Las Vegas and the Mob. Guns, Girls and Gambling

The story behind the Strip begins in 1938, when Fletcher Brown was elected mayor of Los Angeles and began a crusade against illegal gambling by closing down all the city’s illegal gambling dens.

The crooks who ran the gambling dens were forces to leave town and were looking for a suitable place to set up shop again. That place would prove to be Las Vegas. One of the crooks who fled town was called Guy McAfee, a crooked captain in the LA police department’s vice unit who had been running several illegal gambling clubs of his own. McAfee relocated to Las Vegas, where he promptly opened a club on Fairmont Street and bought the Pair-o-Dice a few miles south of the town. McAfee is credited for naming ‘The Strip’, he spent so much time driving on Highway 91 between his downtown club and the Pair-o-Dice that he began referring to the route as ‘The Strip’. Gradually the name stuck.

To the bosses of America’s underworld Las Vegas, the town where everything was legal was their promised land. Gangsters from all over the country were poised to flood into the city with the huge profits made from Prohibition and Wartime black market trading. The first to make his mark on the Las Vegas skyline was Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegal. He was tall, handsome, fearless and fearsome with backing from some of the most powerful criminal bosses in American.

Legend has it that Siegel paused to urinate one afternoon while driving into Las Vegas from Los Angeles. As he peed alongside Highway 91, Siegal was struck by a vision of colossal hotels and glittering casinos rising like a mirage before his eyes. Whether or not this fanciful story is true it is widely accepted that Las Vegas as we know it owes much to Siegals visionary ideas for the city.

Bugsy extorted sums of money from several casinos’ along the strip before he found the one that he wanted to take over, the Flamingo. He made his way into the inner management and so terrorised the whole team that they fled for their lives, leaving Bugsy with the unfinished casino. The casino opened under Bugsy’s management for a few years before he was assassinated in his girlfriends Las Vegas mansion in 1947. And so began 20 years of the mob’s presence in Las Vegas plus ten years of extensive casino and hotel building in the city. Mob money poured into Las Vegas from the underworld crime centres of New York, New England, Chicago, New Orleans and Miami. From 1951 to 1958 of the 11 big casino resorts on the Strip and downtown Las Vegas all but one of them was financed by dirty cash.

The mob effectively ran Las Vegas for the following 25 years after which time the state and federal governments finally decided that enough was enough and the war between the police and the gangsters in Vegas began.