"Bugsy" Siegel is the man most responsible for the re-birth of the city of Las
Vegas as the gambling capitol of the world.
Siegel was born Benjamin Siegelbaum on February 28, 1906, in the Williamsburg
section of Brooklyn,
New York. As a
teenager, he crossed the bridge to Manhattan and started a gang on Lafayette
Street, which skirted the boarder of Little Italy, with another thug named Moe
Sedway. Their main racket was shaking down pushcart owners for protection money,
and if they weren't paid quickly, they burnt down the poor owner's pushcart.
Soon Siegel teamed up with Meyer Lansky, the man who would shape his life, and
eventually, his death. Together they formed the "Bugs and Meyer Gang," which
started out in auto theft, and ended up handling hit contracts for bootleggers
who were having their shipments hijacked. This tidy little killing business was
the forerunner to the infamous Murder Incorporated,
which handled hundreds of contract murders during the 1930's.
In the late 1920's, Siegel and Lansky hooked up with ambitious Italian mobsters
Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia and
Tommy Lucchese. Together they formed a National Crime Commission, which
controlled all organized crime in America for many years to come. Siegel was the
main hit man for the group, and he led the four-man team, who riddled Joe "The
Boss" Masseria's body with bullets in a Coney Island Restaurant. Siegel
developed the reputation as a man who not only killed frequently, but enjoyed
killing, with a glee of a schoolboy on his first date.
the late 1930's, The Commission sent Siegel to
take over their West Coast rackets, including the lucrative racing wire, which
ran horse race results to thousands of bookie joints throughout the country.
Siegel pushed aside West Coast mob boss Jack Dragna, who was told by Lansky and
Luciano, if he didn't step down and hand the reins over to Siegel, bad things
would happen to him quick. Dragna did as he was told.
Siegel, who was movie-star-good-looking, was a renowned ladies-man, who was
sometimes known to bed down three or four starlets at a time. He hung around
with such movie hunks as Clark Cable, Gary Cooper, George Raft and Cary Grant.
The girls he slept with included Jean Harlow, Wendy Barry, Marie McDonald,
Virginia Hill and Italian Countess Dorothy diFrasso. Even though Siegel was busy
with the broads, he always found the time to do a little killing on the side. In
1939, on orders from New York City Jewish mob boss Louis "Lepke" Buchalter,
Siegel whacked Harry "Big Greenie" Greenberg, who was singing like a canary to
the feds. Siegel was arrested for murder, but after a witness conveniently
disappeared, he was acquitted of all charges.
The bad publicity from the Greenberg trial ruined Siegel's man-about-town
reputation in Hollywood, so The Commission sent Siegel to
Las Vegas to
scout locations for a hotel/casino they wanted to build. Siegel found the
perfect place, and he convinced the boys from New York City, including his pal
Lansky, to invest millions in an opulent night club he dubbed The Flamingo. The
building of the The Flamingo was a disaster from the start. His insistence on
only the best of everything skyrocketed the costs to a staggering $6 million,
which annoyed his partners in New York City more than just a little. Plus, there
were concerns that maybe Siegel was skimming a little construction money off the
top, to fund his actions with the ladies.
Opening night in December, 1946, was an unmitigated disaster. Siegel had moved
up the opening date from March, 1947, while the hotel was still in the late
stages of being built. Since The Flamingo did not show well (the lobby was
draped with ugly drop cloths), the Hollywood crowd stayed away and in a few
months, The Flamingo was more than a quarter of a million dollars in the red.
Losing money on gambling was unheard of in the mob, so The Commission made a
business decision that Siegel's days on earth had to end. Longtime pal Lansky
had no problem signing off on his childhood pal's death warrant. Business is
business and Siegel was bad for business.