Las Vegas Entertainment

Entertainment was initially introduced at Las Vegas casinos as a lure to attract more and more punters to the new establishments on the ‘Strip’, but seventy years on, the entertainment itself has become one of the biggest attractions for visitors to Sin city.

The Hollywood Connection

As early as 1941 the El Rancho Vegas Hotel, one of the original casinos on the ‘Strip’, offered continuous entertainment to guests as an added attraction to the gambling. The bosses of the time recognised that they had to have a unique offering to lure the punters away from the more established, and exciting, Fremont Street area in downtown Las Vegas.

Possibly one of the unsung heroes of the growth of entertainment in Las Vegas was the notorious Bugsy Siegel. He was a known playboy of Hollywood, and had very close connections to many of the celebrities of the early movie industry. He was also a member of the Mob, and had access to rich entertainment budgets which were used to attract the likes of Clark Gable, Lana Turner and Cesar Romero to the opening of his hotel, The Flamingo.

The 1950’s and the advent of ‘Showgirls’

Celebrities were not enough, however, to keep the gamblers pouring in to the growing number of casinos on the ‘Strip’, and leggy showgirls with ridiculously large headdresses became the icon of Las Vegas in the 50’s. They did not replace the celebrity artists, but opened and closed for the headliners.

One man cornered the market – Jack Entratter of ‘The Sands’. He too had a lavish entertainment budget, and began knocking out all the other competition on the Strip.

Topless Revues

The competition would not roll over, and a sure fire way to get the crowds in, is to offer a little bit of nudity, and Harold Minsky did just that. He introduced the first topless showgirls, known as the ‘Minsky Follies’, and soon every other casino on the Strip was showcasing topless revues. Casino bosses even went as far as importing the original cast of The Lido de Paris and Folies Bergere in an effort to remain supremely competitive, with unprecedented success – the Lido de Paris ran for 31 years!

The Rat Pack

The 1950’s saw an explosion of growth of the Las Vegas Strip, and the huge excesses and successes attracted the very best entertainers from Hollywood. It became the era of the Rat Pack and Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Ronald Reagan, Nat King Cole and Judy Garland entertained in Las Vegas on a regular basis.

The Effect of the Mafia

The late 60’s and 70’s saw Las Vegas getting a huge amount of bad press – the Mob and organised crime had a stranglehold over the casinos on the Strip, and public interest soon began to wane – the boom was over. Entertainment became decidedly tacky, and Las Vegas became known as a venue for has-beens.

Elvis

One such entertainer was Elvis Presley – his film career was flagging and he had not performed publicly for over a decade. Kirk Kerkorian took a calculated risk and asked Elvis to perform exclusively for his casino-hotel, The International.

Elvis opened in July 1969 in his tight, white sequined jump suit, and the rest is history. He is reported to have been paid $125 00 per week, and Kerkorian had an unbelievable $2 million return in his first month! Entertainment now overshadowed the gambling for the first time in the history of Las Vegas, and the trend continues today.