Las Vegas has its share of icons, but few are better known or longer lasting than "Vegas Vic," the huge neon-lit cowboy figure that has greeted visitors for many decades. Although he has been part of downtown for more than half a century, the casino he towers over predates him.
"Vic" was the greeter for the Pioneer Club, which opened in 1942 in what had once been a clothing store and office building built by Las Vegas pioneer Will Beckley. The Pioneer Club's operators were from California, where they had been involved in running gambling and other illegal activities. Tutor Scherer, Farmer Page, Bill Curland, and Chuck Addison hired local attorney Cliff Jones to represent them, paying him by giving him a percentage of the casino. The four of them went on to run other casinos, while Jones not only invested in or helped build other properties but also became one of Nevada's leading politicians.
The Pioneer Club was one of downtown's leading casinos for many years. Its later owners included Margaret Elardi, who owned a Laughlin casino and the Frontier Hotel on the Strip, then a group of Circus Circus executives. After they sold the Pioneer Club in 1992, the new owners were unable to compete with the larger casinos you can see on the street both at the beginning and at the end of this multimedia presentation, or with the large new Strip megaresorts. The owners closed the venerable casino in 1995. In 1998, Schiff Enterprises bought the Pioneer Club and opened a souvenir store inside.
Although the Pioneer Club was gone, Vegas Vic remained. In the 1940s, the character was a symbol of an advertising campaign for Las Vegas, which promoted itself in the 1930s and 1940s as an Old West-style town. In 1951, the Young Electric Sign Company built the forty foot-tall cowboy that resided above the Pioneer Club on the southwest corner of First and Fremont announcing, "Howdy, partner" to everyone walking by—at least, until 1966. In that year, Lee Marvin was filming The Professionals at the Valley of Fire and staying at the Mint Hotel. The noise annoyed Marvin, so casino executives silenced Vegas Vic—and left him that way for nearly two decades.
After the Pioneer Club closed, Vegas Vic fell into disrepair. Several of his neon lights went out, his colors faded, and his arm stopped waving. Fortunately, he was repaired. His life changed in other ways as well: local officials reduced his hat from ten gallons to seven and a half gallons so that he could fit properly under the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience, and he married his longtime girlfriend, "Vegas Vicky," who towered across the street and can be seen with her leg in the air behind one of the pillars holding up the canopy.
While the Mint is gone, it lives on in spirit. It opened in 1957, built by the Sahara's operators, and became the first casino run by longtime Las Vegas casino executive and owner Sam Boyd. Del Webb eventually bought it, and, in 1988 the Binion family bought it and added it to the Horseshoe next door.