West Wendover, which sits on the eastern edge of Nevada, is a flourishing community, and a testament to the powerful lure of the gaming industry. The city is an offshoot of Wendover, Utah, which was established by officials of the Western Pacific Railroad as a watering station in 1907. In the nineteenth century, the region had been an important entry point to Nevada for early explorers and settlers, including John Frémont and the Donner Party, and may have been traversed as early as 1827 by trapper Jedediah Smith.
The first train arrived in Wendover in 1909, by then a rough railroad town with plenty of saloons and dance halls. In 1913, the Elko Free Press reported that the county sheriff thought Wendover to be “the toughest town in the state.” Although it was first established in Utah, the town quickly spread into Nevada, and criminals could elude law enforcement by crossing into the neighboring state whenever any one sheriff was in town. Capturing criminals usually involved the rare cooperation of both Nevada and Utah law enforcement.
Distinguishing West Wendover from its eastern counterpart in Utah became important in 1932, when business partners William Smith and Herman Eckstein expanded their hotel and restaurant to include gaming. In doing so, they started a trend that would virtually guarantee the future of West Wendover. Smith also is credited with establishing West Wendover as a twenty-four-hour town, with a light on at all hours of the night.
The gaming business flourished, and enjoyed a surge in the 1940s when the U.S. Army Air Corps built a base nearby. In 1945 there were as many as 20,000 military residents in the area, and the town boomed as off-duty airmen patronized the town’s gaming institutions. The base had the distinction of being a training ground for the Enola Gay, the airplane that would drop the first nuclear bomb on Japan during World War II.
When the Victory Highway (later designated U.S. Highway 40) was completed through the town in 1925, West Wendover enjoyed renewed success by virtue of its location: motorists traveling across the desert were hard-pressed not to stop at the town for gasoline. Today, West Wendover is a flourishing gaming community with casinos catering to cross-country travelers as well as to residents in neighboring Utah. Major resorts include the Montego Bay, Peppermill, Rainbow, Red Garter, and Wendover Nugget. The city’s gaming revenue topped $171 million in 2006, and its population was approximately 4,800. West Wendover has eclipsed its sister city in Utah, which had an estimated population of 1,600 citizens in 2006.