Everybody knows that Las Vegas is home to the world’s highest concentration of casino gambling opportunities.
You’ve got the 28 casino resorts lining the Strip, dozens more in the Downtown district and suburbs like Henderson and Summerlin, and even little hole in the wall slot and video poker machine parlors tucked away in strip malls all over Sin City.
But did you know anybody who loves the world of gambling lore — the legendary figures who shaped Las Vegas, the city’s old-school history, and the antique devices that gave rise to the technological wonders we enjoy today — can enjoy an interactive, immersive, and informative experience without placing a single bet?
Las Vegas is home to several tourist attractions designed for die-hard gambling enthusiasts, those players who appreciate the past and like learning more about their favorite pastime.
If all you’ve ever seen of Sin City is the inside of a casino, it’s time to step out and experience everything Las Vegas has to offer gambling fans in the know.
On that note, check out the list below for four of the top tourist destinations for gamblers who want to know more about the wild world of Las Vegas’ days and nights gone by.
If you hit the Strip and head northward until you get to the Stratosphere, then take Main Street north for a few minutes, you’ll run right into the Mecca of gambling knowledge — the Gambler’s Book Shop and General Store.
Opened in 1964 by married couple John and Edna Luckman, the Gambler’s Book Shop began its life as a small bookstore selling editions from its own onsite printing press. The Luckmans specialized in gambling strategy books well before such insights gave rise to the multibillion-dollar industry known today.
In his book “The First 100: Portraits of the Men and Women Who Shaped Las Vegas” (1999), local journalist A.D. Hopkins described the Luckmans’ little enterprise as follows:
“In 1964, Gambler’s Book Club was born. Luckman envisioned not just a bookstore, but a library of gambling and a forum for gamblers to gather and visit, argue, gossip, lie, and — most of all — learn from each other.”
Over time, the Gambler’s Book Shop and General Store became a sprawling warehouse home to all things gambling. Books on basic strategy for every conceivable casino game, autobiographies from the old legends who called Las Vegas home in the early days, and any other material concerned with gambling history found its way onto the Luckmans’ shelves.
As part of the GBC Press publishing house, iconic gambling strategists like poker’s David Sklansky, blackjack’s John Scarne, and even illusionist Harry Houdini put pen to paper and allowed the public access to their accumulated knowledge and wisdom.
The General Store component of this Las Vegas landmark is where you can find all of the ephemera associated with casino gambling. Old decks of playing cards from long since defunct casinos, blackjack shoes and roulette wheels, poker chips — you name it, and this place probably has it in stock.
You can get a sense of what the Gambler’s Book Shop and General Store is all about by visiting their website.
And while you’re perusing the amazingly expansive and eclectic online inventory, be sure to read up about the venue’s long history by checking out the “About Us” page, where nuggets of gambling history gold like this lie in wait:
“We are one of the most famous gaming institutions in Las Vegas — and with more than 3,000 titles, the largest gaming bookstore in the world.”
During its 47-year history as the reigning authority on gambling publications, the GBC has hosted numerous book signings by internationally famous gaming authors, including Nick Pileggi, author of ‘Casino and Wise Guys’; thoroughbred handicapper Andy Beyer, author of ‘The Winning Horseplayer’; Ken Uston, author of ‘Million Dollar Blackjack’; and poker legend Amarillo Slim, author of ‘Play Poker to Win.’”
When you’ve had your fill of literary delights at the Gambler’s Book Club and General Store, head eastbound for a block and then hook a left on Casino Center Drive. From there, drive northbound for a mile until you reach the heart of Downtown Las Vegas on famous Fremont Street.
The Fremont Street Experience is a gambling tourist destination in its own right, so if you’ve never been, by all means, take the day and explore historic casinos like the Downtown Grand, El Cortez, Four Queens, and the Golden Nugget. This is where Las Vegas’ reputation as a swinging city where anything goes was built back in the 1940s and 1950s, and in the case of the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, gamblers have been winning and losing there since 1906, making it the longest continuously operated casino in the world.
After you’ve played to your heart’s content in these epically historical gambling halls, head over to the Downtown Grand and cross Stewart Street to find the Mob Museum: National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement.
A veritable shrine to the shady world of organized crime, the Mob Museum unabashedly celebrates the Mafiosos and “wise guys” who built Las Vegas from the ground up.
Here’s how the Mob Museum describes the venue’s mission statement:
“The Mob Museum offers a bold and authentic view of organized crime from vintage Las Vegas to the back alleys of American cities and – increasingly – across the borders and networks of the entire world.
Explore the real stories and actual events of Mob history through interactive exhibits and one-of-a-kind Mob and law enforcement artifacts found inside our restored 1933 former courthouse and post office building located just minutes from Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.”
With a wide array of interactive exhibits like “100 Years of Made Men,” “The Mob’s Greatest Hits,” and “A Tough Little Town,” the Mob Museum is a goldmine of information, photographs, and artifacts that fans of films like “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas” will go gaga for.
You’ll learn about the life and times of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky, two New York mobsters who made their way to the Mojave Desert in 1946 with suitcases full of cash and a dream. Siegel and Lansky collaborated to build the first casino ever erected on the Strip, and their Flamingo still stands to this day.
Other made men who exerted their influence during Las Vegas’ early days include Moe Dalitz, Tony “The Hat” Cornero, and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who was immortalized in the Martin Scorsese flick Casino.
The Mob Museum has the inside scoop on all of these famous mafiosos, and much more, so spend a few hours here going back in time to an era when Sin City truly lived up to its nickname.
After you’ve had your fill of whacking and tommy guns at the Mob Museum, take Stewart eastbound until you hit Las Vegas Boulevard. Take a left and continue northbound — passing the coincidentally named Siegel Suites — until you see the Neon Museum on the right-hand side of the street.
You shouldn’t be able to miss this place, especially at night, what with the dozens of gigantic neon signs and facades scattered around a massive outdoor exhibit. The Neon Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and displaying the old neon signage stripped from now-defunct Las Vegas casinos in an area affectionately known as the “Neon Boneyard.”
Here’s how the Neon Museum’s overseers describe their peculiar point of interest in Sin City history:
“Founded in 1996, the Neon Museum is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting iconic Las Vegas signs for educational, historic, arts and cultural enrichment.
The Neon Museum campus includes the outdoor exhibition space known as the Neon Boneyard.”
Loved gambling at the old Stardust before it was closed in 2006? Well, look no further than the Neon Museum for an instant jolt of nostalgia, as you can get up close and personal with the famous pointed letter sign that made the joint instantly recognizable.
Original signs from places like the Sahara, the Riviera, the Silver Slipper, La Concha, the Aladdin, and the Hacienda can all be found at the Neon Museum.
For gamblers who lived through Las Vegas’ glory days and still appreciate the ghosts of casinos gone by, there’s nowhere better to relive your greatest gambling memories than the appropriately named Neon Boneyard.
One of the coolest parts about playing the old-school slot machines was their coin-operated nature.
Carrying around a bucket full of quarters, sliding them in one by one, waiting until the reels aligned just right, then watching an avalanche of coins splash down into the hopper below — there’s nothing quite like it.
And while the casino industry’s shift to more efficient coinless vouchers certainly makes economic sense, players who came up in the coin-operated machine era still have a soft spot for the original one-armed bandits.
If you’re one of them, circle back from the Neon Museum back the way you came and get yourself to the Four Queens in Downtown Las Vegas. Opened in 1966, the Four Queens is actually one of the “newer” casinos on Fremont Street, but the old gal still has a sense of history.
Designed by International Game Technology (IGT), the Silver Strike is a unique machine that uses a simple three-reel, single payline design.
But while those old-fashioned relics have largely been replaced by five-reel, multiple payline video slots, the Silver Strike has one unique feature that has kept gamblers coming back for more over all these years. When you land a “Silver Strike” symbol along with any other matching symbols, the machine will dispense an actual silver coin as a special reward.
These silver coins come encased in their own protective sleeve. While most are simply silver-plated souvenirs, every so often a lucky winner will pocket a .999 percent silver piece that’s worth a pretty penny.
You can read more about the long history of the Silver Strike slot machines, or you can just check out the video below of a winner collecting their very own silver coin after hitting the jackpot.
Gambling in Las Vegas is a time-honored tradition for adventure seekers who have turned 21 years of age. Players flock to Sin City from all corners of the globe to test their luck. While most head home emptyhanded, a select few find ways to win even when the cards aren’t cooperating.
By exploring the wider world of Las Vegas and its various gambling-centric tourist attractions, you can always ensure that your experience in the world’s casino capital is rewarding and worth repeating.
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