I originally wrote this Listverse but they do not really like publishing lists about specific places. I parted some of it out to KnowledgeNuts articles but the rest is for you dear reader.
Vegas is a wild place. Internationally recognized as a key tourist destination, Las Vegas has spawned a mythology all of its own. Once you get past the standard facts and trivia about the city, Las Vegas has a fascinating and checkered past.
8. The Strip Is Not In Las Vegas
When you buy your ticket to Las Vegas (as you will inevitably will after reading this fascinating list) you are going to want to go see the nice casinos and hotels and lose all your money to gambling machines. Those are the key aspects of Las Vegas tourism. Very few people go to the city to see the old Mormon fort. But, if you are going to see the casinos on the Strip you will actually be travelling outside of Las Vegas. Most tourists never actually set foot in the city of Las Vegas. The Strip and all of its flashy tourist traps are actually in a place called Paradise, an unincorporated town that sits inside of Las Vegas.
Paradise, Nevada is basically a colossal tax dodge. If an unincorporated town never becomes a city it never has to pay city taxes, but also does not have the luxury of city services like police forces or waste management. Back in the 1950s that was no big deal. With the organized crime running the casinos, there was enough money to run all public services and private security forces kept the mob casinos safe. Paradise casinos were still paying money to the county and state governments so government officials had no reason to step in at all. With lower taxes, the mob casinos thrived.
By the time the 1970s came around Las Vegas was having serious financial troubles and decided to annex the Paradise. For an unincorporated town Paradise has a huge population density which makes it more like a city then some random uninhabited place in the desert. In 1976 the mayor of Las Vegas signed a bill that official declared Paradise a part of Las Vegas, but the Supreme Court of Nevada struck down the law and officially declared that from from now on Paradise would be officially unincorporated. Las Vegas can never officially annex Paradise which gives the casinos (now run by major corporations) a way to pay less taxes than they otherwise would. So if you are visiting Las Vegas all the main sights you see, including the famous Las Vegas sign are not actually in the city. You are spending all your time in Paradise.
7. Biggest Aerial Test Ground
Las Vegas might be well-known for its shows and gambling, but for Air Force pilots around the world, Las Vegas has another significant attraction. Nellis Air Force Base is a large base on the outskirts of Las Vegas that is connected with the Nevada Test and Training Range. Because Nevada is so sparsely populated, the test range covers most of the state and is the single largest Air Force training ground in the world.
Nellis began operating as a training base in the 1940s. Las Vegas was small at that time and Nevada was even less populated, so Nellis provided the perfect base to train new crews in combat tactics and gunnery. In 1940 the government set apart an area surrounding Tonopah outside of Las Vegas for exclusive use by the Air Force in training exercises and has since been expanding the testing range to the size that it is now. Nellis pilots now have 3.1 millions acres of land and 12,000 nautical miles of airspace to train in. Given the size of the training range, Nellis Air Force Base hosts annual Red Flag training exercises, bringing in pilots from around the world to train in realistic war scenarios. This makes Las Vegas one of the key destinations for foreign Air Forces looking to train against each other and Nellis AFB one of the most important airbases in the world. Nellis is also a destination for aircraft spotters looking to see some foreign airplanes.
Of course, with such close proximity to famed Area 51, Nellis has been involved in a variety of clandestine operations and cover ups. Notably, the Testing Range has been used to bury the remnants of various crashes that occurred during testing. Two crashes involved the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron, a recently declassified group that was responsible for testing captured Soviet warplanes. The crashes of a MiG-17 and MiG-23 were both covered up as well as supposed crashes of secret stealth aircraft. Unsurprisingly areas near the test range, especially Lander County, have the highest UFO sightings per capita in the United States. Weird things might be happening at Area 51 and the within Las Vegas borders at Nellis Air Force Base.
6. FedEx was saved because of Las Vegas
The ubiquitous mail company FedEx is the brain child of Frederick W. Smith who first proposed the idea for his company in a Yale term paper that received a C for being too unfeasible. Undeterred by his paper’s grade, Smith began working on starting the company with the goal of having every step in the mail delivery process run within FedEx. In 1971 Smith spent his $4 million inheritance and founded the company with eight airplanes covering 35 cities.
FedEx got off to a great start, but soon faced financial problems. The cost of jet fuel was rising in the uncertain economic times of the mid 1970s. Soon FedEx was down to only $5,000 and faced a $24,000 jet fuel bill just to keep the planes flying for a few more days. If the planes could not fly FedEx was sunk and nobody could figure out how to raise the necessary funds. In a last-ditch effort Smith took all $5,000 from the company’s accounts and flew to Vegas, ready to play the Blackjack tables.
When he arrived in Vegas Smith played big. Within a day he had turned the $5,000 into $27,000. With enough money to pay the jet fuel bill, FedEx planes were kept in operation for a few more weeks. Although Smith’s business partner was in shock that Smith had made such a brash move, the gambling had bought them enough time to secure enough loans to keep the company afloat. A few years later FedEx announced a $3.6 million profit and went public, becoming the worldwide company that it is today, all because of a Las Vegas blackjack table.
5. Heart Attack Grill
Las Vegas is home to a variety of interesting culinary adventures from the world’s largest chocolate fountain to cupcakes decorated with gold leaf. But no other Las Vegas restaurant causes as much controversy as the Heart Attack Grill. From its inception the Heart Attack Grill was a hospital themed restaurant with terrifyingly unhealthy food, with hamburgers maxing out at 8,000 to 10,000 calories a sandwich. Originally started in Arizona, the restaurant opened locations in Texas and Las Vegas.
After bad publicity on the food and rent mismanagement, the Texas and Arizona locations closed, leaving only the Las Vegas restaurant to stay open. Controversy soon mounted over the store’s promotion that anybody over 350 lbs would receive a free meal. Reporters and health care professionals were concerned that the restaurant promoted obesity and unhealthy eating. Given the sheer calorie content of the food the criticism was well founded, especially once the Heart Attack Grill started to develop a death toll.
Tragedy struck in 2011 when 29 year old spokesperson Blair Rivers died of complications with pneumonia, attributed to his habit of eating at the grill. In 2012 a customer of the restaurant began to have a heart attack in the middle of his meal. Fortunately 911 first aid arrived quickly enough to save the man and he made an eventual recovery. When founder Jon Basso heard about the incident he proclaimed: “Business is good!” Later that year a costumer passed out while eating a hamburger and drinking. However, the worst tragedy came when unofficial spokesperson John Alleman collapsed outside of the restaurant waiting for a bus. Alleman had eaten a hamburger at the Heart Attack Grill nearly every day and had just finished a sandwich when he suffered a heart attack and died before paramedics could save him. The restaurant’s controversy reached fever pitch over the fatalities but still remains in business. Tourists and locals still eat at the Heart Attack Grill, the deadliest restaurant in Las Vegas.
4. Haunted Sinatra Suite
Paranormal sightings are not uncommon in Las Vegas hotels. The old Liberace Museum is rumored to be haunted by Lee himself and Hilton guests have seen the ghostly apparition of Elvis. But the most famous ghost sightings surround Frank Sinatra. Sinatra spent the end of his life performing in Las Vegas and had a variety of suites in the hotels, but none so famous as the suite at the Rivera hotel. After Sinatra died, rumors quickly spread that Ol’ Blue Eyes was still spending time in his suite.
Stories of the haunting quickly spread. Psychic Chris Fleming spent time in the Sinatra suite and claimed to make contact with the crooner for the show Dead Famous. Bollywood actor Varun Dhawan stayed in the Suite during the shooting of ABC 2 and claimed to have many paranormal experiences. During the night Dhawan could hear ghostly singing throughout the suite and saw doors open and close on their own. Dhawan is sure that he was haunted by Sinatra’s ghost.
Recently the Travel Channel’s Las Vegas based show Ghost Adventures filmed an episode in the Suite. With the help of Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil and Sinatra pianist Bruce Westcott, the crew threw a party at night with some of Vince Neil’s girlfriends trying to make contact with Sinatra. The crew supposedly received messages from Sinatra with Vince Neil swearing to have made contact during the night. The Frank Sinatra suite has become a hotspot for paranormal investigators and die-hard fans of the classic singer.
3. Brightest Lights In The World
The Luxor Sky Beam is one of the instantly recognizable symbols of Las Vegas opulence. When designing the pyramid-shaped casino MGM Resorts knew that they needed something that would make their hotel stand out from the competitors. Building a mirror sided pyramid was not enough, so MGM designed and got permission to build the Sky Beam. Designed to shoot straight up into the sky, the Sky Beam is the brightest light in the world and has some pretty crazy facts attached to it.
In order to build the beam engineers relied on several computer designed mirrors that would focus the light from 39 individual xenon lamps into one coherent beam. The light ended up with a rating of 42.3 billion candela which makes it visible from around 300 miles away. Commercial flights over Los Angeles can see the light if atmospheric conditions are right. Engineers originally claimed that it would be bright enough to read a paper from ten miles away, but this proven to be false. At full power the light has an electric bill of $51 dollars per hour and the room in which the lights are housed can reach a temperature of 300 degrees F while in operation. Despite the astronomical power bill, the Luxor Hotel received a 4 out of 5 Green Key Eco Rating.
A common myth is that the light can be seen from space. This is not true, since the light just blends in with the diffuse light coming from the city itself. It is bright enough that the FAA established the Luxor as an official navigational aid for pilots. When the Sky Beam was turned on it immediately attracted moths from the surrounding area. With moths circling the beam bats came as well, eventually creating a miniature ecosystem centered around the light. There are no official estimates to the amount of bugs that fly through the light, but up close the beam does seem to shimmer. While moths and bats most commonly are attracted to the beam, on March 21, 2012 strange orbs were seen hovering within the light. This is not the first UFO sighting in Las Vegas. Some ufologists have claimed that the beam is attracting other sentient life forms. According to believers because of the Sky Beam Las Vegas has become a tourist attraction for the galaxy.
2. Secret Underground Homeless City
Las Vegas residents know that since the desert dirt is so hard that little rainstorms can turn into damaging flash floods. To combat the flood problem the city has built large labyrinthine tunnels under the streets to divert the flood waters and reduce property damage. Although the tunnels were designed for flash flood inner city tunnels have picked up a new use. Thousands of homeless people have created small living habitats in tunnels. Underneath all the glamour of the casinos lives a whole underground city of drifters, transients, convicts on the run, and homeless people.
Nobody knows how long the tunnels have been inhabited but they were first discovered by reporter Matthew O’Brien who was investigating a murder case. He was shocked to learn that people had made a habit out of living in the tunnels and immediately began to set up a charity to give assistance. It is easy to see why the tunnels have become so popular. They offer relatively stable temperature even in the Las Vegas heat and being so close to the tourist action gives the homeless easy access to possible sources of food and income. With so many miles of tunnels, people usually have enough space. However, tunnel residents have to deal with the poisonous desert scorpions and spiders. Since the tunnels are still flood tunnels, flash floods pose a significant risk to residents. It is impossible to tell which tunnels connect to main drainage points, so a flash flood can destroy possessions and even kill.
Still, the tunnel dwellers have carved a home under Las Vegas. Reporters have photographed the ingenuity of residents who have attempted to create their own home. Many are able to scavenge furniture, books, and even figure out how to make showers. Most of the tunnels have a thin layer of water on the bottom, so residents are forced to have their belongings on blocks and stilts. Charitable organizations in Las Vegas have tried to get people out of the tunnels and into safer environment but face the difficulty of having to explore miles and miles of tunnels in attempts to find people. Tourists who visit the city are often completely unaware of the dark underbelly literally bellow their feet.
1. Threat of a water apocalypse
What is the future of Las Vegas? Will the casinos get bigger and bigger? Will another Sky Beam challenge the Luxor? Will the Michael Jackson robot finally get built? Unfortunately none of these things will happen. In fact the future of Las Vegas looks pretty bleak. Due to dwindling water supply and record high temperatures, Las Vegas is facing a water shortage that will destroy the quality of life for Vegas residents and make the much needed tourist income plummet. If that happens, Las Vegas will become an apocalyptic wasteland.
The problem comes from Lake Mead, which provides 90% of Vegas water supply. Lake Mead has faced dropping water levels that have become more pronounced in the past years. Currently Lake Mead is 154 feet below capacity and continues to become depleted. Water levels drop so rapidly that boaters have reported being able to see drops occurring over a period of weeks. Las Vegas has taken rapid water saving measures, but they have done little to stem the Lake Mead depletion. If Lake Mead runs out of water, the city has no other water supply. The first people to feel the impact will be residents and it is projected that the city could see a mass exodus. Casinos will be a little more lucky. Due to clever water recycling techniques casinos only account for 3% of Las Vegas water usage.  But with residents leaving casinos will be understaffed and even the small amount of water that they use will be gone. When the casinos shut their doors, Las Vegas is finished.
Fortunately environmental engineers have noticed the oncoming crisis and have begun to take steps to prevent it. By building a huge tunnel under Lake Mead engineers hope that they will be able to use every last drop that the lake has to offer. City officials have proposed measures to completely solve the crisis. Originally officials thought that California could help Las Vegas get water, but with California in a severe drought that will not happen. Another proposal would be for Nevada to pay for a solar-powered desalination plant off the coast of Mexico and take Mexico’s share of the Colorado River in exchange. But this highlights another problem. Not only is Lake Mead drying up, but the Colorado River which feeds into it is slowly dying as well. When this happens, California, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico will all face severe water shortages. Las Vegas will be the first victim, but the surrounding states will soon deal with the problem. Water is now one of the biggest concerns for Las Vegas. If a solution is not found soon, within decades Vegas will turn into an abandoned ghost town, a reminder of what once was.