Back in the 50’s, great performers like Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong were not allowed to stay at the Las Vegas hotels where they performed because almost all the casinos on the Strip were segregated. One exception was the Moulin Rouge, which became the first integrated hotel casino in Las Vegas when it opened in May of 1955. It was located in West Las Vegas, where the black population was forced to live.
It soon became a popular late night hangout for many white performers including George Burns, Jack Benny, and Frank Sinatra, who would drop in after their shows to relax, gamble and perform. After a while, the Moulin Rouge became so popular, they had to add a 2:30 AM show for the late night crowd.
The Moulin Rouge was launched by white investors but was later owned by the first African American woman to hold a Nevada gaming license. And as a model of integration, it was instrumental in advancing the Civil Rights movement in Las Vegas. Many of the people associated with the Moulin Rouge were activists and supporters of civil rights. In fact, when a crucial meeting was held to arrange the desegregation of all Strip casinos, it took place at the Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately, the Moulin Rouge had a short lifespan, closing its doors less than a year after it opened. Nevertheless, it remains a significant, although little-known part of Las Vegas history.
Now, as the Rat Pack is remembered through Rat Pack Tributes, it’s hard for today’s performers and Rat Pack Impersonators alike to imagine a time of segregation in Las Vegas, and elsewhere for that matter, but it existed.