LAS VEGAS - The city of Las Vegas and the surrounding area is a sprawling Mecca of entertainment that offers everything from night life, gaming, world-class shows and 24-hour-a-day excitement.
While old-school Vegas fun can be found almost anywhere in Clark County, Nevada, there's no place in the world that compares to the famous Las Vegas Strip, located just outside city limits. The city of lights is still hopping downtown, but those who strategically stay in the middle of all the action tend to keep their sites on the heart of the Strip along Las Vegas Boulevard.
This 4.2-mile stretch of road is home to dozens of the biggest and most extravagant hotels and casinos in the world. It wasn't always this way, however. In fact, Las Vegas saw its first casino open in 1931, and the first casino on what is now the Strip - El Rancho Vegas - was a 63-room establishment that opened 70 years ago on April 3, 1941.
A replica of the Statue of Liberty beckons tourists on The Strip in Las Vegas.
Everything else was pretty much just barren desert at that time, but with money to be made in the gambling industry, everyone from business entrepreneurs to gangsters saw the chance to tap into this huge opportunity.
The Las Vegas strip that became famous in the days of the "Rat Pack" crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as a famous comeback stint by "The King" Elvis Presley, hit its heyday in the 1960s. But nearly all those famous landmarks of this era like The Dunes, The Sands, Stardust and Desert Inn have all been demolished to make room for the newer, mega-resort complexes that dot the Strip today.
Over the past couple of decades, much of the Las Vegas Strip of old has been transformed. Today, 19 of the world's 25 biggest hotels sit along the area of the Strip.
These mega complexes not only boast stunning architecture, huge casinos and thousands of rooms and luxury suites, they also include features such as massive shopping malls, dozens of restaurants, roller coasters, and eye-popping signature attractions, all on the same property.
In the heart of the Strip - right around one of the last standing landmark resort, the Flamingo - one can find the famous dancing fountains outside the Bellagio, the Grand Canals of the Venetian, the Eiffel Tower replica at Paris, and plenty of sites that are amazing during the day and simply jaw-dropping at night.
A seemingly endless array of multi-billion dollar resorts now commands the landscape of the Las Vegas Strip, from the southern part of the Strip at Mandalay Bay and the Luxor (which has a light atop its pyramid that can apparently be seen from space) to the northern most end of the Strip where you can find the Las Vegas Hilton, the Sahara (which is set to close next month) and the tower of the Stratosphere (the fifth tallest structure in the United States, and tallest in Las Vegas).
The struggling economy hasn't seemed to slow down the tourist traffic in Las Vegas, but the constantly changing landscape along the strip and the construction boom that had erupted over the past decade or so is expected to plateau. Insiders say the economic climate has made it tough for developers to move forward with huge projects. Even some projects that are nearly completed have come to a halt.
Some predict that the present landscape of mega resorts in Vegas may remain the way it is today for another 10 years or so.
Nonetheless, Las Vegas was built on broken dreams, and dreamers continue to flock to Sin City with money to spend and a budget of money to lose. If the trend keeps moving forward, Las Vegas will surely continue to grow and change, and keep redefining itself to retain the title as entertainment capital of the world.
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