By: Marc Kelley
Syndicated by: Montana News
To fully understand Las Vegas today, we must once again look to the history of this city. The name Las Vegas was given to the area, by the Mexican explorer and merchant, Rafael Rivera in 1821. Rivera was part of a group of explorers who found many locations contained artesian wells, which turned the desert into lush green areas we would today call, an oasis. The name Las Vegas, is Spanish for meadow and describes a peaceful place to rest and recover, during the long journey thru the otherwise harsh desert. The mental pictured conjured up by this romantic notion, stands in stark contract to the city known to many, as Lost Wages.
The settlement of Las Vegas was founded in 1905 following expansion of the railroad line, linking Los Angles, California to Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1911 the town was formally incorporated as part of the newly founded Clark County. Montana Democrat Senator, William Andrews Clark, was the major stock holder in the railroad line serving Las Vegas. Clarks company was based out of Salt Lake City, Utah and included business partner, Republican Senator Thomas Kearns from Utah. Kearns was one of the richest and most powerful men in Utah, having made his fortune as a founding owner of, Utah's Silver King Coalition Mine. The bipartisan partnership, which would be unheard of in todays world, would allow the two men to accomplish extraordinary feats and add to their vast wealth.
The Mormon Church also played a vital role in establishing Las Vegas. In 1855, Brigham Young sent a group of settlers to the area, with the mission to convert the Paiute Native American Indians indigenous to region. By establishing the first permanent settlement in the area, Brigham Young would unknowingly link the LDS Church to the expansion, of what would become, the City of Las Vegas. When Clark and Kearns brought the railroad to Las Vegas, so followed many LDS followers. By 1930, LDS members made up almost 10% of the total population of the city.
In 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression, then President, Franklin Roosevelt unveiled five Publics Works Projects as part of the "New Deal", intended to put America back to work and reestablish the prosperity of our nation. Second on his list was a massive project which would cost our nation 49 million dollars. The Boulder Dam as it was first called would bring between 10,000 and 20,000 unemployed Americans to the desert, quadrupling the population of the city.
Officially, 112 deaths are attributed to the construction of the dam project, now known as the Hoover Dam. However, these brave Americans did not give their all for nothing; but rather, would join the countless others, who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of our nation. Not only did Roosevelt's vision of putting America back to work become a reality, the benefits gained from the hydro-electric power and increased ability to irrigate the land would make the desert of Las Vegas, bloom. More people with money to spend, brought about increased business and prosperity, and caught the attention of many legitimate business people; as well as, the Mafia and Organized Crime.
Certainly, one person responsible for ultimately turning Las Vegas into a gambling Mecca, was none other than Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel himself. In late 1942 "Bugsy" Siegel came to the desert of Las Vegas, with the intention of increasing his already lucrative gambling operation. In December 1945, Siegel was given $500,000.00 of mob money, to begin a casino project in Las Vegas. Several of his Mafia counterparts, including his childhood friend, Meyer Lansky , began overseeing the construction of The Flamingo Casino. Legend tells us, Siegel named his casino after his mistress Virginia Hill, whom he always referred to as "The Flamingo". Hill, was a long time information currier, for the The Chicago Outfit, under Al Capone, and well known for her associations with Mobsters, such as "Bugsy" Siegel.
Almost from the beginning the Flamingo Project was hampered by cost over-runs and construction problems. Finally, on December 26, 1946, the Flamingo Casino, opened its doors. With a total cost of 6 million dollars, many of Bugsy Siegel's, investors were worried about seeing a return on their investment. In a stunning change of loyalty, Siegel's childhood friend, Meyer Lansky, began circulating a rumor that Siegel and his mistress had been skimming money from the resorts construction budget. This allegation was further bolstered, when it was learned, Virginia Hill had acted as a currier and taken 2.5 million dollars to Switzerland. There was no doubt in Meyer Lansky's mind, his friend had skimmed the cash and was now planning to skip the country. In true Mafia fashion, a meeting of the syndicates Board of Directors was held in Havana, Cuba, and a discussion was had on how to "handle" the problem. Even though his mentor, Charles "Lucky" Luciano was willing to give Siegel a chance to repay the money, a decision was made, "anyone who would steal from his friends, had to die".
On June 20, 1947 as Bugsy Siegel sat in the Beverly Hills home of his mistress Virginia Hill, an assailant fired nine rounds from a M1, 30 caliber carbine. Siegel was hit several times including two rounds which struck him in the head, killing him instantly. As reports began to emerge describing the shooting, the legend was born that Bugsy Siegel had been shot thru the eye. Even though the wound suffered by Siegel was in fact an exit wound, The mafia embraced to story and Hollywood would perpetuate the myth in the movie "The God Father"; in which, a character named Moe Green, based on Bugsy Siegel, was killed in a Mafia hit, by being shot through the eye. The story lives on today and this type of "hit" is still known as, a "Moe Green special". In 2019, the murder of Benjamin Bugsy Siegel remains an open and unsolved case.
On June 21, 1947, less than 24 hours after Bugsy Siegel was killed, mobsters David "Davie the Jew" Burman, Moe Sedway, a top lieutenant for Meyer Lansky and mob gambling expert, Gus Greenbaum, walked into the Flamingo and announced they were taking over the operations of the Casino. The three men are credited for turning The Flamingo Casino into one of the most popular and lucrative business in Las Vegas. Today the Flamingo of Las Vegas continues to operate as part of the Caesars Entertainment Corporation, which operates over 50 casinos and hotels, as well as, seven golf courses. Ranked as the fourth largest gaming company in the world, the company has annual revenues of approximately 8.6 billion dollars, giving pause to the notion… crime doesn't pay.