The legend that is Las Vegas was born of the decadence people chase, gambling, booze, prostitution, and occasionally entertainment. Organized crime pursued the profitable Las Vegas from the late 1920s with the arrival of Chicago mob boss Al Capone’s friend Frank Detra. He operated one of the first casinos on what is now Las Vegas Boulevard. The New York City organized crime was a combination of Italians and Jews, the force and the financial. Recognizing the huge potential for financial opportunities, Bugsy Siegel and Moe Sedway arrived in Las Vegas, and started the race books with horse racing results before focusing on gambling. After the financial success of the El Cortez Siegel persuaded the New York Mob connection, specifically his friends Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano to invest in the new luxurious Flamingo Hotel. It was to be the first introduction of affluence to the laid back western atmosphere of downtown Las Vegas. Siegel wanted control of the project and when Billy Wilkerson’s gambling problem and drinking produced a huge monetary burden Siegel commandeered the enterprise and in June 1946 designated himself president of his Nevada Projects Corporation. It was his own spectacular mismanagement of funds, ignorance of construction, and continual design changes that led to the escalation of a budgeted $1 million dollar project to cost over $3 million dollars. The December 26th opening was a sensational and dramatic flop as the violent weather prevented hundreds of guests arriving from California. The Flamingo closed and reopened but it was too little to save the life of gangster Bugsy Siegel who was riddled with bullets in his girlfriend’s California home in 1947.
This merely started the new chapter of mob involvement in Las Vegas. The face of the town was glitter and glamor and the mob brought in fabulous stars to entertain as well as hosting fights and golf tournaments. They built houses, country clubs and shopping malls. Always having problems with legal financing and gambling licenses the next evolution in Las Vegas was the arrival of Howard Hughes, and then with the implementation of Corporate Gaming Act in 1969 arrived the corporate investors. The mob managed to circumvent this for a time when Allen R. Glick set up a corporation and obtained over $62 million dollars in a loan from the Teamsters to purchase the Stardust and Fremont hotels, while other mobsters were silent in their control of the Tropicana, Aladdin, and Dunes hotels. Gangster Anthony Spilotro briefly ran a successful “Hole in the Wall” robbery gang until he too met a violent end.
Ultimately, the corporate investors survived replacing the glittering lights of Las Vegas with a new face of glass and steel. The mob influence has come and gone, but the gambling remains.