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How The Mob Built Vegas

1931 marked two important things for the Nevada. First was the fact that it became urbanized and men – mostly workers that worked on building the now called Hoover Dam – and second was the legalisation of gambling. People moving to a desert town had to be entertained, so theatres and casinos were built.

But it was a different town back then. It was dirty and dodgy. It was not a nice stop off and those travelling along route 91 – now called the Las Vegas Strip – on their way to California, seldom stopped here. It was  rugged and it’s residents were rough being mostly cowboys and labourers. Most certainly not a place where any self respecting gentleman would want to be seen.

Bugsy Siegel and the Flamingo

Nevada caught the eye of two mafia bosses, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello. These two organised crime bosses were attracted to Route 91 through Nevada, not because it was desert and they liked sand, but because gambling was legal. They sent well known gangster Bugsy Siegel in 1940 to scope out the business prospects in Vegas.

Before Bugsy, gangs and small mobs where in Vegas. A few hotels and casinos like El Rancho Vegas – which was the first resort on the Vegas strip – already existed. These hotels, casinos and showgirl theatres were small and low key and no where near as exciting as what we know the casinos to be. Siegel went into business with William R Wilkerson’s Flamingo Hotel.

A broader image

Siegel saw however the opportunity that Vegas has to offer, He dreamt of an establishment were people could dine, gamble, be dazzled with live shows and stay for the night, all under one roof and at an affordable price. He believed that it would bring not only vacationers, but also high rollers to his establishment.

Wilkerson was eventually convinced to sell off all shares of the Flamingo under threat of being killed and went into hiding in Paris. Here started the large mafia syndicate that grew into Vegas as we know it today.

To make his dream come true Siegel started a renovations on the Flamingo. In a post war world he wanted only the best of everything to be used in reconstruction. By late November 1947, construction was mostly complete, costing more than $6million.

The casino officially opened already on the 26th of December the previous year, but due to technical failures, poor publicity and $275 000 debt, it was forced to close it’s doors. Siegel did every thing in his power to make everything better when he was given a second chance and the Flamingo opened again on March 1st, 1947 and finally began showing profit.

Even though the profits were finally starting to show, it was all, too little too late, for the mob bosses that Siegel was working with. At age 41 on June 20th 1947, Siegel saw his end when a bullet shot through a window killed him in his home in Beverly Hills. The murder is still labelled as unsolved

Just seven years later, by 1954 Vegas was booming and even though everyone knew it was run by mod bosses it didn’t stop its yearly somewhat 8 million visitors that pumped  about $200million into the casino business.