Railroad Pass Celebrates 90 Years As Nevada’s Oldest Casino 

Posted on: July 31, 2021, 02:24h. 

Last updated on: August 1, 2021, 08:41h.

The oldest licensed casino in Nevada turns 90 on Sunday. The Railroad Pass Hotel Casino and Travel Center south of Las Vegas will celebrate that anniversary on Aug. 10 with a birthday party at the resort on the southern outskirts of Henderson.

Railroad Pass
Desert landscaping adorns the Railroad Pass grounds in Southern Nevada. The casino was licensed n 1931, the year gambling was legalized in the state. (Image: Las Vegas Review-Journal)

On March 19, 1931, Gov. Fred Balzar signed Assembly Bill 98, legalizing gambling in Nevada. A few months later, on Aug. 1, the Railroad Pass opened. It received the fourth gambling license in Nevada. The state never issued the first two licenses. The third license recipient later closed, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Joe DeSimone, a Henderson real estate developer, bought the historic property from MGM Resorts in 2015. 

In addition, DeSimone recently bought the former Eldorado Casino in Henderson’s historic Water Street District, and spent $7 million renovating and rebranding it. The Water Street property is called The Pass.

Railroad Pass Improvements

At the Railroad Pass, DeSimone has spent millions on improvements over the years, including adding a Chevron gas station and travel center to attract truckers, the newspaper reported. 

The resort is 2,367 feet above sea level on the Union Pacific route to nearby Boulder City and Hoover Dam, according to a Nevada Handbook entry by Deke Castleman. The hotel-casino is on the main route for visitors driving up from Arizona. Gambling isn’t legal in Boulder City, but the Railroad Pass is only four miles from the town.

DeSimone is upgrading the Railroad Pass with the construction of a $15 million hotel tower. The tower will add 127 guest rooms to the current 120 rooms at the resort, the newspaper reported. The tower will be a Holiday Inn Express, allowing guests to use Holiday Inn rewards points. Construction began this month.

The historic property also contains an original safe used for employee payroll. The safe has apparently not been opened since 1975, according to the newspaper. DeSimone doesn’t have the passcode to open the safe, and doesn’t know what’s in it.

Las Vegas Makeover

While the Railroad Pass builds upon its historic past, other well-known Southern Nevada casinos have been demolished and replaced by resorts with thousands of rooms.

On the Las Vegas Strip, longtime hotel-casinos such as the Desert Inn, Dunes, and Sands were imploded during a megaresort era that gained traction with the 1989 opening of the Mirage Hotel and Casino. Developer Steve Wynn built the Mirage on the west side of the Strip where the Castaways once stood.

Last month, the $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas opened on the west side of the Strip, where the Mob-connected Stardust was located.

The Stardust was the center of New York journalist Nicholas Pileggi 1990s true crime book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Pileggi and director Martin Scorsese wrote the screenplay for the 1995 movie Casino, based on the book. In the movie, the Stardust was called the Tangiers for legal reasons.  

Pileggi told Casino.org “old Vegas” had an intimate quality sometimes lacking today. However, the newer resorts have their own appeal, he said. 

“It’s Disneyland,” Pileggi said. “The climate is good. These hotel-casinos are spectacular. It’s just unbelievable.”