The History of Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget

One of the oldest casinos in Las Vegas, the Golden Nugget has an interesting and storied history. It is the first structure in the city to be designed as a casino rather than a combination hotel and casino.

Before the Golden Nugget

Prior to the Golden Nugget, the California Club stood on the corner of First and Fremont Street with an iconic animated bear that moved its head up and down. In what is now the mid-section of the casino, the Oasis Café, a popular restaurant was located, becoming the Las Vegas Sweet Shoppe in later years. The Sweet Shoppe was popular with students before it became the White Spot Café. However, in 1938, Guy McAfee arrived in town from Los Angeles. McAfee had been a member of the Los Angeles Police Department Vice Squad until it was discovered he had interests in gambling houses, which were illegal in the city. Facing possible legal action, he resigned from the police force and moved to Las Vegas where he bought the Pair-O-Dice Club on Highway 91, which he renamed The 91 Club. Gambling had been legalized in Las Vegas since 1931, an effort by legislators to create a tourist industry in the desert town.

Golden Nugget is Born

In 1945, McAfee partnered with Buck Blaine and the two began creating the Golden Nugget after McAfee purchased a former coffee shop and pool hall at 125 Fremont Street. McAfee purchased the Boulder Drug Store around the corner and spent $250,000 creating the casino. The pair decorated the saloon with items that were at least 50 years old such as Victorian-era mahogany woodwork, imported Italian marble floors, elaborate chandeliers and an air conditioning system. The décor was based on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco during the 19th century and was the largest in Las Vegas at the time. In 1949, McAfee added a 100-foot neon sign, proclaiming the casino the brightest nightspot in the world. McAfee retired in 1960 and Blaine became president. During his term, adjoining properties were purchased to expand the casino, but it remained only a casino.

Change of Ownership

In 1972, the casino changed hands again. The board of directors, including Stephen A. Wynn, expanded the casino to include hotel rooms with the first rooms opening in 1977 in a 17-story building. The façade of the building was remodeled in 1983, a second hotel tower added in 1984 and a third in 1989. The property was sold to MGM Mirage in 2000 who sold it to Poster Financial Group four years later. Investors in Poster Financial Group included tennis star, Andre Agassi. In 2005, the Golden Nugget changed hands again when it was sold to Landry’s Restaurant who added another hotel tower during extensive renovations.

The Hand of Faith, a 61-pound golden nugget, the second largest ever discovered and the largest in existence, makes its home in the lobby of the Golden Nugget. It was purchased from Kevin Hillier who found the nugget with a metal detector in Wedderburn, Australia in 1980 for over $1 million. In addition, an ATM machine in the lobby dispenses gold bars and coins for those who visit what is one of the oldest and largest casinos in the city.

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