Gambling has always been a very important business in the Mafia. From card games to betting on horses and other sports, the Mafia has earned cash from all of them. They operated many illegal and luxurious gambling operations throughout the United States. Police officers and law enforcement agencies were in the payroll of the Mafia Bosses and ignored the gambling operations. However, a major event occurred which forever changed the history of gambling and casinos in the United States. The state of Nevada legalized gambling in 1931.
Even though gambling had been legalized, no one paid much attention except the local cowboys and some men from nearby military bases. Las Vegas was a dirty town in the middle of the desert with a few gas stations, greasy junk food diners and a few slot machine emporiums. Las Vegas in the early 1940s was not an attractive place to do business or live. The Mafia didn’t catch onto the huge moneymaking potential of Las Vegas until after World War II ended. Al Capone had eyed the town with great interest but never got onto completing his plans of turning it into a hotel and casino haven for tourists and travelers.
Las Vegas remained Mafia free until the Mafioso Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel realized the potential for Las Vegas. The timing could not have been better. Before the formation of Las Vegas, American tourists looking for a great time had to go all the way to Cuba. In Cuba gangsters were welcomed by the corrupt Batista regime, casinos were plentiful, and the profits were huge. Around a decade after the opening of the first casino in Las Vegas, Fidel Castro’s Revolution swept Cuba. So, the people were left with no other alternative for legal gambling than going to Las Vegas.
With Siegel’s imagination and great organizational skills and the money of the Mafia, the first gambling resort of Las Vegas – The Flamingo – opened on December 26, 1946. It was the first of many Mafia-financed resorts. Las Vegas proved to be a very profitable and legal business for the Mafia. Once a dull desert town, it now became the glitzy Las Vegas “Strip.”
Lansky, who did not wanting to be the one blamed if the Las Vegas plan didn’t go well, had enlisted Bugsy Siegel. Siegel’s job had been to raise cash and enthusiasm from the Mafia Families. Things got off to a shaky start when the Flamingo was forced to open ahead of schedule due to the pressuring of the Mafia. Las Vegas wasn’t so famous at the time and there wasn’t much tourist interest. Siegel had other troubles too. He had skimmed off huge sums of money from the construction money and the pension funds of the Mafia-controlled Unions. After this discovery, the Mafia demanded the money back and gave a deadline. Bugsy’s hopes were pinned on the success of the Flamingo. Due to the bad start, the Mafia Families believed he couldn’t return the cash and so in retaliation got his assassinated.
Lansky took over the Flamingo and turned its fortunes around. Within the year, the Flamingo was very successful and had already earned a profit of many times the investment. Lansky obviously took all the credit for this. This success the stage for more for more of the Mafia to arrive in Las Vegas. By this time, more than 50 million dollars had been taken from the pension funds of the Union, this time with the Mafia’s approval.