The Mob Roots of Las Vegas
Las Vegas was built to a large degree with organized crime that had a stronghold on the power, influence, financial backing of a flourishing casino industry. These notorious Vegas gangsters no doubt left their mark on the criminal underworld. Many of the founders of this booming and prosperous casino industry are revered to this day. The news of a new “Mob” Museum in Las Vegas may raise the question as to whether old school Vegas ruled by organized crime and corruption vs. new school Vegas, commercialized and closely regulated today is the ‘better’ of two entirely different eras.
There is no question about the infiltration of a blossoming Las Vegas by the Italian Mafia. In the early days, Mormon elders may have provided a sense of political and financial legitimacy to the city. As the gangsters moved in and organized crime acquired a stronghold on the financial backing of hotel/casinos, and as the only legal gambling option in the United States at the time, sin city began to thrive.
Several marginalized groups, including the Sicilians and the Mormons were bringing in astronomical income. Italian mobsters had far reaching connections across the country were able to utilize these to promote swift growth of a gambling empire. By the 1950’s was a hotspot for gambling and tourism – essentially the epitome of glamorous entertainment and accommodation. Numerous casino hotels were built with the financial backing of Mormon bankers and loans from the Teamsters Union.
The Royal Nevada, Tropicana, Fremont, Apache, Riviera, Showboat, Sands, and the Sahara are several of the early destinations that brought over eight million people and at least 200 million a year to the city of glamor and sin. Many people claim that old school Vegas was better, when the Mob was running the town. While not all casinos were owned or operated with organized crime money or by sinister gangsters with a penchant for violence to maintain control, the new “Mob” museum pays homage, of sorts, to the forefathers of Las Vegas, whether it was good, bad, or ugly. During the 1960’s, mobsters of organized crime outfits skimmed millions of dollars a year that was arguably money that should have benefitted the growing community, not lining the pockets of a criminal empire.
Gangsters on Display
The ‘new’ Mob museum opened recently in Vegas with a myriad of displays including over 1,500 artifacts. Many of the artifacts include weapons – guns, knives, brass knuckles and the like that were used during the formative decades by vicious gangsters who sought power and control of a growing ‘empire’. Following months of legal battle over ‘ownership’ of the artifacts and who will display them for profit.
Jay Bloom originally opened the exhibit ‘Las Vegas Mob Experience’ at the Tropicana in 2011and is embroiled in a court battle as to ownership of said artifacts. John Vipulis is the investor behind ‘Mob Attraction Las Vegas’ which is in the same space that the Mob Experience was located. Bloom and former partner Louis Ventre used loans to acquire the artifacts through two of Blooms companies – The Mafia Collection LLC and Murder, Inc.
The artifacts and entire collection are estimated to be worth millions of dollars and carry a rental value of $250,000 per month for traveling exhibitions. Facing financial trouble early on in 2011 Bloom turned the company over to Ventre in July 2011. Bloom now claims that he was ousted so that the Mob Experience could acquire new financing but Ventre claims that Bloom was mismanaging and misappropriating money, citing his purchase of a $1.3 million home purchased for his own personal use.
Bloom, of course, denies the allegations. Ventre soon filed bankruptcy and sold the Mob Experience and all of its artifacts to Vipulis who promptly changed the name of the museum to “Mob Attraction Las Vegas”. Ironically, some of the forefathers of Sin City, the notorious Gangsters that had connections to Vegas as it was on the rise would have taken this matter into their own hands. Prompt resolution back-in-the-day of Mob rule would have likely included the use of some of the said artifacts on display in the museum!
Original Gangsters and Crime ‘Bosses’
Some of the more ‘notorious’ and influential crime ‘bosses’ that had their hands in Las Vegas corruption, or ties directly to it, have certainly left their mark. Mafia Godfathers and Gangsters have left legacies of both good and ill. Following are some of the ‘top’ mobsters of the century. Lucky Luciano was born in Sicily and is considered to be the most successful Italian gangster of all time. Luciano re-created the traditional ‘Sicilian’ mafia into a highly complex crime syndicate in America which operated under him for several decades. Also dating back to the 1920’s and 30’s, Al Capone was recognized by the nickname ‘Scarface’. Capone had control over Chicago’s illegal alcohol market during that time and was infamous for his public persona of wealth and privilege, and as a generous businessman.
Some say that Anthony Acardo is the #1 crime boss of all time, ruling the Chicago “Outfit” for fifty years. Acardo got his foothold in the Mob as Al Capone’s body guard and learned a great deal from him. Others say Meyer Lansky, born in Poland and immigrated to the United States, is the number one gangster. His ties to the Mob came when Lansky formed the “Five Points Gang” in the 1920’s with Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Seigel. Lansky is considered to be one of the smartest mobsters of all time, and had his hands in the Las Vegas cookie jar, as well. Bugsy Siegel was a notorious American gangster that found success in gambling rackets and the blossoming hotel and casino empire in Las Vegas in the 1950’s.
Siegel is attributed much credit for the rise of Sin City from a small, desolate town in the Nevada desert to the booming tourist trap and gambling industry leader today. Then there’s Frank Costello, an Italian mobster based in New York City who also had a hand in the building of the massive and golden gambling empire. Costello was well known for his political connections and was often referred to as the “Prime Minister of the Underworld”. Costello led the Luciano crime family for several decades. The movie “The Godfather” portrayed Costello’s character as Vito Corleone. The mobsters mentioned are the tip of the iceberg but highlight a few of the ‘founding fathers’ or organized crime in the United States and the stronghold on illegal operations, racketeering, and the gambling industry for decades.