Las Vegans felt troubled by depictions of their community as an American Gomorrah – much as they hoped to set themselves apart from the resort. Local columnists denied strenuously that the city differed from any typical American town and advocated several measures that would prove the town’s conformity to national standards.
This defensiveness and quest for legitimacy in the eyes of others may have provided a sense of commitment to the desert town for a people who had almost purposely avoided such involvement in patterns of residential life. Both by building a decentralized privacy-seeking culture and by asserting the normality of the city, Las Vegans pursued the same end— denying the importance of gambling and its trappings to domestic life in southern Nevada.
Sensitive to charges that they differed from other Americans the people of Clark County publicized the conviction that they diverged not at all from national norms. In an almost ceaseless series of editorials addressed to tourists and other outsiders local newspapers reminded the visitor of the normal hometown – the schools, churches, parks, and homes, fraternal orders, women’s clubs, Boy Scouts, and cultural amenities – that he was likely to overlook in his preoccupation with casino betting.
Residents of Las Vegas in regarding themselves as indistinct from other Americans refused to believe that they were susceptible to the same temptations as tourists. Of course southern Nevadans as a whole tended to gamble more frequently than other Americans but, they held that constant exposure to gaming and associated ‘vices’ had made them immune and insisted that they could withstand the pressures of living in the resort.
They tried to convince outsiders that gaming was not very important to townspeople and sometimes even denied that casinos provided the primary resort attraction to vacationers too. This argument doubtless sprang from residents’ appreciation of the diverse features of Las Vegas Valley but it simply proved inaccurate.
When resort hotels appeared without casinos such as the Tallyho which opened for eight months in 1963 because its owner believed that tourists would visit Las Vegas solely for its outdoor recreation they inevitably folded quickly.
Consequently, residents undertook several campaigns to reshape the city, all the while insisting that it was not really any different. Southern Nevadans could afford neither to outlaw the economic staple of gaming nor to chase gamblers out of town but, they did not try to enhance their reputation by attracting additional economic activities that might help reduce the primacy of gaming and tourism.
None of the efforts actually succeeded in reducing the significance of gambling either to outsiders or to the local economy. Las Vegans gained from each campaign a greater sense of legitimacy.