New York or Las Vegas? You be the Judge!


Andrew Perhac, Prospect Staff Writer

Everyone in the United States, and probably in the world, knows something  about New York City and Las Vegas.  While the two cities share some characteristics, there are also many differences between them in terms of their history, their culture and entertainment offerings, and their demographics.  

While they are both well known cities with interesting origins, New York City has a much longer history than Las Vegas.  Both areas where the cities are located, , of course, were first populated by Native Americans. The first people to live in the area around NYC were the Lenape Tribe who were part of the larger Algonquin tribe. In Las Vegas, members of the Paiute tribe were in the area as early as A.D. 700. The first European to explore the area around NYC was Giovanni da Verrazzano.  He came from Italy in the beginning of the 16th century, and was trying to find an overseas route to Asia. Verrazano explored the area, but didn’t make any settlements. The first person of European ancestry to enter the Las Vegas valley was Rafael Rivera, who scouted the area in 1821 as part of an Spanish expedition to open up a trade route between New Mexico and California. Rivera named the valley Las Vegas, meaning “the meadows.”  In contrast, the first actual settlement in what was to become NYC was established much earlier, this time in 1624 when the Dutch West India Company sent 30 families to live and work in a settlement they named New Amsterdam. It was on a little island called “Nutten Island”, today known as Governor’s Island (which is a part of New York City). In 1626, Peter Minuit purchased the entirety of Manhattan Island from the natives for just $24 worth of farm equipment, tools, cloth and wampum. The settlement of New Amsterdam, which had reached a population of about 300, was then moved to the larger Manhattan Island.  By 1760, the city (now renamed New York City after the British had taken it over) had grown to a population of 18,000 and was the second-largest city in the American colonies. In contrast, the first settlement in Las Vegas was not until 1855 when Brigham Young sent a group of Mormons to establish a settlement there. However, they faced many hardships including water shortage and extreme heat, and soon went back to Utah. The building of a railroad through Las Vegas in the 1860’s connected it to the rest of the country and what finally brought many people and businesses to the area. The city was incorporated in 1911. The construction of the Hoover Dam, which was completed in 1936, then caused an additional population boom. Thousands of workers came to a site just east of the city. Casinos and theaters for showgirls opened up on Fremont Street to attract and entertain workers, who were mostly single men. In the 1930’s organized crime  came to Las Vegas and though gambling was illegal, they built many casinos and other businesses and would continue to be a strong influence in Las Vegas for many years to come.

 Few cities on earth can compete with  New York City in terms of culture and the arts. New York has over 80 museums, including some of the most famous in the world. Some iconic examples include the Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island Immigration Museum, and the Guggenheim Museum. Additionally, New York has many internationally known dance companies. There are more than 50 dance companies in NYC, some of the most famous being New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Dance Theater of Harlem, Paul Taylor Dance Company, American Ballet Theater, and Alvin Ailey Dance Co. But perhaps what New York is most known for in terms of culture is its theater. Nothing can compare to the Broadway and off-Broadway theater scene in NYC. There are currently 41 Broadway theaters in the city.It is famous for being the home of many excellent, long-running plays and musicals. Going to a Broadway show is a must for people around the world, although the shows can be very expensive. There are also many off Broadway theaters that are more affordable and offer quality shows

Although it may not  compare to New York City, Las Vegas is in no way lacking in cultural offerings. It is surely not known for its museums, though as the city has grown in diversity and as more families come to visit , the number of museums has increased. Some of the most well-known are the Mob Museum, the Neon Museum, The Pinball Museum, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, Las Vegas, and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Las Vegas also cannot compare with NYC in terms of the number of professional dance companies , but Nevada Ballet Theater and Contemporary West Dance Theater are worth noting. As far as theater goes, Las Vegas does offer many shows and performances by well-known celebrities and music stars. You can even see some Broadway shows there, but none are as long-lasting as in New York. Most of the shows in Vegas are located in  the resorts, hotels and casinos that make up what is known as The Strip.

 Both Las Vegas and NYC have excellent hotels, but, like the cities themselves, they are quite different in character. Many of the major hotels in Las Vegas have specific themes that together create a bizarre skyline along the Las Vegas Strip. They range from  the Luxor Egyptian resort with sphinxes and pyramids that bring you back to ancient Egyptian times, to the Excalibur Castle that is  themed around medieval times and the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. Some say the castle even resembles the castle at Disneyland.  The New York New York resort has replicas of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and even a scaled down Brooklyn Bridge. This resort also includes a skyscraper roller coaster that you can ride. At other resorts you can see a replica of the Eiffel Tower, take gondola rides with a singing gondolier, or feel like you have been  brought back to ancient Rome. New York City has many beautiful luxury hotels that provide a different type of glitz and glamor, including the Ritz-Carlton, the Mandarin Oriental, and the Sherry-Netherland. These hotels, while providing excellent accommodations and locations, are usually much more subdued than the Las Vegas hotels. They also do not offer gambling casinos, which is often the main draw of hotels and resorts in Las Vegas.   

The hotels in both Las Vegas and NYC often have excellent restaurants featuring well-known chefs. Las Vegas is also known for its buffets, where you can feast at any time of the day or night. Aside from the fancy restaurants, New York City is well known for its iconic hot dog and pretzel vendors, and its pizza, bagels and Chinese food. You can find almost any type of ethnic food in NYC, whether from vendors on the side of the street or in 5 star restaurants.   

Both New York City and Las Vegas are fast-paced, exciting, and famous for their nightlife. New York is known as “The City that Never Sleeps,” and Vegas is  the “The Entertainment Capital Of The World.”  The character of the two cities is quite different, however. Las Vegas is a sprawling city that has been described as a Disney World for adults. It is a city of neon lights that advertise its gambling casinos and resorts. With gambling being the main tourist attraction, Las Vegas is more geared toward adult entertainment, and its shows and activities reflect that. Some words people have used to describe Las Vegas are:  ‘surreal’ , ‘hyper-reality”  and “glitzy”.  New York is truly “The City that Never Sleeps,” with its endless bars, clubs and music venues. There is entertainment for everyone in New York City, young or old, families or singles. 

 New York and Las Vegas also share some similarities and differences in terms of its demographics. The population of NYC is about 8 million, much larger than the population of Las Vegas.  Las Vegas proper has 675,000 people and the Las Vegas valley has a population of 2.2 million. Therefore, New York City is much more crowded and has more traffic. It also has a much better public transportation system. Both cities are racially diverse. In New York City, approximately 41.33% of the population is white, 23.82 % African American and 14.29 % are Asian. In Vegas, 58.49 % of people are white, 12.14% are African American and  6.8% are Asian. Both cities also have similar poverty rates. The poverty rate in Las Vegas is 14,9% and the poverty rate  in NYC is 13.9%. Las Vegas median household income is $61,356 dollars and the median household  income in NYC  is $75,157 dollars. Although the income in NYC may be higher, so is the cost of living. In fact, consumer prices in New York are almost 50% higher than Vegas.  Restaurant prices are almost 40% higher in NYC. The cost of a home in Vegas is about half of what you can expect to pay in NYC. So overall, Las Vegas is a less expensive place to live and visit.

In conclusion, both New York and Las Vegas are very well known cities that have many similarities and differences in their rich histories,  culture and entertainment offerings, and overall demographics. With all they have to offer, it is not hard to see why they are both such popular destinations for visitors.