El Rancho Vegas: First Casino on the Las Vegas Strip

El Rancho Vegas holds historical significance as it was the first hotel and casino on what would later become the Las Vegas Strip.

Although El Rancho Vegas was the first casino on the Las Vegas Strip, it wasn’t the first casino in Las Vegas. That distinction went to the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino which opened on Freemont Street in 1906.

El Rancho Vegas can be traced back to the vision and initiative of Thomas Hull, a California hotelier. Hull had the idea of establishing a hotel-casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, inspired by the success of similar ventures in other parts of the country.

Here’s a brief overview of its history:

Opening (1941):

Thomas Hull had experience in the hotel industry in California. Recognizing the potential for growth in the emerging casino and entertainment industry, Hull decided to invest in a hotel-casino venture in Las Vegas. His vision was to create a destination that combined gambling, entertainment, and hospitality.

Hull chose a location on what is now the famous Las Vegas Strip, then a less developed area outside the city center. The decision to establish El Rancho Vegas in this location was strategic, as it allowed for more space and the potential for future expansion.

El Rancho Vegas in Las Vegas, NV in the 1940s

One distinctive aspect of El Rancho Vegas was its Western theme. Hull aimed to capture the spirit of the Old West, and the resort’s architecture and design reflected this theme. The Western motif, including a ranch-style exterior, contributed to the unique character of El Rancho Vegas.

El Rancho Vegas offered a casino with popular gambling activities of the time, and it also featured live entertainment. The combination of gambling and entertainment became a successful formula that later developments on the Strip would adopt.

El Rancho Vegas opened its doors on April 3, 1941, and it was situated on what is now the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue.

It was a 63-cabin resort with a small casino, a large pool and a neon-lit windmill above the main entrance of the 57-acre property. The casino was small but included roulette, blackjack, craps and seventy slot machines.

El Rancho Vegas was successful in attracting visitors, and it played a role in establishing Las Vegas as a destination for entertainment and gambling.

The success of El Rancho Vegas inspired the development of more hotels and casinos along what would later become the famous Las Vegas Strip.

Destruction by Fire (1960):

Unfortunately, the original El Rancho Vegas faced a tragic end. A fire broke out on June 17, 1960, destroying the resort. The exact cause of the fire is not definitively known.

The fire rapidly spread throughout the entire structure of El Rancho Vegas. The wooden construction of the building, common for that era, contributed to the quick and extensive spread of the flames.

Despite efforts by firefighters to control the blaze, the fire proved to be too intense, and El Rancho Vegas was ultimately consumed by the flames. The entire resort, including the hotel, casino, and entertainment facilities, was lost in the fire.

Fortunately, there were no reported fatalities resulting from the fire. The evacuation procedures were successful in ensuring the safety of guests and staff. However, the loss of the resort was a significant event in the history of Las Vegas.

The fire marked the end of an era for the original El Rancho Vegas, but its historical significance persisted in the memory of Las Vegas and its role as a pioneering establishment on the Strip.

Despite its destruction, El Rancho Vegas is remembered as a pioneer in the development of the Las Vegas Strip. Its success paved the way for the growth of the city as an entertainment and gambling destination.

The loss of El Rancho Vegas was a turning point in the history of the Las Vegas Strip, prompting the development of new resorts and contributing to the evolution of the city’s entertainment and hospitality industry.

The El Rancho Vegas property remained vacant for several decades despite numerous attempts from perspective buyers to purchase and develop the property.

In 2015, MGM opened its Festival Grounds, an open air venue for music festivals, on the property and later sold the property to Phil Ruffin in 2019 who continues to operate it as an open air venue.

Sources:
“El Rancho – First on the Las Vegas Strip in 1941.” Nevada Gaming History, nevadagaminghistory.com/2016/12/05/el-rancho-first-on-the-las-vegas-strip-in-1941/
“El Rancho Vegas.” Nevada Public Radio, 28 Dec. 2016, knpr.org/show/nevada-yesterdays/2016-12-28/el-rancho-vegas

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