VEGAS MYTHS BUSTED: Golden Gate is the Oldest Casino in Vegas

Posted on: April 8, 2024, 08:12h. 

Last updated on: April 15, 2024, 11:21h.

What’s known today as the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino opened in 1905, a mere weeks after the original land auction that created Las Vegas. John F. Miller of Seattle paid a whopping $1,750 for the first three parcels sold by the railroad so he could build a hotel at 1 Fremont St.

The earliest known photo of the Golden Gate appeared in the Las Vegas Age newspaper on Oct. 6, 1906, when it was known as the Hotel Nevada. The woman in the window is said to be Rosa C. Marchetti, a hotel maid who later married hotel owner John F. Miller. (Image: Las Vegas Age)

Miller built the Miller Hotel — named after guess who? — so quickly because it was basically an overblown tent. It had canvas walls and cots for beds.

Miller opened a permanent structure on the site, the Hotel Nevada, on Jan. 13, 1906. It was a two-story, 35-room corner building made of actual concrete. Rooms cost $1 a night to rent and featured every modern amenity imaginable: electricity, a lamp, running water, and steam radiators.

The hotel also featured the very first telephone in Las Vegas. The hand-cranked Kellogg model was installed in the office of Charles “Pop” Squires, who founded the Las Vegas Age in 1905, which he sold to the Las Vegas Review-Journal 35 years later.

The phone’s number was 1.

When Did the Hotel Nevada Open a Casino?

Miller’s hotel included one roulette wheel and a poker table that he called its casino. But in 1909, a statewide gambling ban took effect.

What happened after that is a matter of historical debate. If Miller indeed kept his illegal “casino” open during the long stretch until gambling was legalized again in 1931, he certainly wasn’t going to leave any public records of it or allow photographs to be taken of his guests committing crimes.

The Golden Gate Casino, shown circa 1955, looks pretty much as it does today without the Fremont Street canopy. The hotel’s name is still Sal Sagev at the time, which can just about be made out on the vertical neon sign above the casino. (Image: UNLV Special Collections)

By the time gambling was re-legalized, Miller decided to expand the hotel from two to four floors and rebrand it the Sal Sagev. That’s backwards for “Las Vegas.”

Different Casino

Construction of the Golden Gate Casino takes place on the first floor of the Sal Sagev in August 1955. The Las Vegas Club is across Fremont Street and Vegas Vic waves his hand — which back then still waved — next door. (Image: via Adam Cardinal Maida Library)

Whether Miller kept his teeny casino going during the gambling ban ends up not being germane to resolving which Las Vegas casino is the oldest, however. And that’s because in 1934, Miller decided to close it without explanation.

Gambling wouldn’t return to the Sal Sagev until 21 full years later.

But the Golden Gate Casino, which opened on the hotel’s ground floor in 1955, taking its name from the San Francisco bridge, wasn’t owned by Miller or his son, Abe, who had taken over the hotel by that time.

It was a separate business entirely — one whose owners ended up buying the Sal Sagev and rebranding the whole shebang the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino in 1974.

That makes El Cortez the undisputed oldest casino in Las Vegas by 14 years. It opened on Nov. 7, 1941, on half a Fremont Street block between Sixth and Seventh streets — before Fremont was even paved that far.

It still stands in the same spot, with its original sign, today.

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