Las Vegas is a place many of us think we know. The little tricks the casinos use to keep us at the tables, the games that provide the best chances for winning, how to score enough free cocktails to cover the blackjack losses, etc.
But there's a lot to both the city and its most celebrated/infamous industry, to the point where it's almost impossible to know every tidbit about the place. In that spirit, here are 10 lesser-known facts and figures about America's Mecca of tackiness, wackiness, and capitalism on steroids.
1. Much of "Vegas"... isn't in Vegas
Most of the Strip (officially a long stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard) actually lies in the towns of Winchester and Paradise; Las Vegas proper stretches a bit north of the thoroughfare's heaviest cluster of hotels and resorts. To be exact, it starts on Sahara Avenue, a few blocks shy of the Stratosphere hotel/casino/observation tower.
2. Gambling was once illegal
In its early years, Nevada had an on-and-off relationship with its signature activity. Gambling was first legalized in 1869, but lawmakers bowed to lobbying from reformers several decades later and passed a ban on the activity in 1910. After a pair of failed attempts, the state legislature finally passed a new gambling bill in 1931. It's safe to say this is not in danger of being repealed.
3. Nearly all of the world's biggest hotels are located there... and in the portfolio of one company
Although most people are aware that the city is anchored by massive hotel/casinos, few realize Vegas enjoys near-domination of the list of largest hotels on the planet. According to travel research firms STR and STR Global, eight of the 10 monsters on the roster are in the city. Not only that, but six out of the eight are fully or jointly operated by MGM Resorts International (NYSE:MGM).
4. Its biggest publicly traded casino operator manages only a few properties
Despite its prominence on the Strip, MGM is not the largest big-time Vegas operator in terms of market capitalization. Las Vegas Sands takes that prize, also dwarfing Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts. This despite the fact that Sands runs only two hotel/casinos in the area, The Venetian and The Palazzo (plus a convention center, Sands Expo). By contrast, MGM operates 11, and Caesars seven. Wynn matches Sands with a grand total of two.
5. It once rescued a Fortune 500 company
In 1973, two years after logistics giant FedEx was launched, it was desperately short of cash and facing insolvency. So founder and CEO Fred Smith took its last $5,000 to Sin City in a desperate throw to raise some capital. Smith was lucky at the tables; upon his return, FedEx suddenly had $32,000 in its coffers, enough to keep going as a viable concern. He secured a new round of financing shortly thereafter, and the rest is history.
6. It never stops blowing itself up
Vegas isn't big on nostalgia. Its old gambling palaces are constantly being removed to make room for bigger, flashier, and sexier places where people can lose their money. Since 1993, there have been over a dozen casino implosions on and near the Strip; destruction junkies can watch a greatest hits video here.
7. Sports betting is a Johnny-come-lately
The sports book is a critical feature of every big casino these days, but it wasn't always that way. At first such gambling was confined to small, specialty operators, but legendary casino manager Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal introduced the first sports book at the Stardust in 1976, and the industry has never looked back. Since then, bettors have wagered an average of roughly $2 billion per year on the activity.
8. It's kid-friendly
City fathers tried to market Vegas as an ideal family destination in the 1990s. But the gambling industry took a hit with the emphasis on wholesome fun, so the campaign was abandoned the following decade. Yet Vegas still has plenty of attractions for the under-18 set, including amusement parks like the energetic Adventuredome at Circus Circus, shrines to fun confectioneries (Hershey's Chocolate World, M&Ms World), and a chance to gaze at a variety of exotic land and water beasts at Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.
9. One slot machine took over 20 years to pay out its jackpot
A miserly "one-armed bandit" located at the MGM Grand had never been hit for the big score since its installation in 1993. The notoriety of the Lion's Share, the last of what was once a set of machines, earned it a dedicated Facebook page and a Twitter feed with thousands of followers. Finally, in August, a man from New Hampshire pulled the handle and won the ultimate prize, collecting $2.4 million for his efforts.
10. Speaking of which, there's a 12-story slot machine
...although you can't have it swallow your hard-earned coins. Slotzilla is a zip line launch designed to look like a gaudy one-armed bandit. The recently built attraction, located at the city's Fremont Street Experience, boasts two lines -- one starting 77 feet from the ground, and the other at 114 feet, or a dizzying 10 stories high. This slot doesn't accept pocket change; the lower line costs $20 to ride, while the nosebleed version will set a rider back $40.