Las Vegas has always been a place associated with money and fame. Gambling has been, for many years, the main source of income of the city. And naturally, the organized crime groups couldn’t have missed the opportunity to get control over the city, trying to establish their power in money laundering, drug dealing and other various felonious activities. Read the paragraphs below to learn about the most famous Las Vegas mobsters and their interesting criminal stories.
Tony Cornero – ‘The Hat’
Tony Cornero started his criminal career as a rum runner during the prohibition period. He used the shrimping business as a cover. He first started smuggling Canadian whiskey into California.
Cornero moved to Las Vegas and together with his brother purchased a piece of land, where he built one of the first roadside casinos in the city – ‘The Green Meadows‘. After the success of the casino, a New York gangster demanded a percentage of the profits but Cornerro refused which later lead to the end of the casino. Cornero sold his part and moved back to California.
After ‘The Meadow’, he was famous for running the so-called gambling ships in the California bay, as in the early years of the 20th-century gambling was prohibited in the state. For this reason, he decided to turn ships into floating casinos. It was not legal, but the thing is that the jurisdiction of the state authority spread to only several miles offshore. That made it somehow possible for Tony Cornero to run this illegal activity.
Some of the famous casino ships that he owned were called ‘SS Rex‘ and ‘SS Tango‘. The ships could carry around 2000 gamblers and a personnel crew of over 350 people. However, the California authority found a way to deal with the situation, reestablishing the starting point of the mile range offshore. They then declared that the illegal gambling ships are actually floating in California waters.
After the end of the business with the floating casinos, and a murder attempt that followed after that period, Cornero moved back to Las Vegas and built the ‘Stardust Resort and Casino‘ – another prominent one. However, the Las Vegas Gaming Commission refused to give a licence to Cornero because of an old rum-running conviction. Then he asked other fellow mobsters and casino owners for loans in order to be able to finish the hotel. However, soon after he ran out of money again. In 1955 he had a meeting with the investors where he stated that he needed more money to stock his hotel. Later on the same day he suddenly while playing craps he fell on the ground and died. The suspicions were that someone had poisoned his drink.
He was born in Boston, his first crime activities began during the prohibition period when he used his family’s laundry business as a cover to start bootlegging using the company’s trucks to transport the alcohol. Dalitz was an important figure in Las Vegas. He was mainly known for purchasing the famous ‘Desert Inn‘ and turning it into a casino. He also helped Cornero with the ‘Stardust Resort and Casino’, and also owned the “Sundance Hotel Casino”. But he did not build only casinos. Together with some other people, he founded a real estate development company and later found also a mall, a country club and even a hospital. In addition, he financed the opening of several additional resorts.
One of the most famous Las Vegas mobsters, who was connected to both mafia and gambling was Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel. He was born on February 26, 1906, in Brooklyn, New York in a poor Jewish family. Bugsy was both a charming womaniser, who was well-liked by Hollywood celebrities and a ruthless murderer, responsible for the death of many other mob bosses.
The list of criminal activities this man had committed is long – starting with car thefts in his youth and bootlegging during the prohibition, then controlling a major prostitution ring and developing illegal rackets. What he was most famous for, however, was his work as a hitman. By the time he was in his adolescence, he started working as a hitman for Meyer Lansky. Lansky would even hire him out to other crime families to do the dirty work.
His Las Vegas story begins somewhere in the 1930s when he and Moe Sedway (who also worked for Lansky) provided illegal services to the construction crews of the Hoover Dam. Somewhere in the mid-1940s, the Siegel decided to first assist William Wilkerson when he ran out of money while building the Flamingo Hotel and later forced him into selling all his stakes of the hotel under the threat of death.
The Flamingo grand opening was in 1946 but turned out a flop. The bad weather on this day sabotaged the event and many Hollywood celebrities did not make it. There were also no rooms available for the guests because the hotel was still in construction, so they had to gather their winnings and gamble elsewhere. Two weeks later the casino closed down. It reopened in 1947 and reported some profit but it was not enough to save Siegel from the mob.
He was so much in debt to them that they ordered his assassination. He was shot to death in his girlfriend’s Virginia Hill Beverly Hill’s mansion on June 20, 1947, while reading the Los Angeles Times. Still, to this day many refer to Siegel as ‘the man who invented Las Vegas’ as the gambling mecca we know today because he opened the notorious Flamingo Hotel and Casino.
Another prominent representative among mobsters in the USA. He was born in Rome, Italy but moved to Chicago in 1922. In the 1950s he became a representative in Las Vegas for the Chicago and Los Angeles mobsters. His job was to collect the percentage of profits from the casinos. Another interesting fact about Roselli is that he also worked as a movie producer and financed one of the first gangster movies. He also became friendly with Frank Sinatra who sponsored his membership in Los Angeles Friar’s Club where Roselli took part in a card-cheating scheme which was later discovered by the FBI. Johnny Roselli was found dead in an oil barrel near the coast of Miami, Florida.
Born in Chicago, Illinois he quickly got involved with mafia gangs at a very early age. His nickname – ‘Joe Batters‘ was given from the famous Al Capone himself as one night during a dinner that Capone held, Tony Accardo killed three men with a baseball bat. After some time Accardo was leading a criminal gang that started dealing with gambling and slots mainly. During the prosperous casino era in Las Vegas, Tony Accardo was responsible for making sure that the casinos were using his slot machines and services only. This helped him to make huge profits.
He is another representative of the famous Las Vegas mobsters who was a prominent figure in the gambling business too. During the 1950s he was leading one of the biggest illegal bookmaker offices while he was working for the famous Chicago Outfit – the crime syndicate of Al Capone. Rosenthal subsequently moved to Las Vegas and ran several casinos – ‘Hacienda‘, ‘Fremont ‘, ‘Stardust‘ and ‘Marina‘.
He was also the one to make the first sportsbook in ‘Stardust’, making it a leading sports gambling centre. A metal plate under the driver’s seat in his Cadillac Eldorado saved his life in a murder attempt when a car bomb went off when he started the engine. After he was put on a blacklist and prohibited from entering a casino in Nevada, he moved to Florida where he started consulting sports betting companies.
Marshall Joseph Caifano
He was another gangster of Italian descent that joined the Chicago Outfit and had a long criminal career with convictions for murder, robbery, extortion and many more. He was also involved in the illegal gambling business and was also responsible for overseeing the Las Vegas casinos which were controlled by the mobsters.
Sedway was of Polish descent. He got involved in criminal activities during his childhood years. He was working for another important figure in the American underground world – Meyer Lansky. Moe used to visit Las Vegas frequently in order to control the Trans-American wire service. He was also running a successful hotel in the city and helped with the financing of the ‘Flamingo‘ hotel and thus became an important figure in the gambling business in Las Vegas.
The Mob Museum – Las Vegas Mob History Revealed
The Mob Museum Las Vegas exhibits take you through the dark but fascinating history of the battle between law enforcement and organised crime in America in an extraordinary interactive way. Situated in the former Post Office and Courthouse in the heart of the city, this history museum portrays the history of Las Vegas mobsters in 31 highly realistic and immersive exhibitions of rare artefacts.
You can sit in a replica electric chair and listen to wire tapes revealing the Las Vegas mob history. Or see pictures of the most brutal mob kills credited to the mafia in the ‘Mob’s Greatest Hits’ room (these are very graphic, though). There’s a Firearm Training Simulator, a Crime Lab and even a Distillery in the basement. Ticket prices vary between $30 and $50 depending on the number of interactive experiences you wish to purchase.
All these mobsters were important figures in the American underground. And as you may have noticed, many of the criminal activities during the years when these mobsters were active were connected to gambling. As the gambling business rapidly started to grow in Las Vegas, mobsters have also seen the opportunity to establish control over the city and its main source of income. Each of the Las Vegas mobsters that we described in the paragraphs above represents a very famous era in American history and has their own unique life stories that have inspired many books and Hollywood productions. Most of you may have watched movies such as ‘Casino‘ by Martin Scorsese, telling the real-life stories of these famous gangsters. And it seems that Las Vegas and its flourishing gambling business have been an important and very lucrative branch of organised crime activities in the past.
After so much said about the underworld in the mecca of gambling, maybe you are getting a little mixed up. So, we’ll be wrapping this article with a short FAQ section containing the most common questions about the Las Vegas mobsters and the history of the mafia in Sin City.