Classic Neon Signs in Las Vegas

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Vector illustration of “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada” neon sign.
BetMGM May 12, 2022, 6:09 AM

The flashing neon signs of Las Vegas have been lighting up the Nevada skies for almost a century. There’s no doubt that these classic signs are now an American institution and have become synonymous with the casino industry. Even some of the world’s best online casino games make use of the themes and patterns used in the various neon designs.

But just what is it about this in-your-face, flashing signage that has made such a huge impression? And, in the face of an ever-evolving world, will neon still be around in the years to come? As technology such as LED displays become the norm, as well as the prevalence of online slot machines and live dealer casino games, neon lighting might well take a back seat to its more environmentally-friendly brothers.

For now, though, neon is still very much a part of the Las Vegas landscape, with author Thomas Wolfe commenting that it was the only city whose skyline wasn’t made of buildings or trees, but rather of light and signs.

The history of Las Vegas’ neon signs

The lighting up of the Las Vegas landscape began around 1928, with the Overland Hotel going on record as the first establishment to install a neon light. The next year saw the installment of neon signage at the Oasis Café, and another ten neon lights went up that same year. This was the year Prosper J. Goumond and his crew of experienced gamblers set up shop in the heart of the Nevada Desert. He and his team embarked on what would become known as the Las Vegas Neon Wars.

This war was fought without guns, bombs or tanks. It took place within the Las Vegas skyline between various casino owners, hoteliers and property magnates. It was a war of whose sign was bigger, better and flashier than the rest, with each signwriter looking to outdo the rest.

Las Vegas icons

Lucky the Clown and Vegas Vic

Two of the most iconic neon personalities of Las Vegas are Lucky the Clown and Vegas Vic. Lucky is the 123-foot tall clown that stands proudly outside the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino – he’s been there since 1976. Like many of the neon showpieces in Las Vegas, Lucky was born in the YESCO factory and has the moniker of being one of the most photographed signs in Vegas. Lucky’s fame at Circus Circus is matched only by the venue’s pink-and-gold porte-cochère; it’s considered “one of the most exquisite pieces of neon in Las Vegas.”

Vegas Vic is the unofficial welcomer of all visitors to the granddaddy of gambling cities. Depicted as a cowboy, Vegas Vic was also created on the floor of YESCO. The 40-foot sign was installed at the Pioneer Club in 1951, and he’s another of the city’s most well-known personalities.

El Cortez Hotel & Casino

The now-famous salmon-pink signage of the El Cortez Hotel & Casino is another famous noir neon light extravaganza. Having been installed in 1941, the lighting and color haven’t changed throughout the years – they’ve simply been maintained the same way for the last 80 years.

The Neon Museum

While the size and grandeur of neon lighting are slowly being taken over by LED technology, some have dedicated themselves to ensuring these light shows remain in sight for a while yet.

The Neon Museum, or the Boneyard as it’s more colloquially known, has become the final resting place for many of Vegas’ former shining stars. It’s also here where artist Craig Winslow has created a “simulacrum” of what these lights looked like in their heydays. Using a technique known as projection mapping, Winslow is able to recreate the signs’ light and project it back onto them, restoring them (for a short while) back to their former glory.

The future of neon signs

With LED screens allowing for quick turnaround times for changes, easy installation and improved revenue, it’s no wonder bigger advertisers are veering away from massive neon installations. However, even as current signage and gaming platforms such as online casinos make use of faux neon, we can rest easy knowing that some people are taking up the neon mantle. They are ensuring that the light endures.

These neon heroes continue in the old tradition of heating and bending tubes into different shapes, filling them with gas and applying the electrical charge to light up a space like nothing else can. These guys have turned neon lighting into an art form that can live as easily in a home as it can on a big outdoor medium.

Even as the tussle for the right lighting mechanism continues, there’s no doubt that Vegas will continue to shine its beacon of fun across the world. It’s home to America’s greatest gambling legends, and it’s where you can relive their adventures playing casino table games.

Get flashy with BetMGM

If Nevada is a stretch too far, you can always join the card-playing greats in spirit and play casino games online right in the comfort of your own home. To play the best online casino games, including blackjack, poker and online slots, register with BetMGM – we’ll even make sure there’s some neon for you to enjoy.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.