From its legal inception in 1931,
built on the dreams and imagination of people who have had the courage to
question the status quo. But while many a daring dreamer has left his legacy in
this desert oasis, four men stand out.
Part 1: The Man Who Invented
It was on the night of
that nine bullets from a .30-.30 carbine ripped through the living room window
of socialite Virginia Hill’s home on
The first shot crashed into the man’s head, driving the victim’s right eye from
his skull and hurling it
across the room. The other shots quickly followed but there was no need.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the era’s most infamous
mobster, already was dead.
Ironically, hundreds of miles away, in a desert outpost called
just beginning to prosper.
Ben Siegel first came west in 1937 to
to organize the mob’s lucrative narcotics, prostitution and bookmaking
enterprises there. A much-feared New York criminal who by his early 20s already
had committed several murders, Siegel had partners in crime including the
underworld elite, from Meyer Lansky – with whom he’d formed an execution squad
that predated Murder Inc. by seven years – to Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, Albert Anastasia, Legs Diamond,
Arnold Rothstein, Vito Genovese and Frank Nitti.
Except for his movie star good looks, Siegel fit right in.
By 1945 Siegel had used a combination of bribery and deadly force to
consolidate his power in California, buying off cops and politicians and
killing those who couldn’t be bought. Three years earlier, in 1942, he’d taken
over control of Las Vegas’ racewire services,
charging the hotels exorbitant fees for the racetrack information.
But Siegel had bigger plans for
Early in 1946 he decided to build the largest and most lavish casino in the
world there. But it wouldn’t be just a casino. There’d be a hotel, too, with
carefully manicured grounds, a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and nightclub.
There’d be nothing like it anywhere on the planet and as soon as it opened on a
patch of inexpensive land at the desolate southern end of what would later be
called the Strip –
– Siegel instantly would be transformed from mobster to mogul. He’d be America’s
king of gambling. It’d all be legit, too.
But the casino, which Siegel called the “Fabulous Flamingo Hotel,” was horribly
under funded. Siegel had invested his own ill-gotten fortune, about $1 million,
in what was estimated to be a $1.5 million venture. But the hotel’s plumbing
alone cost $1 million and building supplies, particularly steel and copper, were
scarce in post-war
Siegel paid extra to get them.
The tab for the project quickly soared to $6 million, an incredible sum at the
time. Siegel raised $3 million in stock sales and got the rest the Mob,
extorting $2 million through the sale of his TransAmerica
racewire service, an audacious move that later cost
him his life.
Hill at his side and Jimmy Durante in his nightclub,
Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel. It was a terrible disappointment. Bad weather
had grounded many of Siegel’s celebrity friends in
heavily the first night. Two weeks later, $100,000 in the hole, the Flamingo
reopened the Flamingo. For three weeks, the casino continued to lose money.
Then, finally, as it often happens for those who accept wagers, red turned to
black. In May, the casino cleared $300,000.
Three weeks later, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, 41, was
dead. But the town he built, the gambling and sports betting