The popular myth perpetuated by the scene in the 1991 film, Bugsy, which featured Warren Beatty walking out into the barren desert and having a vision, has been debunked. In reality, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel did not create the Las Vegas Strip, nor did he even create the Flamingo Hotel. To uncover the truth of the first casino to occupy the Strip, one must look to only a few nonhistorians. The story is much more interesting than that which is depicted in Bugsy.
The Strip’s founding mother is Alice Morris, who opened the Red Rooster on November 26th, 1930. This was the first establishment to receive a gaming license on the then-known Highway 91, a main road from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. The Red Rooster was initially a nightclub featuring dance marathons, live all-girl bands, and dining. To make the most of the new revenue stream, Morris sought the advice of a gambling expert, believing it to be illegal, as it had been in Las Vegas since September 1910. However, on March 19, 1931, Governor Fred Balzar signed Assembly Bill 98, making gambling legal once again.
This was followed by the opening of the Pair O’ Dice in 1930, and the El Rancho Vegas in April 1941, which boasted the largest casino on Highway 91, with 70 slot machines and four table games. The Flamingo Hotel opened in December 1946, as the fifth casino and third resort on the Strip.
The Red Rooster lost its casino license due to a liquor violation, however, it was granted a dance hall license and a beer-only liquor license in 1933. It remained popular throughout World War II and was sold to former vaudeville star Grace Hayes in 1947. She changed the name to the Grace Hayes Lodge and leased the club to others, including Willie Martello, who changed the name to Willie Martello’s Red Rooster. It closed in 1957 and was torn down by Standard Oil in 1959, with Grace Hayes leasing the land to the company to open a gas station.
Grace Hayes continued living in the ranch house on her property, which was the last remaining private home on the Strip. In 1987, Steve Wynn purchased the house, and the Mobil station, for $2M. He built The Mirage on the site of her former home and in 2024, the fake volcano will be demolished by Hard Rock International, who purchased The Mirage last year for $1.1B.
Whenever the guitar tower is seen reaching for the sky, it is rising from the ashes of Las Vegas’ history. Truly, it was Alice Morris and Grace Hayes who were the pioneers of the Las Vegas Strip.