Las Vegas, one of the world’s top tourist attractions with its gambling and adult entertainment earning it the nickname “Sin City,” has been trying to diversify into a family vacation mecca in recent years, with amusement parks, outlet shopping malls and other attractions sprouting up.
That helped account for the large number of women and children among the 22,000 people attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival Sunday night when a gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino across the street.
Nevada also has some of the loosest gun laws in the United States. Owners of firearms don’t need to obtain a license or register their weapons as in many other states. Las Vegas also offers at least 15 shooting ranges where people can open fire with a wide range of weapons, including assault rifles and machine guns.
By night, the Nevada city is a sea of neon that lights up the sky for those approaching by interstate highways, even before the city itself emerges from the surrounding mountains.
Visitors mill about the famed “Strip,” wandering from the dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio to the faux volcano at the Mirage and the live lions at the MGM Hotel. Acrobatic acts, magicians, dancers, haute cuisine and world-renowned singers like Elton John and Celine Dion help draw people inside. A monorail hauls tourists from one end of the Strip to the other.
Visitors can watch live jousts at the medieval-themed Excalibur. Across the street is New York New York, a scale model of the Big Apple’s top attractions. There’s a version of the Eiffel Tower further north, and Circus Circus offers a take on the big top. For a fresh angle on roller coasters, visitors check out the Stratosphere, a tower that includes rides at the top.
The city offers plenty of places to drink, from cozy nightclubs to strip clubs that offer scantily clad male and female dancers. Occasionally, a visitor gets carried away with an attractive stranger and gets married at one of the little wedding chapels scattered about the city. If it doesn’t work out, Vegas is also one of the easiest cities in which to get a divorce.
By day, the pace is slower as people wake from late-night carousing and emerge bleary-eyed into the desert sun. Some head for the convention centers that draw trade shows and company meetings. Others go shopping for everything from cheap souvenirs to name-brand high fashion, tour the city from above by helicopter or visit the nearby Hoover Dam for the water sports available there.
But the city’s centerpiece has long been gambling, earning Vegas another nickname: "Lost Wages." Table games like blackjack, poker, craps and roulette coexist alongside huge sports gambling operations. The visitors range from high-rollers (known as whales), whose rooms and meals are often free, all the way down to those who drop their coins into cheap slot machines in hopes of a jackpot.
Legalized gambling gave the city a boost but also drew mobsters to the oasis in the middle of the Mohave Desert. And as the casinos created a growing skyline, Las Vegas became one of the fastest-growing U.S. cities -- its population rose by 85 percent between 1990 and 2000 – with many new residents drawn by the gambling and hospitality industries.
While prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas itself, several bordellos are within a short drive. The combination of vices spawned the line that “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
And now Sin City offers a new attraction: legal marijuana dispensaries have cropped up since July, when Nevada’s new law on recreational use took effect.