The Top 12 Most Crazy Las Vegas Casino Stories
The world’s most famous gambling city of Las Vegas is full of amazing casino tales and stories. Whether it is a story about one of the extravagant modern casinos, of the old Las Vegas when Elvis Presley was still performing live, or about one of the many great casino winnings and crushing losses, the city is full of unique tales. In this list we collected the 12 most unique Las Vegas facts and stories for you. Even if you are a high roller or a frequent Vegas visitor we are sure that some of these stories will amaze you!
1. A light beam of a Las Vegas casino is so bright that it created its entirely own ecosystem
Casinos in Las Vegas try everything in their power to make their establishment stand out. They are often designed in such a grand and preposterous way that even passersby feel the need to have a peek inside, which is of course something which each casino tries to achieve! The best known Vegas casinos are probably the Venetian with its mock-up channels and gondolas just like you would find in Venice, Italy, and the New York-New York Casino. The latter even replicated the Big Apple’s skyline and included a real roller coaster in the casino design. No matter how crazy it is, you can be sure to find it back in Vegas.
Luxor Resort and Casino
Another well-known Vegas casino with its own unique theme and brand is the Luxor Hotel and Casino. The name of this casino hints at the city of Luxor in Egypt, which is known for its beautiful ancient Egyptian temple complex. You almost feel like a real pharaoh when you first set foot in the big pyramid of the Luxor Casino. From the top of this pyramid a huge light beam is cast into the sky. At 42.3cd (Candela) this is the most powerful light beam on Earth! On a bright night you can even see it from an aeroplane flying some 275 miles away.
What not so many people know is that this light beam created its own ecosystem in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. Many insects, among which mosquitoes, moths but also owls and bats, are attracted to this bright environment and can be frequently found near the top of the Luxor pyramid. This was something which even the persons behind the idea of the light beam perhaps never realised when they first came up with their plan!
2. A famous billionaire once bought a casino because he could not stand its bright neon lights
Howard Hughes is one of America’s most famous entrepreneurs. Hughes managed to gather a small fortune in the early 20th Century as his businesses in aviation as well as in the Hollywood film industry proved to be successful. Hughes himself was a highly eccentric figure who lived quite an extraordinary life. He even took control of new plane types all by himself to set new world speed records.
In 1966, when Hughes was 61 years old and had already gathered his fortune in the years prior to World War II, he arrived in Las Vegas where he moved into the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino. He soon got into a conflict with its owner. When Hughes was told by the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino management to vacate his room, he just decided on the spot to buy the entire hotel so he could do as he please. He turned the eight floor into his office from where he would control his business empire. The ninth floor was turned into Hughes’ private and exclusive penthouse.
Hughes ended up buying many Vegas casinos such as the New Frontier, Castaways, the Landmark Hotel and Casino and also the famous Sands Casino. It is lesser known that Hughes also acquired a small casino named ‘The Silver Slipper’. Hughes did not buy this casino because he saw it as a good business investment. In fact, there was a rather peculiar reason behind his new acquisition.
The real reason behind the investment was that Hughes’ penthouse bedroom was located directly opposite the street from a huge neon light of a slipper which the casino used as a marketing prop to lure in customers. The eccentric billionaire however thought it was rather tacky and was annoyed by the bright light which shined into his bedroom. At first Hughes simply tried to ask the casino management if they would be so kind to remove the neon sign. When the owner refused, Hughes concluded that he had no other choice than to buy the casino. Just for the sake of removing the neon light and getting a good night of sleep! After an illustrious career, Hughes passed away in 1976 in Houston, Texas, leaving not only a vast business empire behind but also some remarkable Vegas tales which will not easily be forgotten.
3. The MGM Grand Casino had its worst ever week during a natural sciences conference
Casino rule number one is that you should never forget that in the end the house will always win on the long term. The house advantage can differ wildly between casino games. The house edge is relatively big in games such as roulette and slots, and relatively small at blackjack if you play according to some set rules and not follow blind intuition. The big winners in casinos are mostly some businessmen and investors behind the actual casinos, although there are also plenty of individual gamblers who managed to win the jackpot on a slot machine or win big playing a table game thanks to their superior tactics, skill or luck.
It is however not always smooth sailing for the house. Just like players, also the casino can have a bad losing streak! This was exactly what happened in 1986 when the American association of natural scientists decided to head for Vegas for its yearly conference. The club selected the MGM Grand as the venue for the conference. When the conference week was finished, the MGM Grand management was so unhappy about it that they politely told the conference organisers never to come back to their casino and that it would even be best if they would stay out of Vegas entirely.
So what did happen during that conference week? Apart from the serious conference programme full of lectures and meet-ups, many scientists of course decided to wage a gamble in their spare time. The hundreds of natural scientists were so well-versed in mathematics and had such brilliant memories that they exactly knew what the best way is to play poker and blackjack. For example, many scientists were well-versed in card counting and used it to their advantage in blackjack.
Worst house results
Thanks to their scientific techniques they managed to win so much money that it turned out to be the worst ever weekly performance for the MGM Grand. It is unclear what the exact numbers are and if we are simply talking about a decrease in profits or even a net loss for the casino – as the casino management did not want to comment on the exact numbers. It is however well-known among Vegas insiders that many scientists went home with sums as high as several tens of thousands of dollars.
4. A Las Vegas casino once drained all the water from its pool after an Afro-American celebrity took a dip
Many of you will be familiar with the at times controversial history of the United States. Of course, much of the history of the United States is dotted with success stories and highlights of great importance to the wider world. The country is however also known for some dark chapters in world history. One of these chapters of course is America’s controversial past when it comes to racial policies.
Slavery is a dark and difficult chapter in the history of the United States – it even led to a civil war which was partly fought because of disagreements over abolishment. In the end President Lincoln and the Republic managed to beat the Confederacy and slavery was abolished throughout the entire US. That was however not the end of racial inequality. In the years which would follow there was still a lot of racism in the US as different races all lived segregated. Only when the Civil Rights Acts was introduced in 1964 did some downright racist laws and practices come to an end, such as Afro-Americans being forced to sit in the back of the bus or being forbidden to frequent white establishments such as hairdressers or bars.
Unfortunately these kind of racist practices were not only common in the deep south but also in the gambling city of Las Vegas. There are plenty of bizarre stories which were perfectly normal in the 1950s which we look back on now with shame. In the 1950s tourism to Vegas was booming, with many white tourists staying in such hotels as the Desert Inn, Sands, Flamingo and the Sahara. Blacks were however not allowed inside these casinos and were confined to a 3.5 square mile area called the Westside. They were not allowed to just enter the premises of a casino or hotel as customer, but were allowed to work inside these businesses. A well-paid and reputable job like casino manager was however completely out of reach for an Afro-American citizen. At the time, casino management saw “negroes” as Afro-American were referred to as cheap labour, to be primarily used as cooks, cleaners or porters.
The only Afro-Americans who had it a bit better were the entertainers who performed in Vegas. Some famous names in US music history such as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald did frequently perform in Las Vegas. But even they were not allowed to set foot through the main entrance of casinos and were brought inside through a back door. After their gigs they were not allowed to stay on the casino and hotel premises and were immediately brought back to cheap hotels in Westside Las Vegas.
Sammy Davis Jr.
An old inhabitant of Westside once told that the racism in that age was so bad that when a black person would fit some clothes in a store which was actually only meant for whites, that you were forced to buy it as otherwise the owner would claim that the clothes did become unsalable as they were “stained by a negroe”. When the famous singer Sammy Davis Jr. once secretly took a dive in a casino swimming pool which was actually meant for whites only, something similar happened. When the casino manager found out about it, he had apparently no other choice than to drain the entire swimming pool, clean it thoroughly, and put in fresh water.
There was one famous exception to the rule. Casino owner and infamous mafia boss Bugsy Siegel was such a fan of singer Lena Horne that she was allowed to stay as long as she wanted in the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Something which would normally have been impossible for any other black person. She was however still not allowed to enter the public spaces of the hotel such as one of the restaurants. Shockingly, when Horne checked out the casino management did burn all bed linen and towel which Horne had used as they became “unclean”.
The only casino at the time which was fully interracial was the Moulin Rouge, which opened its doors in 1955 and did welcome both white Americans as well as Afro-Americans and Hispanics. The casino was unfortunately forced to close its doors after only four months. It did however slowly start a movement towards a change in racial attitudes. Nowadays, it is almost unthinkable that a casino would discriminate against people of different races or ethnicity. Even though racism does unfortunately still exist at some levels in society, laws as well as public opinion are fully on the side of a racially harmonious society in which people of all races are equally welcome.
5. One of the most legendary bets in Vegas history is the so-called 'two suitcase bet'
One of the most legendary gamblers in Las Vegas history is William Lee Bergstrom, who is also known under the nicknames ‘The Suitcase Man’ and ‘The Phantom Gambler’. It is Bergstrom who is behind one of the most legendary Vegas bets ever – which coincidentally is also the story behind his nickname.
On 24th September 1980, Bergstrom arrived at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas with two suitcases. One was filled to the brim with 770,000 dollar and the other one was completely empty. Casino owner Benny Binion had the reputation that he had the policy of accepting every bet from a first-time visitor to his casino. As Bergtrom never played at Binion’s before, he was allowed to wage all his money on a game of dice.
A single dice throw
In one throw, Bergstrom managed to double his 770,000 dollar bet – an amount of money which would nowadays be worth 3 million dollar when taking inflation into account. Binion was good sport and even did help Bergstrom pack his 770,000 dollar gambling profit into his empty suitcase! According to Binion’s own account Bergstrom had actually borrowed most of the money of his initial wager and planned to commit suicide if he would have lost the bet. Bergstrom however won and decided that it was still worth living. With his profit, he embarked on a long holiday.
Return to Vegas
Nobody did hear anything of Bergstrom for the next four years until he suddenly surfaced again in Vegas. He again waged an enormous amount of money (538,000 dollar). Again, Bergstrom managed to win the bet. The same evening he took his mother to a Willie Nelson show to celebrate the win and afterwards again decided to bet another 117,000 dollar on three more games of dice. Several months later Bergstrom returned again, this time betting a million dollar. Unfortunately for him, it went all wrong. The high-stakes gambler waged all his money on a Don’t Pass Bet with craps but lost after the shooter threw a winning seven.
Bergstrom committed suicide almost a year after that stunning loss by taking an overdose of pills at the age of 33. Bergstrom’s family said that gambling was however not the reason behind his suicide a Bergstrom reportedly still had sufficient funds on his bank account. According to his family, the most likely reason behind Bergstrom’s suicide was his struggle with his own sexuality, as the famous gambler was a closeted gay. They said that when Bergstrom’s secret relationship with a man 10 years his junior ended, he never really managed to overcome the loss.
6. Most casinos in Las Vegas are actually located outside of the city's boundaries
The city of Las Vegas is sprawling. It is estimated that currently some 650,000 reside in the world’s best known gambling city. Especially the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip – a part of the famous South Las Vegas Boulevard – are known across the entire world. These are casinos such as the Bellagio, Venetian, MGM Grand, Luxor and several other beautifully designed casinos. But did you know that the Strip is actually not located in Las Vegas proper?
The Strip is actually located in the city of Paradise, which is home to 231,858 people. Of course, the city of Paradise in itself is part of the agglomeration of Las Vegas and due to the urban sprawl it is indistinguishable as a separate city. Officially, Paradise is an unincorporated town and census-designated place (CDP) adjacent to Las Vegas. Even though officially Paradise is a separate entity, all casino and other business and residential addresses do use the Las Vegas city name in their postal code.
Besides all the Las Vegas Strip casinos, also McCarran International Airport and the giant campus of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas are actually located in the city of Paradise and not in Vegas proper.
7. Downtown Las Vegas is not the famous Strip but good old Fremont Street
After reading the above fact you might ask yourself what is then the heart of the city of Las Vegas if it isn’t the famous Las Vegas strip? Most people consider the area around Fremont Street as the true city centre of Las Vegas and that you cannot get more downtown than standing on this famous street itself. The first casinos in Vegas were built on Fremont Street and this is what the real heart of the casino industry was before the modern mega resorts opened their doors on the Strip.
Even though these days the casinos on the Strip such as the Venetian, MGM Grand and Bellagio are arguably better known across the world, some of the old casinos on Fremont Street still have stellar names which you surely know as a gambler. Think for example about the Golden Nugget, The Mint, Eldorado Club, Pioneer Club, Binion’s Horseshoe, Fremont Hotel and Casino and the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, which are all located on Fremont Street.
Fremont Street Experience
If you would travel to Las Vegas now you will find that there is also some modern city development on Fremont Street. The best known example is the Fremont Street Experience, which basically occupies the five most western blocks of Fremont Street and includes some adjacent streets such as the area which is known as the ‘Glitter Gulch’. The Fremont Street Experience is basically some kind of giant, covered light show. If you one day walk on Fremont Street, do not forget to look up to see all the cool lights above you over the street. Las Vegas is so much more than the Strip alone, so do try to include Fremont Street as well on your visit!
8. A Las Vegas casino once had the simplest phone number in the world
Las Vegas is known for its unique hotels and casinos. Both the old, famous casinos from the Vegas of yesteryear which have since been closed as the modern skyscrapers of now have always been popular with visiting guests. Whether you talk about the casinos from the 1950s such as the Desert Inn, Flamingo, Sahara and Sands where even Elvis might have walked once, or perhaps the modern casinos such as the MGM Grand and the Venetian, Las Vegas will always remain an imposing city with thousands of stories hiding behind every building.
Not only the big name casinos have a fabulous history to look back at. Also some smaller and relatively unknown casinos often have an interesting history and frequently feature in the thousands of anecdotes and stories which play such an important part in Las Vegas lore. One of these casinos is the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, which in the old days was still called the Hotel Nevada, opened its doors in 1906 on Fremont Street. Back in the days Fremont Street was the beating heart of Las Vegas. It is thus not a big surprise that he owners of the hotel decided to open shop on this particular street. The owner of the hotel and casino was a man named John F. Miller, who paid just 1,750 dollar for the ground on which he erected the building. Even when you would convert the amount into nowadays prices taking into account inflation it would still be quite a steal!
First phone connection
Miller wanted his hotel to be the most modern one in the city and was one of the first to construct an electricity network in his hotel. He also made sure his hotel was connected to the city’s phone network. As his hotel was the first in the city of Las Vegas with a working phone, Miller’s establishment received the coveted number one as phone number. If someone else in the city would just dial the number ‘1’, they were automatically connected to the reception desk of Hotel Nevada.
The Nevada Hotel did change its name numerous time in its glorious history. In 1909 gambling was banned in Nevada, after which Miller decided to disband all gambling activities and just focus on the hotel part only. When in 1931 gambling was allowed again, the casino was renamed for the first time, getting the name ‘Sal Sagev’, which basically is ‘Las Vegas’ spelled backwards.
In 1955 the hotel got into ownership of some Italian-American entrepreneurs from Oakland. They decided to rename the hotel again, this time to the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino as a reminder of the San Francisco Bay and its famous bridge from their original home state of California. They also used a drawing of the bridge as official casino logo. The casino however got famous in town for something rather unusual. The Golden Gate’s prawn cocktail somehow ended up being one of the most famed delicacies in all of Vegas. Even though the snack costed only 50 dollar cents back in those days, it is still quite a steal at 4 dollars if you would make your way to the casino right now! The casino and hotel is still going strong. With 106 rooms, it is the smallest hotel which is part of the Fremont Street Experience.
9. A part of the Berlin Wall can be found back in Las Vegas
We all know the Berlin Wall, the infamous barrier which was erected in 1961 between free Western Berlin and communist East Berlin. The wall was part of the Iron Curtain, a network of barriers which separated communist Eastern Europe from the capitalist Western block. Where other walls in world history such as the Great Wall of China and the Israel border fence were meant to keep enemies out, the Berlin Wall was rather unique as its main purpose was to keep citizens inside and to prevent them crossing over to the free Western world. In the 1980s the United States pressured the Soviet Union to dismantle the wall. Who doesn’t know the famous words of Ronald Reagan which he proclaimed in Berlin in 1987: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Fall of the wall
As we all know, the wall eventually fell in 1989 when it was overrun by thousands of East German citizens who indeed tore down the wall and crossed over to their compatriots in the free west. Later on, the wall was dismantled piece by piece. The authorities however left a small piece of the wall in Berlin intact to remind the people of the evils of communism and the dark history of the Cold War. It is still a famous tourist attraction in the German capital which is visited by thousands of tourists each year.
When the wall fell, thousands of people managed to grab a piece of it as a souvenir. These are mostly Berlin citizens who tore down the hated wall themselves, although some pieces also fell in the hands of some collectors across the world. A large piece of the wall was even bought by a Las Vegas casino!
Main Street Station
This casino was the Main Street Station Hotel and Casino and Brewery. The portion of the wall which the casino bought is being shown in the men’s restrooms. The casino does have some more unusual gimmicks inside the house. It also showcases the facade of the Royal Bank of Kuwait and chandeliers from the Coca Cola headquarters. If you want to see all those special attractions and are interested in the quirky history of the Main Street Casino, you can take a guided tour to learn more about every aspect of the hotel and casino.
10. Female casino employees in Vegas are forced to wear make-up and polish their nails
Everyone who has once visited Las Vegas is probably known with the dressing code inside the casinos. Monaco it is certainly not as you really do not need to wear a tuxedo just like James Bond. Most people, whether they are ordinary tourists or high-rollers, just dress casual. Even some shorts and a t-shirt will be sufficient to take place behind a table in one of the many casinos, although some high stakes tables in the more upmarket establishments might have a more strict dress code.
Informal dressing code
Besides that you probably do not have to worry about the way how you are dressed. The United States never had the same class societies which you can find in Europe. Historically, the atmosphere in American bars and casinos has always been much more informal than England or France. Of course, also the climate plays a role. The warm desert temperatures of Nevada are not exactly a great match for a full suit and bow tie as summer temperatures easily hit 40 degrees Celsius and higher. Thank God for air conditioning!
While gamblers can pretty much dress as they like, there are much stricter dress codes for casino employees. Just look at the dealer or croupier behind your playing table. Irrespective of the casino in which you are playing, they are all likely dressed formally, wearing some uniform or other casino outfit. The same counts for waitresses and barkeepers, although their uniforms are of course likely to be different.
Female casino workers
Female employees are worse off than men in casino as they have to go through a whole set of extra requirements. They often have to wear more revealing clothes in order to attract male customers. Women working in casinos are also forced to wear make-up and to put on some beautiful nail polish. Not complying to these dressing codes can result in being fired instantly.
The female employees at Harrah’s Casino were so fed up with these discrepancies between men and women workers that they filed a lawsuit in Vegas against the casino bosses. Besides the nail-polishing and make-up requirements, they didn’t like that their hear had to be “curly or styled” at all times, while their male colleagues did not have such requirements at all. According to the Harrah’s waitresses and barkeeps, this was akin to sexual discrimination.
The case ended up in front of the 9th Circuit, which ruled in favour of Harrah’s, saying that the casino has the right to make such strict demands to its female personnel. According to the judge, the casino’s requirements were akin to “the usual standards of looking the best way possible”. The ruling said that it was of the best interest of the casino for its employees to be representative. As women happen to have a different physique than men and wear different clothes, the casino was fully in its rights to demand different clothing requirements as long as the rules do not cause unequal burdens.
The judge ruled that this was not the case at Harrah’s as also the male employees were forced to dress and look at their best way possible. The casino bosses were thus justified to fire employees who would not dress according to the casino rules. If you would ever visit Harrah’s in Las Vegas, you will therefore still see all female employees in full make-up wearing their traditional casino uniforms!
11. The casino name of Mandalay Bay is factually incorrect
The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is one of the largest hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. The Mandalay Bay, which is shaped in the form of the letter Y, actually exists out of multiple hotels. One tower is marketed as the Delano Hotel, while the Mandalay Bay tower itself has four floors which are operated by the Four Seasons hotel chain. There is also a large conference centre of 190,000 square metres and casino floors totaling 12,500 square metres. Of course, the Mandalay Bay resort also has its own event centre where sports events and concerts can be held in front of 12,000 spectators. Mandalay Bay is connected to the nearby sister hotels Excalibur and Luxor by a special monorail.
Mandalay Bay has a tropical theme, which is something which you might have expected when hearing the name. Maybe you know the name from the Robbie Williams song titled ‘Road to Mandalay’. What not many people know is that Mandalay is actually a city in the Asian country of Burma, which is nowadays officially known under the name of Myanmar. The city of Mandalay is actually well-known to the British people as it was once an important colonial city in the old British Empire. One of Britain’s most important writers and poets, Rudyard Kipling, once wrote a beautiful poem titled ‘Mandalay’ about the town. The poem tells the tale of a British soldier from London who got homesick for Burma after falling in love with a local Mandalay girl.
When hearing the name ‘Mandalay Bay’ you expect the ancient Burmese city to be located on the seaside. This is however not the case at all. In fact, the actual city of Mandalay is about as centrally located in Burma and as far away from any ocean or sea as possible. The casino name of Mandalay Bay is therefore completely made up by the owners of the resort, who only selected the name because it invokes an exotic, tropical and faraway destination. Even though there is no sea in the real town of Mandalay, those who visit the Mandalay Bay casino can of course enjoy the large swimming pool complex of the resort!
12. Most Las Vegas casino chips have the same colours no matter in which casino you play
As avid gamblers we are all familiar with casino chips (also known as casino tokens). These brightly coloured chips basically replace cash money on the casino tables. Before you put down a wager on one of the casino tables, you will first have to exchange money to some tokens at a cashier or with the dealer or croupier himself. The use of chips makes betting – as well as the entire gameplay – go a lot faster. Bets can be collected much quicker, and winnings are equally paid out faster. This of course benefits the casino, as the more games they can play within an hour, the more they profit given the old rule that the “house always wins in the end”.
Casino chips can differ a lot from each other. Even though they will generally be of a similar size, they are coloured differently with each colour depicting a different value. All casino chips will have the logo of the casino imprinted. This way, the tokens are only valid inside the casino walls and have zero value outside of it. You cannot use the chips of the Venetian on the tables of the MGM Grand! Nowadays, the bulk of the casino tokens even have an in-built chip, which allows the casino to read all of them and sometimes to even pinpoint their location. Needless to say, these are extremely effective measurements against thieves and forgers.
Las Vegas code
Even though casino tokens are all different, there are still many similarities. In the American casino state of Nevada, which is famous for its legalisation of gambling and the casino cities of Reno and Las Vegas, there is even a standard for casino chips. This standard mostly determines the colours which casinos can use – and most casinos do follow the official state rules. No matter in which Nevada casino you will play, you will find that most 1 dollar tokens are coloured blue. Those which are worth five dollars usually have the colour red. Green marks a 25 dollar token, while black chips are worth 100 dollars each. The colours for 500, 1,000 and 10,000 dollar chips vary from casino to casino, although most commonly 500 dollar chips are coloured purple and 10,000 chips are coloured orange.
Fancy a bet?
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