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Gambling: Nevada Sustains Economic Boom

The demographic transience in Nevada translated into a social instability that became less tolerable as the numbers grew. Since 1930, southern Nevada had thrived on a fluid population and become accustomed to perpetual mobility.

Large numbers of dam builders, war workers, and military personnel, not to mention divorcees and tourists, had all passed through the area by 1945, so the temporary residents of the postwar period were nothing new. Moreover, observers had long noted that the arid Southwest seemed utterly unsuited to permanent settlement.

The land appeared not to accept inhabitants. As Las Vegas grew into a full-fledged city in spite of the arid climate, it acquired more citizens who intended to make the desert resort a long-term residence. Most Las Vegans had once welcomed the temporary inhabitant for his contribution to regional growth, but after 1945, they protested increasingly the transient's lack of commitment to their town.

Editorials in local papers complained that too many people put personal fortune above all else and seldom reinvested earnings in southern Nevada's future. One columnist, capturing the common sentiment that likened uncommitted newcomers to visiting bettors, wrote that too many citizens don't care about the future of the community and are making time only until the golden flow of dollars, which lured them in Las Vegas in the first place, runs dry.

Old-time Las Vegas, no doubt left outnumbered by the new arrival whose initial impulse, whether he intended to remain in the metropolis or not, was to confirm the expectation of gain that had guided him to Clark County in the first place. Although Las Vegans had thus identified one of the common problems with boom-town life, they tended to distinguish too finely between committed and uncommitted residents without considering the nature of society in the urban Far West.

For newcomers hoping to reside there permanently, and for long-term townspeople suddenly caught up in growing prosperity, it took time to rediscover the importance of the community as home and to overcome indifference toward the town's tomorrow. Boom-town priorities contributed to a shortage of the amenities that citizens require of a hometown, as did disconcertingly rapid growth.

Las Vegans simply could not build the city fast enough to keep pace with the tremendous influx of people between 1940 and 1965. If migrants to southern Nevada had arrived more slowly, reconciliation to the gaming resort as hometown might have proceeded more smoothly. Instead, Las Vegans reshaped the resort into a livable residence only through a series of protracted crises.

Public utilities were among the first things acquired in halting fashion. Water was essential to the continued growth of the city, but southern Nevadans only slowly secured the dependable supply that they needed after years of shortages. Similarly, they paid the most attention to the highways that brought tourists into town, while their own network of roads, sidewalks, streetlights, and crosswalks remained incomplete.