Las Vegas was long the home of the Anasazi Indians, but the first non-Indian on the scene was a young Mexican scout by the name of Rafael Rivera. He was looking for water off the Old Spanish Trail, and found it in the Las Vegas Valley around 1830.
It wasn't called the Las Vegas Valley then. In fact, it didn't even have a name, but the area resembled a giant meadow. Hence the name Las Vegas, which means "The Meadows."
The oldest continually-running casino in Las Vegas is the Golden Gate, which opened in 1906.
The Northern Club received the city's first gaming license in 1931 when the State of Nevada legalized gambling. Today the property, at 15 East Fremont, is known as the Coin Castle.
The first casino on the Las Vegas Strip was the Western-themed El Rancho Vegas, which opened in April of 1941 with 63 hotel rooms, a casino, and a 250-seat showroom.
When Thomas Hull opened the El Rancho, it was part of his "El Rancho" chain, including similar hotels in Sacramento, California, and Bakersfield, CA. El Rancho Vegas was designed by architect Wayne McAllister and offered horseback riding, a large swimming pool and top shows in the "Round Up Room" (Later the "Opera House" theater). The resort later went through several changes of ownership.
Legendary stripper Candy Barr was headlining in 1959 when she was arrested by the FBI after her appeal on a Texas marijuana conviction was rejected by the US Supreme Court.
Harry James and Betty Grable were performing a late show on stage when the hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1960.
Despite vows to rebuild the El Rancho Vegas after the fire, plans never materialized. In 1970, billionaire Howard Hughes purchased 60 acres of the land. In 1978, the remnants of the old resort were demolished. (info from Casino City Times and Wikipedia, photo from Visit Las Vegas)