And then there’s Vegas. The mecca of gambling in the United States. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, New York gangster, went out there in 1945 and had the famous/infamous Flamingo Hotel and Casino built. Most know of the financial issues that occurred. The project went way over budget and had a poor opening night. It actually closed right after the grand opening so that the hotel could be finished. Bugsy was killed shortly after its grand re-opening in 1947.
All of the stories I had heard when I first started following this stuff lead me to believe that Bugsy was some grand visionary that went out there on his own and poof, there was Las Vegas. Um, no.
Bugsy, as I stated earlier, was a New York gangster. As a child he had become friends with Meyer Lansky and the two started the Bugsy and Meyer Gang. The both of them were tough guys. At some point, still in childhood, Meyer becomes friends with Lucky Luciano. One story says that Lucky was trying to rob Meyer but Meyer would have nothing of it. They then became friends and “business partners”.
Let’s fast forward to the early 1930s. With the help of Bugsy and Meyer Lucky is now the head of the largest of the five New York crime families and whether he had the title on his stationary or not was indeed the boss of all bosses. It didn’t hurt at all that as part of the family leadership he had Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. Anyway, in 1936 Bugsy was sent west as there was a lot of heat on him. He was sent. He didn’t go on his own. Sent.
Bugsy started out in California where (as an associate of the Luciano family) he helped get the rackets out there organized. He was living the good life. His old buddy George Raft was bringing him around introducing him to celebrities. Got himself a nice house in Beverly Hills. Found himself a nice girl in Virginia Hill. Life was good.
So now in 1945 Bugsy heads out to Vegas. Vegas was just a patch of sand in the middle of nowhere. Well, maybe in the middle of nowhere but it wasn’t just a patch of sand. There were already things going on in Vegas. It certainly wasn’t as we know it but there were already casinos out there. As a matter of fact, The Flamingo was already under construction. How can that be? He just got there.
The Flamingo was actually being built by L.A. business man Billy Wilkerson. My guess is Bugsy got wind of what was happening while out in L.A., let his bosses back in New York know and with the backing of New York’s Luciano family (now being run by Frank Costello) he went out there and muscled in on the project and took it over. Unfortunately for Bugsy he wasn’t much of a contractor and let the project get away from him. He also may have been pocketing some of the money being sent out his way. Rule number one, don’t mess with the money.
The Luciano family is now in Vegas. No other family is there. They have the place to themselves. This is where I think things get interesting. The name of the game is to make money. They have the place to themselves at this point so when do they allow others to come in? We know they didn’t stop with the Flamingo. They had other places out there. Costello was caught with the slip showing his take from the Tropicana. The movie Casino makes it seem like Vegas was run by Chicago and Kansas City. That’s obviously not true. Do you really think New York would allow that to happen? Other families were allowed there piece of course but I refuse to believe that New York would give up complete control of a money making machine like Las Vegas. Gary Jenkins, I’ll be expecting a knock on my door any minute.