poker, but the idea started with Tom Moore up in Reno at the Holiday Hotel. Moore returned to San Antonio after the Texas Gambler’s Convention that year, opening the door for Benny. Had Moore stuck around? Pack your hoodie and shades for the Biggest Little City every July. – JS
What if Chris Moneymaker hadn’t won the WSOP in 2003?
The tournament still would have expanded with the growth of online poker and TV shows like World Poker Tour. But there is zero chance entries for the WSOP Main Event would’ve tripled from 2003 to 2004 without everyman Moneymaker winning the thing. Not only would you never have to hear another bad-beat story from someone who doesn’t know a flush from a set, but without the post-Moneymaker explosion, Harrah’s Entertainment doesn’t buy the failing Binion’s in 2004 mainly to get its hands on the WSOP brand. No more Series, no more Horseshoe and one more knife wound to Old Vegas’ tragically tattered heart. – JS
What if there was never a Mint 400?
Hunter S. Thompson, who came to Las Vegas to cover the 1971 Great American Off-Road Race for Sports Illustrated, would not have penned Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—which means the mythology of this city would only be half as huge as it is. – JPR
What if the National Finals Rodeo had never moved here?
As it was prior to 1985, the Strip and Downtown would be a dead zone between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Culturally, without the NFR’s annual descent on Las Vegas, we might have completely (and regrettably) shed our past as a cowboy town. And Ricky and the Redstreaks would’ve had to get day jobs. – JPR
What if Tiger Woods had not earned his first professional victory in Las Vegas?
On a sunny October Sunday in 1996, Woods obliterated TPC Summerlin, shooting a final-round 64 to finish 27-under par in the Las Vegas Invitational. Although Davis Love III eagled the 18th hole to force a playoff, the veteran’s approach shot on the initial playoff hole landed in the water. When he tapped in for birdie, Woods had captured the first of what is now a record 79 PGA Tour victories. Had the precocious 20-year-old not prevailed in Vegas that day, Orlando, Florida, would be the footnote in sports history—Woods won there a mere two weeks later. – MJ
What if Studio 54 never opened?
You never would’ve been able to pay $100 to watch Paris Hilton “DJ.” OK, maybe it’s a bit unfair to pin this entirely on Studio 54, but the club definitely blazed a trail for the megaclubs (both indoor and outdoor) that have followed. Inspired by New York City’s eponymous disco playhouse, MGM’s version established a set of rules for our city when nothing of its kind existed in 1998. Program director Frank Anobile, who promoted clubs back East, convinced MGM executives to let ladies in free, have celebrities host, put the DJs front-and-center and further entertain patrons with elaborate visuals. Studio 54 was also the first to introduce industry nights with the launch of EDEN (Erotically Delicious Entertainers’ Night) in 1998. Perhaps the only thing Studio 54 did that other clubs haven’t mimicked is survive for 14 years (it closed in January 2012). These days, clubs just don’t live that long. – Camille Cannon
What if Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto residency had flopped? Again, you never would’ve been able to pay $100 to watch Paris Hilton “DJ.” And the phrase “DJs are the new rock stars” never would’ve been uttered. All kidding aside, before Oakenfold ruled Rain in the Palms from 2008-2011, “headliners” were celebrities and “residents” didn’t exist. But Perfecto didn’t just offer the British producer’s face or set; it was an all-out spectacle with aerialists and themes and light shows (oh my!). Oakenfold’s consistent success proved that EDM could be a worthy investment—even amid the Great Recession. Other clubs soon took note, got competitive and started locking down big-name beat makers—which ultimately led to the six-figure-a-night deals some DJs earn today. (We’re looking at you, Calvin Harris.) – CC
What if Electric Daisy Carnival had never left Los Angeles?
Forget about the hundreds of thousands of bright-costumed millennials who have flooded our city the last four years. Forget about the hundreds of millions of dollars those millennials have pumped into our economy. And forget about the fact the three-day festival’s immense popularity helped solidify Las Vegas as an electronic-dance-music mecca. The biggest cultural impact EDC has had since relocating to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway after 13 years at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Exposition Park is this: Panties and pasties are now considered “an outfit”—and not just for three nights in June. – CC
What if Tupac had really survived after being gunned down on the Strip?
The rapper/actor probably would’ve had a new outlook on life after his near-death experience. Consider: When he finally releases a new album in 1999, the more introspective (and occasionally acoustic) Tupac receives mixed reviews. He eventually leaves the rap game to focuses on his acting career, starring in a reboot of the Blade franchise and a remake of The Great White Hope (among others), eventually earning an Oscar nomination for his role in The Frederick Douglass Story. In 2014, Tupac releases the controversial single “I Can’t Breathe,” which goes platinum, while stellar guest spots on Run the Jewels as well as D’Angelo’s Black Messiah start buzz that ’Pac may finally return to the rap game full time in 2015. – LTR
What if Nirvana had not played at the now-defunct Boulder Highway music venue Calamity Jayne’s on August 16, 1990?
Then hundreds of old-school Las Vegans wouldn’t be able to lie and say, “I saw Nirvana before they broke.” According to a source who was actually there, less than a dozen people watched Nirvana play that night; everyone else was smoking in the parking lot, waiting for headlining act Sonic Youth to take the stage. – GC
What if Richard Pryor hadn’t had a mini-meltdown at the Aladdin in 1967?
Pryor was a clean-cut comic (“I made a lot of money being Bill Cosby,” he once said) until playing it safe for middle-America Vegas crowds pushed him over the edge in the late ’60s. He stormed off stage with a cri de coeur of “What am I doing here? I’m not going to do this anymore!” When he re-emerged, the Cosby in his act was gone. Pick a modern comic—we wouldn’t have them without Pryor’s output in the ’70s. We also wouldn’t have Blazing Saddles. Don’t say stifling middle-class conformity never did anything for you. – JS
What if the Killers never blew up?
We wouldn’t be enjoying the music industry’s heightened interest in Vegas that probably helped Imagine Dragons to break big. And needless to say, our state’s tourism ads would have less star power. (An aside: One could argue that the success of Panic! at the Disco—which happened almost concurrently with the Killers’ ascent—might have been enough to generate national attention in our music scene. However, Panic’s success isn’t on the same level as the Killers, and they’ve never waved the city/state’s banner quite as high as the Killers.)
As for the Killers, I have firsthand knowledge of what life might have been like for Brandon Flowers and crew if they’d never hit: On April 24, 2004, I saw them open for *stellastarr at Seattle’s Crocodile Café. Scarcely 30 people were in the room, and only about 20 of those paid attention to the band. Their sound rig blew out halfway through their set, and they were heckled, not unkindly, by the lone Las Vegan in the audience (guilty). Even under those circumstances, though, the band behaved as if they were playing to thousands—which, only a few short months later, they were. – GC
What if the Guggenheim Las Vegas had actually worked?
Imitators all down the Strip: MoMA at Caesars! A Getty outpost at MGM. And a great big, well-funded Las Vegas Museum of Natural History across from Mandalay Bay, instead of half of a Ferris wheel. Night at the Museum indeed! – GBM
What if Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Jean-Louis Palladin hadn’t taken a chance on Las Vegas?
Puck was the first celebrity chef to roll the dice here, opening Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars in 1992. Lagasse and Palladin soon followed, eventually rewriting Las Vegas’ culinary menu and transforming us from the home of the $3 buffet to a fine-dining mecca that rivals any city on the planet. Put it this way: Without that trio’s foresight, it’s possible we’d be living in a place where Olive Garden still routinely wins the Best Italian Restaurant Award in the city’s newspaper of record. Er … never mind. – MJ
What If World War II Had Never Happened?
Atomic power. Desegregation. The Cold War. The space race.
There’s simply no way to overstate the global impact World War II had on molding the second half of the 20th century. Likewise, there’s no way to overstate how profoundly the war shaped life here in Southern Nevada—physically and culturally—more so than any other historical event outside of William Clark building a railroad through Southern Nevada.
For starters, without WWII, we would’ve seen a much smaller federal presence in this area. That means no Nellis Air Force Base and no Nevada Test Site (to say nothing of Yucca Mountain). No Basic Magnesium, either, so no Henderson. If not for the influx of military personnel in the early 1940s, our fledgling hotels on what would become the Las Vegas Strip would’ve seen much less business—and that lack of business could’ve stunted the Strip’s growth, likely altering its timeline.
What’s more, many of the thousands of GIs and government employees who passed through Las Vegas during WWII returned after 1945. Those who did carved out their life story in the Mojave, enriching the city incalculably. One prominent example: Jackie Gaughan first came to Las Vegas when he was posted to the Las Vegas Air Force Base (which later became Nellis). It is difficult to imagine Downtown Las Vegas without Jackie—and we’re not even referring to the coupon books and corny-but-effective casino promotions that he pioneered. Without Jackie Gaughan, Fremont Street in the 1950s and ’60s would have been a much less human place. And lest we forget about the Gaughan familial legacy: Jackie’s son, Michael, built the Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, Suncoast, Orleans and South Point, all while grooming his son, Michael Gaughan Jr., for a career in the family business. Needless to say, had Jackie Gaughan not become enamored of Las Vegas during his wartime duties, Downtown and locals casinos would look decidedly different.
No WWII also means Dwight Eisenhower never parlays his success as the Supreme Allied Commander into a triumphant presidential run in 1952. It was Eisenhower who put his weight behind the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act, which created the interstate system. Without the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (as the system is formally known), Interstate 15 might not exist. Instead, most of your drive to Southern California (or vice versa) would involve a slow crawl along two-lane Highway 91. Such a long, inconvenient trip to and from its biggest feeder market could’ve severely delayed—if not killed—Las Vegas as a tourism destination.
On a cultural note, you may recall that Pearl Harbor begat From Here to Eternity. How does that impact Las Vegas? Frank Sinatra starred in the movie, and he used it to resurrect his career. Without that role, Ol’ Blue Eyes remains a has-been bobby-soxer idol. Perhaps he never again becomes a popular recording artist—or a concert draw in Las Vegas. That means no Frank at the Sands, no Rat Pack, no Ocean’s 11—indeed, a Vegas without Sinatra almost seems like no Vegas at all. Sure, Dean, Sammy and Joey Bishop might’ve still played Las Vegas, but they’d never have reached their critical mass without the Chairman of the Board calling the shots. Regretfully, there’s absolutely no chance Peter Lawford sets foot on a Las Vegas stage without Frank’s say-so.
And then there’s Howard Hughes. Hughes started designing and testing aircraft for the United States’ armed forces during WWII. Without the impetus the war provided, Hughes likely would not have designed the XF-11, which means he wouldn’t have crashed the prototype in Beverly Hills in 1946. Hughes suffered extensive injuries in the accident, which reportedly led to his dependence on painkillers. The drugs might have alleviated Hughes’ pain, but they exacerbated his eccentricities. Hughes became a recluse, running his empire from darkened hotel rooms. On Thanksgiving weekend 1966, the Desert Inn on the Strip became his latest (and final) abode, and his presence there changed the course of our casino history (see Page 25 for more on Hughes).
To summarize: Had the Japanese not bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, it’s reasonable to envision a Las Vegas with less federal investment and without two figures who helped mold Downtown and the locals casino industry. It also would be a resort town without its singular B.E. (Before Elvis) showroom icon or its reclusive casino icon. And forget about Las Vegas as an atomic zoomtown or a four-hour ride (sans traffic) from Los Angeles.
Without question, Las Vegas would have been smaller and saner—and a whole lot less lovable. – DGS
What if the Hard Rock Hotel had been a colossal failure?
A modern Rat Pack of young, monied spenders would not have made Vegas their playground in the 1990s. Nightclubs would not be the massive draw (and moneymaker) they are today. (Ditto dayclubs, for which we can thank Rehab). The Cosmopolitan—the millennials’ hip answer to the HRH—probably never would’ve gotten off the drawing board. Las Vegas would still have only four good concerts a year. And the entire city might have the feel of a retirement community rather than a nonstop party. – JPR
What if the Fontainebleau had actually opened?
The answer can be found in the nearly 20 years of uninterrupted growth that preceded the day the project filed for bankruptcy in June 2009—a mere four months before it was supposed to open. It’s safe to predict a successful Fontainebleau would be just one component of a north Strip gold rush. It’s likely the Sahara would have been leveled rather than refurbished—no SLS for you, SBE—and MGM Resorts International probably would have found another use for the land that’s currently being shaped into Rock in Rio’s “City of Rock.” – GC
What if Celine never came to town?
Then Shania never would’ve come to town. Britney never would’ve come to town. Reba never would’ve come to town. Mariah never would’ve come to town. Diana never would’ve come to town. J.Lo. never would’ve come to town. Katy Perry never would’ve come to town. Ariana Grande never would’ve come to town. Blue Ivy never would’ve come to town … – LTR
What if Yucca Mountain had been accepting nuclear waste for the past 10 years?
Imagine NV Energy bankrupt and Warren Buffett not interested in it because we didn’t need lights; we could just glow in the dark. There also might be fewer residents and tourists to share the bounty of all of the promised federal funding that we never would’ve gotten. – MG
What if the Great Recession had hit in 1998 instead of 2008?
The Stardust would probably still be standing, as would the Frontier and possibly the Desert Inn. But that’s it for the good news. The suburbs would be at least a third smaller; dozens of properties, including City Center, the Cosmopolitan, Wynn/Encore, Town Square and Downtown Summerlin—to name just a few—wouldn’t have been built; the revival of Downtown Las Vegas might never have gained traction; and the Las Vegas Monorail would be a half-finished ruin, like the Fontainebleau. (Oh yeah, the closed El Rancho—from whose ashes the Fontainebleau sprouted—would still be there, too.) People leaving town by the thousands, the dead rising from the grave, dogs and cats living together … you know the drill. And even if we had managed to dig ourselves out of the hole in a few short years, the events of September 11, 2001, would’ve been waiting just around the corner to sap away our momentum. The moral of this story: No matter how bad things look now, they could always be much worse. – GC
What if “What Happens Here Stays Here” had been “Always Turned On”?
The hashtag would have been shorter—and so would have the advertising campaign. – JPR
What if Vegas Seven had never been born?
We would’ve never had a reason to sit around and brainstorm this fun cover story … and the more than 250 that preceded it. – MJ
David G. Schwartz talks about our fifth anniversary issue on 97.1 the point. Listen to the broadcast below.