Looking at how the Las Vegas Strip has evolved over the past 60 years can give us an idea of where it is headed. We’ll survey what’s popular in three facets—gambling, entertainment and nightlife—by decade to give us a feel for how the landscape will continue to transform over the next 10 years.
Odds are you’ll be playing craps. Casinos also offer roulette, blackjack and Wheel of Fortune, but craps is the most popular game. By 2017’s standards, casinos in the ’50s are pretty small—less than a dozen table games and a hundred or so slot machines, which are strictly mechanical with flashing lights. The Jennings Chief, one of the most popular slots of the time, boasted a top jackpot of $5. So, if you want anything close to a pulse-pounding gambling experience, you are definitely headed to the tables. You won’t be betting on sports or horses, thanks to a 1952 federal excise tax that pushed casinos out of that business.
You’ll probably be watching a revue show with a major headliner. Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn presented a typical revue in late October: Johnnie Ray moving a million hearts, not in mono but live in person, alternating with Joe Maize & His Cordsmen (“A rollicking routine of pantomime, music and comedy”), the Wazzan Troupe (“presenting an intricate and daring display of real Arabian acrobatics”) and the Cordolins, three violins and one accordion, all backed by Carlton Hayes & His Orchestra. You might also catch an adaptation of a Broadway play, such as Damn Yankees, which ran at Riviera.
Most casinos run two shows nightly at 8 p.m. and midnight.
Mostly you’ll be gambling for fun, but if you need some downtime, you might catch a lounge act. You can hit Sands for Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five in the Copa Room or Louis Bellson at Flamingo’s showroom. The Desert Inn had two lounges, the Lady Luck and the one in Sky Room—a casino about a 10th the size of today’s resorts had three live music venues running nightly.