Many cities converse in hyper-local language, and in Las Vegas, that includes terms like “my Friday” (any day but Friday) and “used homes” (ugh), as well as the Vegas-specific “local” or “neighborhood” casino.
There are really two terms at use here. “Neighborhood casino” sprung up in the 1990s, after a period of growth whose result was a metro population roughly the same as San Francisco in an area about 10 times as large. Previously, when our city was much smaller, some tourist-corridor casinos appealed to locals with quirky, personality-driven TV ads (G.L Vitto’s “great boo-fay” for the Strip’s original Castaways location) and promotional contests (Downtown’s El Cortez and its legendary Social Security number “lottery”).
Those casino owners recognized the value of appealing to a captive local audience, especially at a time when residents were more likely to both gamble and take advantage of the food bargains casinos offered. Those locals also frequented casinos outside the tourist corridors: Prime Rib dinners at the Railroad Pass (1931) and Henderson’s Eldorado (1961) felt like an escape to a distant (albeit familiar) locale, and a Sunday afternoon at the Showboat (opened in 1954 where Fremont Street turns into Boulder Highway) for a round of bowling and strawberry shortcake was always a treat.
But while residents frequented these spots, they were not truly “locals casinos.” For that, credit goes to Frank Fertitta Jr. who in 1976 opened The Casino at the corner of Sahara Avenue and Rancho Drive. The next year, Fertitta added bingo, changed the joint’s name to Bingo Palace, and— taking cues from El Cortez, Castaways and many others—actively courted local players with gambler giveaways, big contests, inexpensive food and easy access. Fertitta saw that as the city grew, its tourist corridors became less hospitable to locals, taking away many of the perks of living here.
While others scoffed, Sam Boyd must have recognized the potential in what Fertitta was doing; he opened locals fave Sam’s Town on Boulder Highway in 1979. In 1984, Fertitta remodeled Bingo Palace with railroad theming, rechristening it as (drum roll, please) Palace Station. And in 1993, Fertitta followed Boyd to Boulder Highway, purchasing the land to build Boulder Station, which opened in 1994, setting into motion an expansion that would become a billion dollar casino company focusing entirely on a genre it created.