By 1960, total gross gaming revenue reached more than $200 million annually and the state’s population reached over 280,000 people. Gaming regulators began to enforce the Black Book, and casino operators continued to develop and expand projects throughout the state.
Harveys, Caesars Palace, Aladdin, Circus Circus, Four Queens and Landmark were only a few of the properties that opened their doors in the 1960s. The decade ended with Kirk Kerkorian opening the world’s largest hotel and casino, the International (later the Las Vegas Hilton). Elvis Presley became the hotel’s headliner, which established him as an eternal Las Vegas icon.
One of the most important events in Nevada gaming history was the arrival of famed aviator, filmmaker and entrepreneur billionaire Howard Hughes. Upon arriving in Las Vegas, Hughes bought the Desert Inn, Frontier, Sands, Castaways, Landmark, Silver Slipper, North Las Vegas Airport, Alamo Airways, Harold’s Club in Reno and nearly all available undeveloped land in the Las Vegas valley.
Hughes finally stopped buying hotels and casinos when, in 1968, he tried to buy the Stardust. The United States Justice Department issued a monopoly lawsuit against Hughes, because he already had control of one-third of the revenue earned by all the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and had become Nevada’s largest employer. Nevada’s political leadership embraced Hughes as his money, reputation and visibility provided further legitimacy to the gaming industry.
In 1967, the Nevada State Legislature decided to allow public companies to own and operate gaming facilities without licensing each shareholder, which paved the way for the casino industry to become what it is today. The 1960s also saw the establishment of a new city on the border between Arizona and Nevada. Don Laughlin, former owner of the 101 Club in Las Vegas, flew over the tri-state area in his private plane in 1964 and liked what he saw. In 1965, he bought a boarded-up motel and 6.5 acres of riverfront property for $250,000. In less than two years the bar and motel, now called the Riverside Resort, was offering all-you-can-eat chicken dinners for 98 cents, play on 12 slot machines and two live gaming tables and accommodations in four of the motel’s eight rooms (the Laughlin family occupied the other four rooms).
A little-known fact is that the city of Laughlin got its name when a U.S. Postal Service inspector insisted Don Laughlin give it a name, any name, in order to receive mail. Laughlin recommended the name Riverside and Casino, but the postal inspector used Laughlin instead.