The name Bugsy Siegel is famous to anyone who knows anything about the history of crime in America. Siegel is also famous as one of the driving forces behind the development of Las Vegas into the city that it is today. It is hard to say today if he would be happy with what has become of Las Vegas, because his interest was never in city building or business development, his interest was in making money by any means necessary, and legalized gambling in the state of Nevada was a great business for this mobster from New York to enter.
Bugsy Siegel was born in Brooklyn, New York and quickly rose from small time hoodlum to valued member of the Genovese crime family. His fast rise was no doubt helped by his willingness to assist those above him in the family with murder when it became necessary. After turning down the opportunity to take more of a hand in the mob’s Nevada dealings in the early-to-mid 1930s, Siegel was convinced by Meyer Lansky to reconsider and represent the mob in the development of what would later be the famous Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Siegel was not there at the beginning of the Flamingo project, as he would take over from William R. “Billy” Wilkerson who owned the famed Hollywood Reporter and several nightclubs on the Sunset Strip. Siegel would become a partner of Wilkerson’s before eventually buying, some say forcing, him out. At a cost of over six million dollars, the Flamingo was much more than anyone had ever planned it to be. The project was way over budget due to many cost overruns and constant changes to the building plans by Siegel himself. The bottom line was that Siegel had decided that the only way Las Vegas was going to succeed was if everything was first class. Why would someone travel into the scorching desert if what awaited them wasn’t of the highest quality? The Flamingo eventually did reach completion, but the cost of the project did not please the investors.
Bugsy Siegel was murdered in what was most likely a mob hit in June of 1947, though officially it remains unsolved to this day. The Flamingo was not immediately successful, and Siegel would not live to see either it make a turn towards making money or the city of Las Vegas turn towards developing into the gambling and entertainment mecca that he knew it could be. Many see the development, opening, and eventual success of the Flamingo as what proved to others that Las Vegas as a destination for the rich and famous was a viable option. The money and development poured in from there, but would it have happened at all if it had not been for a Brooklyn born gangster named Bugsy Siegel?
There are many sites to see for anyone visiting the city of Las Vegas, but there is only one that pays homage to the man that set the city on the course it would follow to this day. Tucked away near the front of the wedding chapel at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino is a large plaque mounted on a stone monument that pays tribute to Bugsy Siegel as the man that built the famous Flamingo. Anyone who truly loves the city of Las Vegas should definitely stop by and tip their hat or raise a glass to the man that made it all possible.