The Criminal History of Las Vegas (at Least as It Relates to Quorum)

As anyone who’s seen The Godfather or Casino will tell you, Las Vegas has a long historic association with organized crime. Crime bosses helped build the casino industry back in the 1930s during the construction of the Hoover Dam (which brought with it an influx of outside construction workers), but what most people think of as the real heyday of the mob in Las Vegas came when Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky opened the Flamingo in 1946. After Siegel’s death in 1947, mobsters saw a golden opportunity in Las Vegas gambling, and built multiple casinos along both Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas and along what became known as the Strip (South Las Vegas Boulevard).

Mob influence continued through the heyday of the “Rat Pack” era, though it was much diminished after Howard Hughes started buying up properties and media outlets in the 1960s. Still, efforts to legitimize the city ran into one major obstacle — the Strip was technically outside the bounds of Las Vegas proper, meaning the city wasn’t able to bring in any tax revenue from the casinos there. An attempt to annex the Strip was foiled when the mob preemptively registered the Strip as its own entity — Paradise, Nevada — an action that (due to the complexities of governmental regulations) prohibited the planned annexation.

Criminal syndicates continued to hold at least some influence all the way up until the 1980s, when more legitimate businesses began taking over, building the megaresorts (starting with the Mirage) that now dominate the Las Vegas skyline. Popular wisdom holds that the demolition of the Dunes hotel in 1993 — on the site where the Bellagio now stands — signified the end of the mob-owned casino era.

These new legitimate entrepreneurs initially thought to expand their customer base by rebranding Las Vegas as a more family-friendly vacation destination — but since gambling remained such a vital source of revenue, this course was soon abandoned (as family time necessarily meant non-gambling time). Over time, most of the older casinos (particularly those on the Strip) gave way to hotels that emphasized luxury and elegance (or at least pretended to), leading to a dramatic shift in character between the traditional and the newer establishments.

Notably, though prostitution is legal in Nevada, it is illegal in Clark County (which contains Las Vegas), or any county with a population over 700,000. Though there are legal brothels in neighboring Nye County (within which Pahrump rests), there is more money spent on illegal prostitution — more than 60 times more — than at the regulated brothels.

Las Vegas suffered significantly during the recession of the mid-2000s, but has since recovered to a degree, and the dominance of the billion-dollar gambling industry remains unabated (though as a percentage of overall casino income, gaming revenue has decreased, representing only about 40 percent of the total).

Though the casino resorts of Quorum are fictional, they take influence from the vast array of real-life establishments — each with its own distinctive character — that currently line the Strip and Fremont Street. The Limelight stands in for the pre-1980s casinos along South Las Vegas Boulevard that still evince some classic-Vegas appeal; the Lyon Majestic (and the oft-mentioned Belle Époque) represent the newer megaresorts; and the Remington holds out on Fremont Street, somewhat sheltered from competition with the Strip casinos and able to retain its classic atmosphere — despite more showy additions to the downtown corridor, such as the illuminated Fremont Street Experience (which opened in the mid-1990s).

While organized crime — at least as we commonly understand it — no longer holds the influence it once did, the jury is still out as to whether today’s corporate masters have entirely abandoned the tactics of their predecessors…

~William R. Coughlan, writer/director of Quorum

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