The Las Vegas Strip wasn’t always bright lights and big dreams, in fact, some of the biggest casinos were opened by The Mob in an attempt to harvest an income.
In the modern day, online casino sites fill their players’ screens with bright lights and flashing images in an attempt to recreate the fast-paced lifestyle the Strip now stands for, and there’s one mobster in particular we have to thank for this glamourous vision.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel played a pivotal part in the creation of the Las Vegas strip – a key driving force behind the building of modern Vegas. He was the founder of The Flamingo, one of the oldest and most famous hotel casinos on the Strip, pioneering the future of the casino experience, but he fell victim to a gruesome death at the age of 41, revealing the darkness of the mob life he was caught up in.
Read on to discover the dark beginnings of the Las Vegas Strip, and how today’s bright lights of the hopeful city were once shrouded in gangs and violence.
Born on the 8th February 1906 in Brooklyn, New York, Siegel was the son of Jewish immigrants. He was raised in the crime-ridden section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and reportedly extorted protection money from pushcart peddlers on the other side of the East River as a young man. It was here, in New York City’s Lower East Side that he befriended another tough Jewish child named Meyer Lansky. In 1918, they established the Bugs and Meyer Gang.
In the early 1930s, Mafia kingpin Charles “Lucky” Luciano and some other Italian gangsters moved into New York, and Siegel left the Bugs and Mayer organisation to work for Luciano. He was often associated with violent crimes, and whilst being closely watched by the FBI, relocated to the West Coast.
Siegel set up many gambling dens and offshore gambling ships, gathering a fortune that provided him with a large home in Beverly Hills, where he hosted many parties for Hollywood stars.
In the late 1930s, Siegel began dating glamourous actress Virginia Hill, and in 1945, with her by his side, he set out to build one of the first hotel-casinos on the edge of Las Vegas.
The construction of the Flamingo Hotel was mostly funded by Eastern crime syndicate bosses under Siegel’s direction, but the project didn’t quite go to plan. The original budget for the casino was $1.2 million, but ended up costing $6 million, which enraged Siegel’s mobster financiers.
On the evening of June 20th, 1947, Bugsy Sigel was shot multiple times, including two fatal head wounds, through his living room window in his home in Beverly Hills. Minutes later, three of fellow mobster Lansky’s associates entered the Flamingo and announced that they were in charge. Lansky denied involvement in the murder, and some believe Siegel was killed due to his involvement in a love triangle. Despite this, to this day his murder has never been solved.
The Flamingo still stands tall, however, right in the centre of the Las Vegas Strip. It features a 15-acre Caribbean-style pool, shows, nightlife, dining, attractions and, of course, a casino – featuring 130 table games and over 1,600 slot machines. In 1967, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian purchased the resort, ending any ties The Mob may have still had within the casino. It was later sold to the Hilton corporation and is now owned and run by Harrah’s Entertainment.
However, Bugsy Siegel still gets the final say, because according to the Wall Street Journal, the Flamingo is one of 10 most haunted sites in America. Despite having fallen in Hollywood, Siegel’s ghost has reportedly been seen making up for lost time wandering the twisted paths of the casinos garden. Most reported sightings of the pioneer of the Las Vegas Strip, however, are in the Presidential Suite, where you’ll find the gold faucets and bathroom fixtures from his old apartment, alongside the potential for a particularly spooky nights sleep.