The Mob Museum in Las Vegas has unveiled an exhibit with items from the 1940s Flamingo Casino and the gangster who opened it, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.
A New York organized crime figure, Siegel was in Hollywood and Las Vegas on the behalf of his syndicate associates. Siegel had maneuvered his way into the Flamingo project, launched by Los Angeles nightclub owner and Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson.
The Flamingo first opened its doors on Dec. 26, 1946. It was built on a highway slicing through the desert south of downtown Las Vegas. Today, that highway is the Las Vegas Strip, packed with towering hotel-casinos. The Flamingo is still at the same location, though none of its original buildings remain.
When it opened, construction had not been completed. Other problems hampered the start-up. By the summer, Siegel would be shot to death at his girlfriend Virginia Hill’s home in Beverly Hills. The gunman firing from outside the house has never been identified. Some suspect Siegel’s underworld partners, unhappy with his handling of the project, orchestrated the hit.
Soon after the killing, Moe Sedway and other mobsters took charge of the Flamingo.
The exhibit at the Mob Museum opened this month and runs until Jan. 10. The display includes a down-payment check Wilkerson wrote to buy the land where the Flamingo was constructed. Also on display is a document that Siegel signed, removing Wilkerson from any involvement with the Flamingo. The document is dated March 19, 1947. Three months later Siegel would be dead at age 41.
El Cortez Gangsters
Before taking over the Flamingo, Siegel briefly owned the El Cortez hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas with other mobsters. The El Cortez is still in operation.
On Jan. 1, the El Cortez will begin selling 16-inch-by-16-inch squares of the floral carpeting that covered the gaming floor since 2007. The carpet was removed in September as part of a renovation project.
The 100 squares to be sold are remnants of the floral carpeting kept on hand for repairs. Sections of the carpeting will be available in the gift shop for about $19 each.
Though this carpeting was not on the floor when Siegel owned the El Cortez, collectors are fond of items from Las Vegas casinos that have been around decades. Many older casinos that had Mafia connections have been demolished, including the Dunes, the Sands, and the Desert Inn.
Robert De Niro Connection
Also this month, the Mob Museum will post on its YouTube page a video of screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi discussing the Las Vegas Mafia movie Casino. Pileggi, a former New York crime reporter, cowrote the movie with director Martin Scorsese. The movie is based on Pileggi’s 1995 nonfiction book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas.
The 87-year-old Pileggi recently appeared by teleconference at an event held in the museum for the movie’s 25th anniversary.
In a video clip the museum posted on its Facebook page Thursday, Pileggi discusses how he convinced Chicago Outfit associate Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal to talk with him about that era. Rosenthal ran the Stardust and other Las Vegas casinos for Midwestern crime families.
Once Rosenthal knew Robert De Niro was going to portray a character based on him, Rosenthal was on board, Pileggi said.
“That was it,” Pileggi said. “Lefty starting giving up everything he had.”
The full recording will be available on the museum’s YouTube channel on Dec. 28.
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