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Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was an American gangster who contributed greatly to the development of Las Vegas in the 1940s. He is most known for the change in Las Vegas's image as a mining town to a gambling Mecca.
Bugsy Siegel was born on 28 February 1906 in Brooklyn to Jewish Russian immigrants. Affiliating with street gangs as a child, Siegel met future gangster Meyer Lansky in his teens. The two eventually formed the “Bug & Meyer Mob” which was involved in bootlegging activities in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
Siegel married his childhood sweetheart, Esta Krakower, in 1929, although he would have several mistresses throughout his life. In 1930, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky met and became close with Charles “Lucky” Luciano. It was around this time that Bugsy began to work as a mob hitman. Between 1930 and 1931, during a war for mafia control known as the Castellammarese War, Bugsy Siegel murdered mobster Sal Maranzano, allowing Luciano to take control of the East Coast mafia. His nickname, “Bugsy,” came about during this time, due to his erratic behavior and violent tendencies.
In 1937, the mob sent Bugsy Siegel to develop ties with Jack Dragna, the leader of the strongest Californian mob. At this time, he also became friends with actor George Raft. Siegel’s friendship with Raft gave him an in to Hollywood's inner circle which opened the film studios up to his extortion tactics.
Bugsy Siegel is known as the “Father of Las Vegas” because of his major involvement in developing the gambling industry. After several failed attempts to buy out established casinos in the Las Vegas area, Siegel spent $5 million US Dollars (USD) to build the Flamingo casino and hotel in 1946. The hotel opened on 26 December 1946 with a guest list that included several major celebrities. Because the Flamingo lacked hotel rooms, it offered no incentive for gamblers to stay longer, and the casino closed in January of 1947. Bugsy Siegel ordered the hotel to be renovated to include overnight rooms, and the Flamingo reopened in March of 1947. Initial revenue of $250,000 USD proved the new Flamingo to be profitable.
On 20 June 1947, Bugsy Siegel was shot in Beverly Hills by an unknown gunman. The coroner ruled the cause of death as cerebral hemorrhage. The details surrounding the hit on Siegel are still unsolved, although many think that it was the work of the mafia. Siegel is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Bugsy Siegel and what is he known for?
Bugsy Siegel, born Benjamin Siegel on February 28, 1906, was an infamous American mobster known for his charismatic personality and violent temper. He played a pivotal role in the development of organized crime in the United States, particularly through his involvement with the Genovese crime family. Siegel is most famous for his contribution to the expansion of the Las Vegas gambling industry, as he oversaw the construction of the Flamingo Hotel, one of the first luxury casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. His life ended abruptly when he was murdered in 1947, an event that remains shrouded in mystery.
What was Bugsy Siegel's early life like before he became a notorious gangster?
Bugsy Siegel grew up in the impoverished Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. His early life was marked by poverty, which led him to join a street gang as a teenager. Siegel befriended fellow gang member Meyer Lansky, with whom he formed the Bugs and Meyer Mob, a group involved in theft, bootlegging, and gambling operations during Prohibition. This partnership would later evolve into a lifelong association with organized crime.
How did Bugsy Siegel contribute to the development of Las Vegas?
Bugsy Siegel is credited with being a visionary in the transformation of Las Vegas into a gambling and entertainment mecca. In the mid-1940s, he moved to the Nevada desert to oversee the construction of the Flamingo Hotel, which he believed would be a lucrative enterprise. Despite initial financial troubles and a rocky start, the Flamingo eventually became successful after Siegel's death, setting the stage for the future of Las Vegas as a world-renowned resort city.
What were the circumstances surrounding Bugsy Siegel's death?
Bugsy Siegel met a violent end when he was assassinated on June 20, 1947, in Beverly Hills, California. He was shot multiple times through the window of his girlfriend's home. The murder was speculated to be a mob hit due to Siegel's excessive spending and mismanagement of the Flamingo Hotel's construction budget, which angered his mob associates. However, the identity of his killer and the exact motives remain unsolved to this day.
Has Bugsy Siegel's legacy had a lasting impact on modern organized crime or Las Vegas?
Bugsy Siegel's legacy has had a profound impact on both organized crime and the city of Las Vegas. His vision for a gambling paradise in the desert laid the groundwork for the Las Vegas Strip, which has become a global symbol of entertainment and luxury resorts. In terms of organized crime, Siegel's high-profile lifestyle and criminal activities helped shape the modern image of the mobster and set a precedent for the involvement of organized crime in casino operations, although this has significantly diminished with the corporatization of the industry.