In the 1980s, Nevada became the fastest growing U.S. state, as the population grew by more than 3,300 people a month on average and reached 1.2 million by 1990. The early part of the decade was a period of concern for both Reno and Las Vegas, because Atlantic City had legalized gaming in the late 1970s and ended the legal monopoly Nevada had for more than 45 years. In addition, the MGM Grand fire in Las Vegas and the Harveys Hotel and Casino bombing in Lake Tahoe provided a terrible rash of bad publicity for Nevada gaming operators.
However, by the end of the decade, a Las Vegas icon took what was considered the state's biggest gamble by building a $750 million "mega-resort" and ushered in a new era in Las Vegas gaming. In November 1989, Golden Nugget owner Steve Wynn opened The Mirage to much fanfare, attracting attention from around the globe. The Mirage was considered the most elegant property in Las Vegas. Its exterior centerpiece was a manmade volcano with waterfalls facing the Strip entrance to the hotel. The theme carried into the casino and hotel with strategically placed indoor plantings, a white tiger habitat and a 20,000-gallon-aquarium, creating the illusion of a South Pacific paradise. While other hotels' primary focus was the casino, The Mirage's focus was providing a luxury resort experience. The opening of The Mirage sparked what was to be one of the largest regional construction and population explosions the United States had ever seen.
In 1988, the United States Congress formally recognized but limited the right of Native Americans to conduct gaming operations with the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Northern Nevada would ultimately feel the effects of reservation gaming upon California's acceptance of Native American gaming establishments in 2000.
- Nevada's total population: 810,215
- Nevada becomes the fastest growing state
- Nevada's gaming revenue is nearly $2.5 billion per year
- MGM Grand Hotel fire results in stricter fire regulations, making Nevada resorts among the safest in the world
- The Internal Revenue Service institutes stricter regulations for the reporting of gaming dealers' tips
- Edgewater Casino opens in Laughlin
- High Sierra Hotel & Casino opens at Stateline, South Lake Tahoe
- IGT introduces Megabucks
- Colorado Belle and bridge opens in Laughlin
- Harrah's Laughlin opens in Laughlin
- The Mirage opens on the Las Vegas Strip