There’s a reason why Las Vegas is called "Sin City." And much of it dates back to the era when mobsters ruled the city.
The mafia lords and mob were greedy, violent criminals who lived luxurious lives. They were feared by many, able to sneak behind good cops and pay off the bad ones. They also paved the way for illegal operations of gambling and smuggling within Vegas. And while all of this may seem corrupt, the mob and their shady activities also helped make Las Vegas what it is today.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the momentous events that shaped Sin City.
1940s: The Rise of Mobs in Las Vegas
In the early 1940s, Bugsy Siegel arrived in Las Vegas, believing the city was ripe for the mob and organized crime. As financed by East Coast gangster Meyer Lansky, Siegel and his friend, Moe Sedway, dominated the race wire dissemination services, where they would provide horse racing results to clients. When that proved successful, they moved on to gambling and took over El Cortez, Downtown Las Vegas, and the Strip.
In 1946, Lansky took an interest in investing in casinos and chose Siegel to manage the construction process. This was known as The Flamingo, the Valley’s first casino and swank resort that drew influences from Hollywood.
Unfortunately, Siegel’s mismanagement troubled The Flamingo – costs soared, rooms were unfinished, the air condition failed – causing it to lose money quickly. In late January of 1947, The Flamingo shut its operations and mob bosses went after Siegel for losing their money. Though he was given as second chance (and The Flamingo re-opened in March of 1947), the profit was still insufficient for the mafia leaders.
On June 20, 1947, Siegel was killed in his Beverly Hills home, a crime to this date that remains unsolved. On this same night, Lansky’s associates of mob-connected businessmen took control of The Flamingo. From then on, The Flamingo became the model of profitable mob-backed establishments in the city, like the Thunderbird and Desert Inn.
1950s-1960s: The New Era of Organized Crime
Over the next decades, almost all hotel-casinos in Las Vegas were somehow connected to Lansky and his branch of organized crime. Their contractors had illegal operations in different locations, including Dallas, Minneapolis, and Portland. They also underreported their earnings, and the excess money was sent to Lansky and other investors.
During these years, casinos along the Strip — Dunes, New Frontier, Riviera, and the Sands — slowly popped up thanks to money from organized crime and funds from investors like the Mormon Church and Wall Street banks. Several others were financed with million-dollar loans from the mob-dominated Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. Big-name performers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, along with the abundance of slot machines and gaming tables, brought in visitors to the resorts.
This era saw casino executives with ties to organized crime become well-respected. They easily got away with money laundering, skimming, and other violent criminal activities. On a positive end, mob-connected operators did their best to avoid Siegel’s efforts. Businesses were well-managed and successful.
With the rise of mob influence on the Strip, the state gaming regulators created a Black Book with names of mafia members who were banned from casinos. Likewise, state officials wanted to attract legitimate investors, while federal officials were on the hunt for the mobsters.
Toward the late 1960s, billionaire Howard Hughes went on a buying spree of several mob-connected hotels and casinos on the Strip, amounting to over $300 million. This ushered in the era of corporate conglomerates and limited the mob interests. But with the same employees working on the tables and counting rooms, the skimming operations remained.
In 1969, the Nevada Legislature passed the Corporate Gaming Act to license key investors and executives to own casinos, rather than individual stockholders. However, as expected, the mob was able to find ways around this legislation.
Two years later, Anthony Spilotro arrived in Vegas to take over loansharking and other street rackets. He also became an enforcer and hitman for the Chicago mob, running his operations at the gift shop of Circus Circus. When authorities were on to him, he formed the “Hole in the Wall” burglary gang that concentrated on drilling holes through the ceilings and walls of buildings they entered.
By 1986, Spilotro had faced numerous charges, but was found in an Indiana cornfield a few days after his conviction. Around the same time, federal authorities had numerous mafia figures, and the mob had lost its grip on the Strip.
Over the next decades, the Strip transformed to become the entertainment mecca of the world. It became home to high-rise hotels and casinos, and massive establishments with influences from New York, Paris, Rome, Venice, and other world-class destinations. More importantly, the hotel, resort, and casino industry has been a consistent major employer and source of capital for the city.
Learn More About Las Vegas Mob History
Beyond Siegel and Lansky, many other mobsters – some even from Chicago and New York – once dominated the streets of Las Vegas. If you’re looking to learn more about these mafia groups, be sure to head down to The Mob Museum.
This three-story attraction has done a great job preserving the mob history of Sin City. From the birth of the mob and organized crime, to courtroom hearings and the rise of the cartel, The Mob Museum has countless exhibits and digital experiences for visitors.
If you’re not into museums, perhaps A Mob Story is more to your liking. This powerful original production, narrated by “The Prince of the Mafia,” Michael Franzese, depicts the influences brought by gangsters and mob mistresses – set to dance, music, and eye-popping visuals.
Las Vegas is so much more than meets the eye. It’s rich in vibrant culture and mystic history. While mob activities weren’t always on the good side, many of today’s famous hotel-casinos, such as Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, were opened with mob money.
Because of its eventful past, Las Vegas has become one of the most interesting cities in the country. Planning to move and settle down here? As a team of experienced real estate agents and Las Vegas experts, we can help you make that happen. Contact The Brendan King Group today to know more.