Mormons took a big gamble when they settled Las Vegas 150 years ago. That bet paid off as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helped plot the growth of Americas gambling mecca.
Now, for the first time, the deep and symbiotic relationship between Americas fastest growing religion and the countrys fastest growing city is exposed in a book, Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas (1st Books Library, Bloomington, Ind.). Through never-told-before accounts and exclusive interviews, veteran journalist Kenric F. Ward traces the guiding influences of a conservative church in a city that deals in the wages of sin.
Its a sociological odd couple. Las Vegas is eight hours and light years from Salt Lake City. But amidst the bright lights and the non-stop partying is a thriving Mormon community, says Ward, an author and free-lance writer who has lived in Nevada for the past decade.
From its first organized settlement in 1855, when missionaries built a fort along the dusty Old Spanish Trail, Las Vegas and Latter-day Saints have been inextricably linked. As polygamists and farmers gave way to gaming executives and corporate attorneys, todays Mormons shatter many of the religions stereotypes. There is virtually no corner of Sin City they do not inhabit.
Among the colorful cast of characters in Wards work: a polygamous patriarch who pioneered Southern Nevada with a collectivist plan that would make Karl Marx proud; a banker who funded casinos and brought them respectability; Howard Hughes closest confidants; decorated and controversial Vietnam War hero Bo Gritz; a tough-talking sheriff who took on the Mob; and the U.S. Senates second most powerful member.
In this fast-paced book highlighted with historical photos, Ward tells the uniquely American story of a strict, sober Church that found a way to co-exist with and profit from the gambling industry. Its a testament to the adaptability of a people, a city and a faith.