Places

Before Vegas,This Small Kentucky Town Was the Original 'Sin City'

Along the confluence of the Ohio and Licking Rivers, directly across the water from downtown Cincinnati, is the city of Newport. The now quaint northern Kentucky city has a very interesting history filled with gambling, bootlegging and more. Its nickname was even "Sin City" before that title became synonymous with Las Vegas. Back then, it was one of the most crime-ridden cities in the United States. 

Originally founded by banker James Taylor in 1791, the city took a turn in the early 1900s. Newport turned into a town straight out of a gangster film. When the government stationed soldiers in the riverfront city, there were a lot of men in one place looking for entertainment. Brothers popped up along the East Row Historic District as well as bars and nightclubs to front the illegal prostitution. Things took even more of a turn after The Volstead Act, which prohibited the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. 

During Prohibition, the greater Cincinnati area was a hot spot for bootlegging alcohol. Newport was enlisted as a partner to actually make the illegal booze they were transporting. Bootleggers thrived during this period as did the hidden speakeasies around town. But when Prohibition ended, they needed something else to fill their time. This is when Newport city turned to gambling.

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Newport started the classy "carpet joints," which were establishments offering fine entertainment acts fit for the Hollywood elite. With gambling included of course. This is probably what attracted the likes of Dean Martin, who was even briefly a blackjack dealer at The Beverly Hills Club. The streets were lined with casinos, brothels and nightclubs along the historic Monmouth Street. The colorful nightlife is probably what attracted the mob.

The Cleveland Syndicate, also known as the "Cleveland Four" ran the show. They took over the local race track by murdering the owner. They also became big time crime bosses by taking over many of the illegal businesses in town. It's been said that they even had many of the police force on their side. 

The Los Angeles Times notes that one of the ultimate gangster movies, The Godfather Part IIincludes a reference to Newport.

By the '60s, Newport decided to clean up its act. A complete reorganization of the police force helped decrease corruption. The Newport mobs moved out West and were actually responsible for setting up some of the first casinos in Vegas.

But Newport embraces its shady past. If you visit today, you can embark on the Newport Gangster Tour, which takes you throughout the historic downtown. You'll learn all about how the crime world took over the city and how Newport became a mecca for gambling and shaped the industry to create the Vegas we know today.

Outside of gangsters, visitors can also stop by the Newport aquarium. Riverboat Row has all the options for a river cruise. Aloft Newport on the Levee, located on the riverfront area, is also an entertainment spot along the south bank of the Ohio River on Levee Way. Even if you just want to stop by on a trip to Louisville, Newport is less than two hours away and definitely worth a visit.

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Before Vegas,This Small Kentucky Town Was the Original 'Sin City'