It’s not so true anymore, but a while ago the mafia and Las Vegas were intimately tied together. A lot of famous gangsters made their name and their millions on the Strip. They are immortalised in popular culture and history, and their stories make for fascinating reading.
We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting mobsters with Las Vegas ties, and are bringing them to you in a 3-part series to make sure we do them all justice. Check out the first instalment here, and don’t forget to read parts 2 and 3.
Born in Grodno, Russian Empire in 1902, Lansky settled in Manhattan in 1911, and became friends with fellow future mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. With Siegel he actually ran the Bugs and Meyer Mob, a violent prohibition gang that also expanded gambling interests and stole cars.
By 1936 Lansky controlled gambling operations in New Orleans, Cuba and Florida. Around this time he purchased a Swiss offshore bank, to launder money and store illegal earnings. He was doing very well, but his old friend Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel was doing very badly.
Siegel’s mafia investors held meetings about the Flamingo situation, which Lansky attended. He was initially able to talk the other bosses into granting Siegel more time. Instead of killing him off, they waited to see if he could turn a profit. But by the third meeting, this had not happened.
Lansky finally agreed that Siegel needed to be killed at the third mafia boss meeting, and 20 minutes after the execution he assumed control of the Flamingo. He stayed at the helm for 20 years. The rest of his criminal career was also successful, and it is believed that he left over $300 million hidden in various bank accounts when he died of lung cancer in 1983. The money, however, has never been found.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel
Siegel was born into a poor family in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1906. Unhappy with his family’s situation, he dropped out of school to join a Manhattan gang. When he met Moe Sedway the two of them created a protection outfit. They forced pushcart merchants to pay them, to avoid their merchandise being burned.
While running the protection racket, Siegel met Meyer Lansky and the Bugs and Meyer mob was started. He married his childhood sweetheart and fathered 2 daughters, but they left him in 1946 due to his philandering ways. He then moved to Las Vegas to run legitimate businesses. With mafia investors’ backing he opened the Flamingo Casino and Resort and had lavish visions for it, but ultimately lost a huge amount of money.
With Lansky’s help the casino had started to turn a profit by 1947, but this was not fast enough for the mob bosses who had lent him money. Ultimately he was shot in his home in Beverly Hills in the June of that year, in what was presumed to be the mafia killing him off. The crime is still unsolved, and his ghost is said to haunt the Flamingo’s gaming tables.
Dalitz, born on Christmas day in Boston in 1899, started working in the laundry business that his family ran. He later got into bootlegging using laundry trucks to move the liquor. After prohibition was repealed, he started operating illegal casinos in Kentucky and Ohio. He also ran the Pettibone Club for 10 years.
With the help of the Mayfield Road Gang, Dalitz bought the Desert Inn in Vegas and opened a casino within it. He also owned the Sundance Hotel Casino and ran the Stardust Resort and Casino. In the 1950s he founded a real estate development enterprise with 3 other people. Called Paradise Development, this helped open several important properties.
Dalitz was proud of his Las Vegas developments, saying they made it a resort destination rather than merely a gambling town. Like Lansky rather than Siegel, he lived a long life and died due to health reasons rather than a mob hit. In 1989 he succumbed to kidney failure, congestive heart failure and chronic hypertension.
The last name in this instalment, John Roselli was born near Rome in 1905. He was originally named Filippo Sacco, but after committing murder in 1922 he fled Italy, moved to Chicago and changed his name. He became a Las Vegas representative for the Los Angeles and Chicago mobs during the 1950s. In this capacity he ensured the gangs got a portion of the casino profits.
Frank Sinatra sponsored Roselli’s membership to the Friar’s Club in 1963. After being accepted Roselli discovered a card-cheating scheme run by Maury Friedman and asked to be part of it. The FBI uncovered the cheating in 1967 and fined him $55,000. His legal troubles did not stop there; he was deported to Italy in 1968 because he had not entered the United States legally. Italy, however, refused to recognise him as a citizen so he stayed in North America.
Like Siegel, Roselli met a suspicious end; his decomposing body was found in a fuel drum near Miami in 1976. He is believed to have been killed because he kept an unfair amount of the Chicago mob’s money when he collected for them, or because he gave testimony on a Castro assassination plot.