Flamingo Hilton Hotel

The Mob makes it’s way to Las Vegas

Flamingo Hilton - photo by David/dbkingThe Flamingo Las Vegas has the most colourful history of all the casinos on the Strip. It was the brainchild of mobster, Bugsy Siegel, but ultimately led to his death, allegedly at the hands of his erstwhile partners, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano.

A young nightclub owner, Billy Wilkerson became the proud owner of 33 acres of land on what was then the US Route 91. His dream was to design and build a hotel, or rather a complex, based on the more chic European Hotels of the 1940’s. His only competition was the ‘sawdust joints’ on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.

Rising building costs forced him to look for financial assistance, and at about the same time, Bugsy Siegel, a known member of the Mafia, was drawn to Las Vegas by the promise of easy money through legalised gambling.

Siegel bought and sold the El Cortez on Fremont Street, pocketing $166 000 in profits and he used this money to persuade Wilkerson that he needed financial partners. Costello, Lansky and Siegel invested $1 million in the property, allowing Wilkerson to retain a one third share, and operational control.

Siegel’s Demise

Siegel project managed the operation, but shoddy management and unscrupulous contractors led to soaring construction costs, and the hotel was eventually completed at a cost of $6 million. In 1946 the doors of the garishly Pink Flamingo Hotel and Casino opened, and was billed as the most luxurious hotel in the world.

Named after his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, who had long legs like a flamingo, the hotel did not realise the profit the gangster partners were hoping for, and at a meeting of the Mafia Dons in Havana, accusations were made by Meyer Lansky that either Siegel or Hill were skimming off the top. These allegations were undoubtedly true as Hill was later discovered to have over $2.5 million stashed in Swiss bank accounts.

The mob bosses thought of Siegel as their brother and consequently decided to give him a reprieve until the much vaunted casino opened. If it was the success they were anticipating, Siegel would soon be able to pay back the money that was missing.

The casino duly opened and superstars such as Clark Gable, Cesar Romero, Joan Crawford and Lana Turner all turned out for the big event – sadly it was a total flop. The casino eventually started to show a profit, but it was all a little too late, Siegel was gunned down in his Hollywood cabin on 20 June 1947.

The Flamingo Today

After changing hands a couple of times, the Flamingo was recently acquired by Harrah’s Entertainment, and it still reflects the flashy days of Siegel and the mob. Like many of the more recent casino on the strip, it offers fine dining, magnificent accommodations and great entertainment and gambling. Current artists include Toni Braxton, comedian George Wallace, Psychic and author John Edward, and of course, the sexy, raunchy XBurlesque.