Nevada, a western state known for its libertarian laws, is home to the infamous Las Vegas, which in just 100 years has drawn millions of visitors to gamble, drink and partake in other vices in “America’s Playground.”
The first Europeans to explore the region were Spaniards, who called it Sierra Nevada – meaning snow-covered mountain range – and ceded it to Mexico in 1821. It was transferred to the United States in 1848 following the Mexican-American War as part of the Utah Territory.
The discovery of silver in 1859 led to a migration boom to the region, and Nevada became only one of two states to join the Union during the Civil War, the first being West Virginia. Just eight days after becoming the 36th state in 1864, Nevada helped ensure President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection victory.
Though gambling was outlawed in 1909, it was prevalent in the early Nevada mining towns that dominated the state economy. By 1931, however, it was legalized once again, just a few days after the federal government presented construction plans for the Hoover Dam, the largest in the world at its completion in 1935.
More nuclear weapons have been tested in Nevada than in any other state, with atmospheric and underground tests running from 1951 to 1992 at the Nevada Test Site, just 65 miles from Las Vegas.
Bordered by Oregon, Idaho, California, Utah and Arizona, Nevada is the seventh largest state by area. Much of the state is covered in desert, and the government owns about 85 percent of the land. Though Nevada is one of the most sparsely populated, The Silver State’s population has more than tripled since 1980.
More than 30 percent of Nevada’s approximate 2.9 million residents speak a language other than English at home, and 20 percent were born outside the U.S., primarily in Latin America and Asia.
The median household income of $55,180 was slightly less than the national median in 2016, but the poverty rate remained on par.
About the same number of Nevada residents older than 25 graduated from high school as in the U.S. overall, but at 23.5 percent, the rate of those holding bachelor’s degrees is about three-quarters of the national rate.
Nevada’s two- or four-year colleges include the University of Nevada - Reno, Sierra Nevada College, located on Lake Tahoe, and the University of Nevada - Las Vegas, which hosted the third presidential debate in 2016.
Nevada’s key industries include aerospace and defense, agriculture, information technology, energy and health care. Mining is the state’s largest export industry, and tourism plays a major role in the state’s economy thanks to its standing as the Entertainment Capital of the World – the Las Vegas Strip – and its northwestern neighbor, Reno, which sits only about an hour from Lake Tahoe.
In 2014, Tesla announced that a massive battery factory would be built in the desert outside Reno, churning out thousands of jobs for Nevadans and affecting population projections for the state through 2033.
“Sin City” isn’t just for gambling. Las Vegas is the only Nevada city to rank in the top 100 U.S. News Best Places to Live, and it is the state’s most populous, followed by Henderson, Reno, North Las Vegas and Sparks.
Nevada’s rapid population growth in the last three decades has brought its electoral vote count up to six and marked it as a solid battleground state. One of the less religious states, fewer than one in three Nevada adults attend worship services at least weekly, according to Pew Research.