Big Names in Gambling
Las Vegas’ glitzy and glamorous gambling scene owes its inception to a notorious mobster called Bugsy Siegel. Born on Feb 28, 1906, in New York, Bugsy was born to a poor family of Jewish immigrants.
Gambling was his first concerted effort to start a legitimate business. Before starting gambling operations in Las Vegas, Bugsy was a feared and ruthless gangster. He started his life of crime through extortion along the Lower East Side of New York. He then met Meyer Lansky and together, they started a criminal empire that was involved in gangland killings and bootlegging activities.
After gaining control of illicit activities in New York, Bugsy decided to relocate his criminal empire on to the West Coast. He moved out with his family to Beverly Hills in 1937, where he lived an opulent lifestyle. There, he befriended and partied with many rising stars, actors and celebrities.
However, he started dating actress Virginia Hill, as a result of which his marriage broke down. After that, Bugsy Siegel envisioned a vast gambling empire in the heart of the Nevada Desert, Las Vegas. He would end up naming his gambling resort ‘Flamingo Hotel’ after Virginia Hill, who was nicknamed the Flamingo.
The Flamingo Hotel
Bugsy’s plan was extremely ambitious and the new building was meant to be nothing short of the very best. He needed extensive funding for the Flamingo Hotel, which he obtained from the Eastern crime syndicate. In 1945, he supervised the construction of the lavish Flamingo Hotel.
Although the budget was limited to $1.5 million, the plan was so ambitious that costs ultimately ran into $6 million. Bugsy finally opened the Flamingo Hotel on Dec 26, 1946.
The opening ceremony was attended by well-known celebrities of that time, including George Jessel, Sonny Tufts, George Sanders, George Raft and Jimmy Durante. However, the opening ceremony did not go according to plan since bad weather prevented many other celebrities from arriving.
New customers faced problems as construction work was left incomplete. Bugsy had opened the casino too early and this did not help matters at all. As a consequence, customers went elsewhere and the Flamingo Hotel suffered a loss of $300,000 during its first week. The casino closed down two weeks later as it became apparent that it would suffer heavy losses. Determined to make it a success, Bugsy carried out more renovations and rebranded the building as the Fabulous Flamingo when it was reopened on March 1, 1947.
Bugsy Siegel did not live long to enjoy the fruits of his labor. The grand casino eventually became profitable after a torrid start. However, Bugsy was murdered on June 20, 1947, when he was gunned down at Virginia Hill’s home in Beverly Hills. It is strongly suspected that the Eastern Crime Syndicate was involved in his assassination since they suspected him of mismanaging and embezzling funds that they provided for the Flamingo Hotel. The crime remains officially unsolved.
The casino still operates to this day as a famous attraction of Sin City after having changed ownership numerous times over the years. After all, who wouldn't be drawn to the casino of the famous gangster that started it all?