Mobsters – Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel – Las Vegas Casino:
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947) was an American mobster. Siegel was known as one of the most “infamous and feared gangsters of his day”. Described as handsome and charismatic, he became one of the first front-page-celebrity gangsters. He was also a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip.
Siegel was one of the founders and leaders of Murder, Incorporated and became a bootlegger during Prohibition. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, he turned to gambling. In 1936, he left New York and moved to California. In 1939, Siegel was tried for the murder of fellow mobster Harry Greenberg. Siegel was acquitted in 1942.
Siegel traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada where he handled and financed some of the original casinos. He assisted developer William Wilkerson‘s Flamingo Hotel after Wilkerson ran out of funds. Siegel took over the project and managed the final stages of construction. The Flamingo opened on December 26, 1946 to poor reception and soon closed. It reopened in March 1947 with a finished hotel. Three months later, on June 20, 1947, Siegel was shot dead at the Beverly Hills home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.
Siegel had learned from his associates that he was in danger. His hospital alibi had become questionable and his enemies wanted him dead. In the late 1930s, the East Coast mob sent Siegel to California. Since 1933, Siegel had traveled to the West Coast several times, and in California, his mission was to develop syndicate gambling rackets with Los Angeles crime family boss, Jack Dragna.
On tax returns he claimed to earn his living through legal gambling at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Siegel took over the numbers racket. He used money from the syndicate to help establish a drug trade route from the U.S. to Mexico and organized circuits with the Chicago Outfit’s Trans-America Wire service.
By 1942, $500,000 a day was coming from the syndicate’s bookmaking wire operations. In 1946, because of problems with Siegel, the Chicago Outfit took over the Continental Press and gave the percentage of the racing wire to Jack Dragna, infuriating Siegel. Despite his complications with the wire services, Siegel controlled several offshore casinos and a major prostitution ring. He also maintained relationships with politicians, businessmen, attorneys, accountants, and lobbyists who fronted for him.
Siegel was tried for the Greenberg murder. Whitey Krakower was killed before he could face trial. The trial gained notoriety because of the preferential treatment Siegel received in jail; he refused to eat prison food and was allowed female visitors. He was also granted leave for dental visits. Siegel hired attorney Jerry Giesler to defend him. After the deaths of two state witnesses, no additional witnesses came forward. Tannenbaum’s testimony was dismissed. In 1942, Siegel and Carbo were acquitted due to insufficient evidence…
Siegel wanted to be a legitimate businessman, and in 1945, he saw an opportunity with William R. Wilkerson’s Flamingo Hotel. Las Vegas gave Siegel his second opportunity to reinvent himself. In the 1930s, Siegel had traveled to Southern Nevada with Meyer Lansky’s lieutenant Moe Sedway on Lansky’s orders to explore expanding operations. There were opportunities in providing illicit services to crews constructing the Hoover Dam. Lansky had turned the desert over to Siegel. But Siegel had turned it over to Moe Sedway and left for Hollywood.
In the mid-1940s, Siegel was lining things up in Las Vegas while his lieutenants worked on a business policy to secure all gambling in Los Angeles. In May 1946, Siegel decided the agreement with Wilkerson had to be altered to give him control of the Flamingo. With the Flamingo, Siegel would supply the gambling, the best liquor and food, and the biggest entertainers at reasonable prices. He believed these attractions would lure not only the high rollers, but thousands of vacationers willing to lose $50 or $100. William Wilkerson was eventually coerced into selling all stakes in the Flamingo under the threat of death, and went into hiding in Paris for a time. From this point the Flamingo became syndicate-run.
Siegel began a spending spree. He demanded the finest building that money could buy at a time of postwar shortages. As costs soared, Siegel’s checks began bouncing. By October 1946, the costs were above $4 million. In 1947, the Flamingo cost was over $6 million (around $60 million in today’s money). By late November, the work was nearly finished.
He hired future newsman Hank Greenspun as a publicist. The hotel reopened on March 1, 1947,—with Meyer Lansky present—and began turning a profit. However, by the time profits began improving the mob bosses above Siegel were tired of waiting. Although time was running out, at age 41, Siegel had carved out a name for himself in the annals of organized crime and in Las Vegas history.
On the night of June 20, 1947, as Siegel sat with his associate Allen Smiley in Virginia Hill‘s Beverly Hills home reading the Los Angeles Times, an assailant fired at him through the window with a .30-caliber military M1 carbine, hitting him many times, including twice in the head. No one was charged with the murder, and the crime remains officially unsolved.
One theory posits that Siegel’s death was the result of his excessive spending and possible theft of money from the mob. In 1946, a meeting was held with the “board of directors” of the syndicate in Havana, Cuba, so that Luciano, exiled in Sicily, could attend and participate. A contract on Siegel’s life was the conclusion. According to Stacher, Lansky reluctantly agreed to the decision.