Mobsters were violent, greedy criminals who took what they wanted and it didn’t matter the cost. They lived luxurious lives, sneaking behind the backs of good cops and paying off bad ones. These mafia crime lords were brilliant and reckless, paving the way for illegal operations of gambling, prostitution, and smuggling prohibited goods. As corrupt as the mafia was, we owe it to some of the (in)famous Las Vegas mobsters for making the city of Las Vegas what it is today.
There is a reason they call Las Vegas “Sin City”, and that reason dates all the way back to when the mob was in charge of things. Two of the most notorious mobsters responsible for making Las Vegas what it is today were Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky. In 1946, Meyer Lansky began showing interest in investing in Las Vegas casinos. He chose his pal, Bugsy Siegel, to oversee the construction process of the Valley’s first casino, The Flamingo.
Siegel came to Vegas with high hopes and wanted The Flamingo to be the finest building money could buy, but unfortunately, he got a little too carried away. As costs soared, his checks began bouncing. The Flamingo opened in 1946, but only the casino, lounge, restaurant, and theater were finished. Between construction noise, unfinished rooms, and the desert’s first air conditioning frequently failing, The Flamingo was losing money quickly. Although people attended the opening, they were welcomed by loud construction noises and unsightly drop cloths hanging from the ceilings. Gambling tables were operating, but the luxury hotel rooms for people to stay in were unfinished, leaving guests wary to stay the night.
After two weeks, The Flamingo had $275,000 in losses and the entire operation shut down in late January, 1947. While other mob bosses wanted to “off” Siegel for losing so much of their money, Lansky begged them to give his friend a second chance – and they obliged. The Flamingo reopened in March of 1947. Siegel cracked down and did everything possible to turn the Flamingo into a success. With a little assistance from Lansky, The Flamingo finally began to earn some money. However, the profit was not enough for the mob bosses who Siegel borrowed money from, and they were tired of waiting.
The investors had made the final decision that Siegel was finished. On June 20, 1947, Bugsy Siegel was shot and killed in his home in Beverly Hills, California. On that night, an unknown assailant fired at him through the window with a .30 caliber military M1 carbine hitting him several times, including twice in the head. Just twenty minutes after Siegel’s death, Lansky’s associates walked into The Flamingo and took control of the hotel. No one was charged with killing Siegel, and the crime remains officially unsolved.
Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky weren’t the only mobsters running amuck around the streets of Las Vegas. Plenty of gangs from New York and Chicago came flooding in to Las Vegas to grab hold of the potential our city possessed. Today, if you’re looking to find more information on the mafia groups that ran Sin City, what better place than the three-story Mob Museum located in Downtown Las Vegas?
Just minutes from Golden Gate Hotel and Casino, you can immerse yourself in the history of organized crime from vintage Las Vegas. The Mob Museum Las Vegas is a restored courthouse from 1933 with interactive exhibits and actual artifacts with real stories about Las Vegas mob history and the events that took place. It’s the truest mob experience you could ask for without having to sleep with one eye open when you get home!
If a museum isn’t quite what you came to Vegas for, then how about a show? The Plaza Hotel and Casino is featuring an original production called “A Mob Story” that entertains audiences through stunning choreography and visual effects influenced by gangsters and mob mistresses of the past that illustrates how the mob made Las Vegas with.
A Mob Story was created and directed by legendary producer, Emmy and Golden Globe award winner, Jeff Kutash and is narrated by “The Prince of the Mafia”, Michael Franzese. There are also special appearances from former mayor and mob attorney, Oscar Goodman. You can purchase your tickets here, and even upgrade to the Godfather Dinner & Show Package that offers menu items like skirt steak and Italian desserts.
Next time you are visiting Las Vegas, make some time for a history lesson. With perks such as a speakeasy and a steak dinner, it’s hard not to enjoy learning all about the Las Vegas mob history that shaped Sin City. We promise this will be a lesson worth taking!