Las Vegas dates to the early 1880s, when a European traveler discovered a grassland fed by two springs in the middle of a desert. The area was settled by farmers and then miners, then became a stopoff point for trains running between Salt Lake City and Southern California, then a source of employment to build Hoover Dam nearby, then a training center for troops during World War II.
What Las Vegas became best known for was casinos after the state legislature allowed legal gambling starting in 1931. By the 1960s, gambling and affiliated entertainments (stars, showgirls) were big business in the fast-growing city.
Below is a picture of the Las Vegas Strip, a famed road of casino/hotels in 1970:
Starting in the 1990s, the casinos got bigger and glitzier. Here is the picture of the area that is featured today on the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority website.
As you can see, there are many hotels, a lot of glitz: water features, an Eiffel Tower replica and many other over-the-top bright displays. This photo shows only a bit of what is on offer. To drive down the Strip is an experience in itself.
And, along the way, Las Vegas has transformed itself. It still has the casinos, but over the last 25 years, much more has been added to the tourist amenity package.
A GoVegas website details various entertainments in and around the city -- Sky Jump Las Vegas, upscale shopping, helicopter and airplane rides over the Grand Canyon, museums for children, "CSI: the Experience," a shark reef, a Madame Tussaud's, the Richard Petty Driving Experience, big-name entertainment, hip nightclubs with admission restricted to suitably hip young people, fancy restaurants with celebrity chefs, golf courses, spas and big, gorgeous swimming pools. There seem to be dozens if not hundreds of different amusements available to visitors in Las Vegas.
The last few films shot in the city treated gambling rather lightly and focused on the whole, bigger package. These include The Hangover, Behind the Candelabra, Godzilla, The Hangover III and Last Vegas, a hangover-style movie featuring older men. Except possibly for the Godzilla thing, all featured people going to Las Vegas because it was someplace to cut loose and have fun.
These days, many groups of young adults gather in Vegas with friends or for bachelor parties (see Hangover, above). Families with children book vacations there. No doubt many of the adult guests spend at least some time gambling, but these days they seem attracted at least as much by the total package.
Next: If only other gambling locations had figured this out.