Laughlin is one of Nevada's newest boom towns, but unlike the mining towns that are often associated with this term, Laughlin's development rests entirely on gambling. In 1966 Don Laughlin bought a small beach along the Colorado River in the southern tip of Nevada wedged between Arizona and California. All that stood there at the time were a bait shop and a tiny motel. Laughlin already had a gambling license and was able to use that to build a small gambling empire, starting with the Riverside Hotel. By 1985 the town had only ninety-eight residents but was home to six large casinos that attracted tourists from neighboring states who preferred the low-key atmosphere to the glitter of Las Vegas. Today several high-rise hotel-casinos line the Nevada bank of the Colorado, a desert mirage including a riverboat, railroad, and frontier town. Laughlin's thriving economy has encouraged the construction of larger casinos, but the resorts here are still modest in design compared with their counterparts in Las Vegas.
As a border town, Laughlin has benefited from its proximity to large populations in Arizona and California. Extensive residential development did not occur until the mid-1980s, when Clark County began providing services for the area and the federal government released land for private development. Though Laughlin faces stiff competition from the mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, its rate of growth in the past ten years has often surpassed that of Las Vegas.
As a boom town, Laughlin is not without its problems. The focus on tourism and the scarcity of developable land have made the town's few residential areas extremely expensive. For workers in the gambling and tourism sector—the bulk of Laughlin's labor force—affordable housing has become a major problem. At various times, some workers have been forced to live in squatters' camps by the river. As in Nevada's other border towns, many employees live in the adjacent state and travel long distances to work. In recent years the county has constructed a library and public schools, and many new subdivisions now stand southwest of the casino center.
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