Bugsy Siegel: Former Owner of the Flamingo Casino & Hotel
Bugsy Siegel has early connections to the mob that can be traced back as far as his teenage years, which in part resulted in his seemingly endless criminal record. He managed illegal gambling operations, stolen from other mobs, and murdered many innocent people.
We finally were able to see him turn his life around when he opened the famous Flamingo Hotel and Casino, which is still a phenomenal resort today. Unfortunately, one's past always creeps up on them and for Siegel the price of his past was fatal.
How a Life of Crime Started
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was born February 28th, 1906 in Brooklyn, New York to a poor Jewish family who had recently moved there from Ukraine. His parents barely made any money and they had five children to support, including Siegel. Due to the poor conditions he had growing up, Siegel was determined to be wealthy some day.
Unfortunately, though, he started associating with a bad group of people. Early on, he dropped out of school and joined a gang that resided on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At first, he only really would steal for the group but things changed drastically when Moe Sedway took him under his wing.
The Evolution of the Bugs and Meyer Mob
By the time he was twenty years old, Siegel had a criminal record that included armed robbery, rape, and murder. After Siegel was introduced to Meyer Lansky, he developed an interest in illegal gambling. Siegel and Lansky formed the Bugs and Meyer Mob, a band of coldblooded Jewish mobsters which handled contracts for the various bootleg gangs operating in the city.
Siegel's main responsibility was to be a hit man for other crime families in the area. They recruited quite a few more men to be part of the gang, as they needed as many men as possible to hijack the liquor cargoes of rival gangs as well.
Siegel made connections with Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello, future leaders of the Genovese crime family. Siegel and three other gunmen from his gang were responsible for the death of Joe Masseria, another infamous mobster, who Luciano wanted killed. Soon after that, Siegel formed Murder Inc., which basically was just a group of highly skilled hit men.
It was around this time that the Fabrizzos brothers attempted to assassinate both Siegel and Lansky, but immediately after the attack, Siegel hunted them both down, killed them, and left them in their own cold blood.
Somehow in between his murders, Siegel had time to maintain his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Esta Krakower, whom he married in January of 1929. They went on to have two daughters: Millicent and Barbara.
A Change of Scenery
It was because of his family that Siegel was ready for a change, so he moved them to California. His mission was to develop gambling rackets with Los Angeles crime family boss, Jack Dragna, and it wasn't long before their group was bringing in over $500,000 a day from the bookmaking wire operations alone.
Siegel also controlled several offshore casinos and a major prostitution ring in California at the time. Realizing how important it was to have connections, he moved to Hollywood to entice various movie stars into supporting him financially.
He took over several local unions including the Screen Extras Guild and the Los Angeles Teamsters, forcing studios to pay him off if they wanted him to leave peacefully. In less than a year, Siegel took out over $400,000 from various movie stars in the area. One movie star in particular, Virginia Hill, caught his attention and it wasn't long before he left his family to be with her.
Flamingo Hotel & Casino
In 1945, the new couple moved to Las Vegas, as Siegel was on the lookout for a good business opportunity. He bought the Flamingo Hotel from William R. Wilkerson and started doing some major renovations, as he wanted an extravagant building no matter what the cost. In less than two years, the Flamingo was completed with a final price tag of $6 million which is equivalent to about $60 million dollars in today's age. Of course this money had to come from somewhere and in this instance it came from eastern crime syndicate.
The Flamingo's grand opening was the day after Christmas in 1946. The casino, lounge, theater, and restaurant were all combined in one truly elegant building. Several renowned celebrities attended the opening including Charles Coburn, Vivian Blaine, Brian Donlevy, and many more.
It wasn't as successful of a night as Siegel had hoped it would be though. The air conditioning didn't work efficiently, there were rooms that still weren't quite finished, and the lobby was filled with drop cloths to protect the floor from wet paint.
Siegel became very irritated when he overheard customers complain to the point where he became verbally abusive and started throwing people out left and right. After two weeks, the Flamingo gambling tables had lost him over a quarter million dollars and it wasn't long before they had to close their doors temporarily.
Siegel finished the necessary improvements and in just a little more than a month the hotel was reopened for business. Profits started rolling in, but the mob bosses were breathing down Siegel's back as they weren't seeing the numbers they were hoping for.
A Quick End, but a Lasting Legacy
On the night of June 20th, 1947, as Siegel was sitting in his home reading the newspaper, a gunman shot him multiple times with a .30 caliber military M1 carbine. Still to this day, police are unsure of who the assassin was. His murder remains a mystery, as the police found it difficult to sift through the hundreds of people who wanted to see him dead.
The day after Siegel's death, photographs of his lifeless body were published on the front page of the Los Angeles Herald and in newspapers throughout the country, telling the story of his tragic death. On the property at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino nearby the resorts wedding chapel, sits Siegel's memorial to honor him upon his death.
His legacy lives on today and is often reflected in the media. Moe Green, a character in one of most well known movies from the 1970s movie, The Godfather, portrays Siegel very accurately. In 1991, Siegel's biography came to life as Warren Beatty played the mobster in the movie, Bugsy. Most recently, Benny Siegel appeared in the television series, Boardwalk Empire, as a mere teenager.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: December 2015