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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Steve Ember. A marketing campaign for Las Vegas says, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." What does happen there? That is our subject this week.
Las Vegas, Nevada, began as a small settlement in a sandy desert. Trains stopped there for water. Today people stop there for a lot more.
The city is famous for its hotels and casinos where people risk their money on games of chance. Many visitors to Las Vegas bring their families. There is entertainment by top performers. Not all the entertainment, though, is fit for children.
To some people, Las Vegas is a moral wasteland -- "Sin City." To others, that is the appeal.
Away from the gambling and the big hotels, Las Vegas can seem like any other city. True, its mayor, Oscar Goodman, formerly served as a defense lawyer in organized-crime cases. But there are stores and schools and houses -- and lots of people who want to live in those homes. The population of Las Vegas and its surrounding communities is nearing two million.
The federal government says the population rose by more than eighty percent between nineteen ninety and two thousand. In fact, in the national population count of two thousand, it was the fastest-growing area in the country.
The weather is usually warm and sunny, and the air is dry. The average temperature is between nineteen and twenty degrees Celsius.
The climate for jobs looks good, too. Many people move to Las Vegas to work in the hotels or the building trades, or in jobs that service those industries.
Unlike most Americans, people who live in Nevada do not have to pay a state tax on their wages.
But Las Vegas has a problem like that of many other desert communities. The city needs more water. The area depends heavily on Lake Mead, on the border with Arizona. Lake Mead is a man-made body of water fed by the Colorado River. But in recent years, a shortage of rain has decreased the water level in Lake Mead.
To deal with the water shortage, Las Vegas sends some of its used water back into the Colorado River to use again. The city has some of the most severe restrictions in the country on the use of water for things like watering grass. Officials urge people to grow desert plants instead.
But some officials believe that efforts to save water are not enough. They want to build to build a pipeline almost four hundred kilometers long. The pipeline would carry groundwater from other areas of Nevada to Las Vegas. It would cost two thousand million dollars to build.
Each year, more than thirty-five million people visit Las Vegas looking for a good time. The signs on the hotels are huge and brightly colored. Author Tom Wolfe wrote that Las Vegas is the only town in the world where the signs make up the skyline.
Some of the most unusual hotels in America can be found along what is known as the Strip. Visitors to the Luxor Hotel, for example, can feel like they are in ancient Egypt. The three-sided building looks like a pyramid, only it is made of black glass.
Inside, visitors ride in boats along what is meant to be the Nile River. There is a huge statue like an ancient Egyptian sphinx, and a burial place like that of King Tutankhamen.
Another place along the Strip, the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, has a water-and-light show that visitors gather to watch.
The Wynn Las Vegas Hotel is a recent addition to the Strip. It opened in April. The Wynn cost almost three thousand million dollars to build.
A number of older hotels in Las Vegas have been brought down in recent years to make room for new ones. Presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy stayed with their families at the Sands Hotel and Casino. The Sands has been gone since nineteen ninety-six.
The end was sad for people who remember hearing artists like Frank Sinatra perform there. Sinatra made the hotel a headquarters for more than forty years.
Sinatra led a group of friends who were also famous. This so-called Rat Pack often entertained with him. The group included Sammy Davis Junior and Dean Martin. Listen as Dean Martin sings "Volare."
Visitors to Las Vegas have a lot of entertainment to choose from. Currently there are shows like "Mamma Mia" and "Avenue Q."
Cirque du Soleil is appearing now at four hotels in Las Vegas. The circus performers are known for the artistry and skill in their movements.
They seem to fly through the air. Close your eyes and imagine you are watching them.
It is hard to imagine that Las Vegas once was just a lot of sand in the desert. American Indians long ago settled around a place where water rose from natural springs in the ground. Grass and other plants grew in this desert oasis. In Spanish, "Las Vegas" means "the meadows."
In eighteen sixty-five, a man from Ohio, Octavius Gass, had a farm of about three hundred twenty hectares there. The crops grew, kept alive by the water.
A United States senator, William Clark of Nevada, later bought the land. Then, in nineteen-oh-five, Clark sold the land to settlers. Six years later, the Nevada legislature officially created the city of Las Vegas.
The growing population of the American West required more water. So the federal government built Hoover Dam. The project was finished in nineteen thirty-one.
That same year, Nevada became the first state to approve casino gambling. Legal gambling became a way to get more visitors, and more money, into the state. The state needed the money because the population just kept increasing. Today, most of the fifty states have casinos. Often they are operated by Native American tribes.
Many religious leaders and other people opposed the decision to make gambling legal in Nevada.
By the nineteen forties, however, Las Vegas was famous for its casinos, and its showgirls. State laws also made Nevada a place where people could get married -- or unmarried -- quickly.
Las Vegas has long been seen as a place where adults can go to do things they might not be too proud of. In recent years, the city tried to remake itself into more of a family place. But that idea did not pay off as well. So the old image is back with sayings like "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."
To some people, Las Vegas still represents all that is bad about popular culture. But a Virginia woman who recently spent a few days there had this advise for visitors:
"Do not gamble more money than you can lose without feeling bad. See the best shows. If you do those things, you will have a wonderful time."
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Steve Ember. Internet users can read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.