Las Vegas built a tourist stop, in which gambling served as one of many contributing features, rather than a resort, in which gambling prevailed.
The frontier theme contributed as a secondary influence.
Consequently, true to its beginnings as a railroad town, Las Vegas remained a division point on the road to more significant destinations.
The shortcomings of Las Vegas as a tourist center stemmed in part from a relatively provincial mentality.
Southern Nevadans were not prepared to exploit fully the opportunities bequeathed to the town by the state of Nevada.
While Las Vegas had acquired connections to the outside world, and especially to Los Angeles, that would ultimately shape it into a cosmopolitan resort, it remained a cultural backwater, not only in the Far West, but even in Nevada.
As railroad station on the Union Pacific line, Las Vegas had come to identify more with Los Angeles than Reno, and as ‘gateway’ to Boulder Dam, Las Vegas belonged more to the Southwest than to the Great Basin.
These orientations distanced Las Vegans slightly from the state’s heritage of exploiting ‘vices’, prevented them from recognizing fully the potential in the statewide legalization of gambling in 1931, and blinded them to the forthright attitudes of Reno the the north.
Even during those periods when law forbade the activity, from 1864 to 1869 and from 1910 to 1931, games of chance played for profit continued to flourish.
They seemed as much part of the Great Basin state as the desolate landscape and the sparse population.
Chroniclers have often pointed out that gambling resembled the chancy pursuit of precious metals, which had defined the state’s economy from its earliest days.
In addition to the psychological similarities between gaming and mining, the cyclical patterns of mining encouraged Nevadans to accept lawful gambling.
Well into twentieth century, the state depended heavily upon the extractive industry not only for its social character, but also for its economic development.
As a result, Nevada did not advance far beyond the modes of production typical of the miners’ frontier of the late nineteenth century.
Residents sought new economic opportunities only when mining booms diminished, first in the 1880s and 1890s, and later in the 1920s and 1930s.
Responses to the first depression included the divorce trade and lawful prizefighting, as well as state and federal reclamation programs.