Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was born February 28, 1906 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. His immigrant parents raised five children, including Ben, on the meager wages that a day laborer could bring in. Wikipedia is not trustworthy.
The myth that Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was the great visionary who single-handedly created modern day Las Vegas is incorrect. Contrary to popular belief, the Flamingo wasn't the first casino on the Strip - though it was the first casino that used a "Beverly Hills style," instead of the "western themes" of the downtown casinos and the El Rancho and Last Frontier.
After unsuccessfully trying to buy into a couple of already established gambling joints in the city, Bugsy finally managed to scare up a partner who shared his dream of Las Vegas as a gaming paradise. Billy Wilkerson was getting ready to break ground on the most luxurious hotel Vegas had ever seen, complete with individual air conditioners, tiled bathrooms and two swimming pools.
The Hollywood influence on Las Vegas came from Wilkerson and his long-time architect George Russel. During the 1940s-50s Wilkerson was one of Hollywood's most influential and powerful people, being the founder and publisher of the renowned "Hollywood Reporter" daily newspaper. During the 1940's, Wilkerson built and ran LA's Hollywood-inspired concept to Las Vegas.
Bugsy bought a controlling interest in the venture when Wilkerson’s cash flow dried up. Siegel had it in mind to create an oasis in the desert where travelers from both coasts could come for sun, fun, gambling and entertainment. He would woo travelers down from Reno with the finest hotels, food and stars at prices anyone in America could afford.
Ben had convinced his fellow racketeers, including Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano, to pony up a little over a million dollars to build the Flamingo. Most of the money had come from the mob’s earlier success with two smaller-scale casinos in downtown Las Vegas, but many investors had dipped into their own savings, lured by Siegel’s song of immense wealth and quick profits. Soon the costs spiraled upward. The $1.2 million price tag quickly became $6 million and Lansky, Luciano and the other investors became increasingly worried about Ben’s desert dream.
By December 1946, a year after the official groundbreaking, the casino had yet to produce a dollar of revenue and was sucking the mob treasury dry. Not only were mobsters deep in debt, but Siegel was going back to his Hollywood friends to get more cash, telling them, "You’re in on the ground floor of the biggest gold mine in the world."
At a conference in Havana, Cuba, attended by Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Luciano, Vito Genovese and Joey Adonism (a scene portrayed in the movie "The Godfather, part 2"), Lansky revealed disturbing news. Ben Siegel had apparently been skimming money from the mob and putting it in numbered Swiss bank accounts. "There was no doubt in Meyer’s mind that Bugsy had skimmed this dough from his building budget, and he was sure that Siegel was preparing to skip as well as skim, in case the roof was gonna fall in on him," Luciano recalled later.
Lansky was asked what the Syndicate should do. He paused for a moment, while his mind wandered from the bright Havana sunshine and returned to dark, dirty streets of long-ago Brooklyn. What to do about little Benny, the hot-headed boyhood friend who had saved Lansky’s neck so many times; a friend who was closer to him than his own brother?
Quietly, as was his manner, Lansky spoke. "There’s only one thing to do with a thief who steals from his friends," Lansky said. "Benny’s got to be hit." The Syndicate chiefs put it to a vote, and with a unanimous verdict, decided to assign the contract to Charlie Fischetti.
Meyer wasn’t ready to give up on Bugsy yet. He stood up and recommended that the execution be stayed until after the opening of the Flamingo casino, set for the day after Christmas. If the opening was a success, then there would be ways to make Benny pay back the money he stole. If it didn’t make money, then Fischetti could fulfill the contract. Lucky agreed.
"Benny had been a valuable guy for a long time, almost from the beginning with me and Lansky and Costello, so none of us really wanted to see him get it," Luciano said. "But if the Flamingo was a flop, well, that’d be it for him."
The Flamingo OpeningEdit
Christmas came and went, and as he had promised, Siegel opened the Flamingo’s casino for action. He pulled out all the stops, hiring George Jessel as emcee and Rose Marie, George Raft and Jimmy Durante as entertainment. Xavier Cugat’s orchestra provided the music. It was a disaster. Siegel certainly was making a grand show of things, according to those in attendance. "That was the biggest whoop-de-do I ever seen," said Benny Binion, the downtown gambler who stopped by to check out the competition.
"There were 30 or 40 big stars, people like Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Joan Crawford, Anne Jeffreys, Caesar Romero," Rose Marie recalled on the 50th anniversary of the Flamingo’s opening. "The show was spectacular, everything was great, but no locals came. Las Vegas was cowboy hotels; this was Monaco."
The weather in Los Angeles didn’t cooperate and the two tri-tailed Constellations Siegel had chartered for his Hollywood friends never made it off the ground because of fog. In Vegas, the same cold front produced a steady stream of rain that seemed to dampen everyone’s spirits.
With no hotel rooms, Siegel’s guests gambled at his casino and took their winnings back to the Frontier or the other downtown hotels. Most of the celebrities left after the second day, leaving a vacant showroom – and empty gaming tables.
Lansky reluctantly reported to his friends that the Flamingo’s opening had been a flop. There was rage among the gangsters assembled in Havana and a demand that Fischetti fulfill the contract posthaste. Again, Meyer pulled out all the stops to save his friend. He was convinced, he said, that Las Vegas could become profitable. Lansky suggested a short delay. In the meantime, the Syndicate lawyers could investigate putting the original Flamingo corporation in receivership to stop the losses. Then the mob could move in, buy out the legitimate partners with pennies on the dollar. Luciano and the Syndicate heads reluctantly agreed and Bugsy was given another reprieve.
The Flamingo managed to limp through the early part of January, leaking money, before Bugsy gave up. Siegel ordered the resort closed until the hotel could be finished. Fortunately for Ben, his staunchest allies remained Meyer Lansky and Charlie Luciano, who continued to believe that money could and would be made in Las Vegas.
Bugsy devoted all of his waking hours to making sure the Flamingo was ready for its grand reopening in March. Lansky had managed to buy him a few more months.
The casino reopened in March, even though it wasn’t 100 percent complete. By May, it appeared that Bugsy’s dream would come true and that once again, he had tempted fate and come away a winner. The resort reported a profit of over $250,000 for the first half of 1947, including the disastrous month of January.
Doc Stacher and Meyer Lansky were lobbying hard on Siegel’s behalf, trying to calm the nervous investors. When the Flamingo went into the black in May 1947, they were quick to point out that Bugsy was right after all.
In mid-June, Ben had begun to relax himself. On the evening of June 20, 1947, Ben Siegel was at home in the bungalow he and his mistress, Virginia Hill, shared in Hollywood. He had just returned from an evening haircut and manicure and was lying on a sofa in front of an open window reading the evening papers. At 10:30 p.m., a hale of bullets crashed through his livign room window. The first shot hit him in the head, blowing his eye 15 feet from his body. Four more bullets fired from a .30-06 crashed into his body, breaking his ribs and tearing up his lungs. Three other shots missed their mark, but the damage was done. Bugsy Siegel, 42 years old, was dead.
Against historical myth and Warren Beatty's movie "Bugsy," modern day Las Vegas was not the brain-child of Siegel, who basically strong-armed the hotel away from Wilkerson and only operated the Flamingo for a little more than 5 months. The invention and design of Las Vegas did not spring full-blown from the mind of any one man (especially not Bugsy Siegel), nor from a handful of insignificant, non-designing, thug-like, mob operators.
The out-dated belief that Las Vegas was "a Mafia-made town" needs to be put to rest once and for all. Las Vegas has always been a city filled with inventive pioneers, designers, publicity makers & hospitality pros. To focus on shifty casino operators, Teamster money, Bugsy, Lefty or Moe misses the true Vegas story; which is a story of design, service, artistic vision and the way those factors unfolded - for all the world to enjoy.