Ben Siegel, also known as "Bugsy Siegel," was a key man in advancing and developing the modern Las Vegas Strip.
Ben was born Benjamin Siegelbaum on February 28, 1906. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants. He was born in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York.
In his youth, Bugsy Siegel began stealing as part of a street gang on Lafayette Street. At the age of 14, Bugsy Siegel had his own racketeering gang. Later, Bugsy Siegel befriended Meyer Lansky, who was involved in criminal activities, including gambling and stealing cars.
Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky formed close ties with Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello. Together and with other mobsters, they formed "The Syndicate."
The Syndicate is the governing unit of the Mafia in the U.S.A.
His racketeering gang members gave him the nickname "Bugsy," which to gangsters is a compliment.
It is a reference to a person who acts fast and is fearless in a hot or sticky situation, a person who does not play around. In Ben Siegel's case, they meant "crazy."
Ben was savage and ruthless.
Ben did not like the name "Bugsy." Anyone who called him "Bugsy" to his face ran the risk of being injured. Friends could call him "Ben," otherwise "Mr. Siegel" was fine with him.
Ben married his childhood sweetheart, Ester Krakower, on January 28, 1929. They had 2 daughters. She divorced him in 1947. Actress Jean Harlow was the godmother of his daughter Millicent.
Ben was a very sharp dresser and charming with ladies. He had several affairs, including with actresses Dorothy DiFasso, Marie MacDonald, Ketti Gallian and Wendy Barrie.
Bugsy Siegel also had an affair with Virginia Hill, a lady with close ties to high ranking outfit gangsters. He gave her the nickname "Flamingo," because of her long legs. The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas was named after her.
In the early 1940's, Meyer Lansky was looking to build in Las Vegas. He sent Ben to inspect the flourishing city several times.
In 1945, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky became part owners of the El Cortez hotel in downtown Las Vegas.
Bugsy Siegel noticed the prosperity of the El Rancho Las Vegas, the very first hotel casino on Highway 91 -The Las Vegas Strip-.
El Rancho Las Vegas, which was across from the current location of the Sahara Hotel, opened on April 3, 1941, and burned down on June 17, 1960.
It was never rebuilt after the fire.
The Flamingo Hotel Las Vegas
William Wilkerson started to build The Flamingo on the Las Vegas Strip. He was a drinker and gambler and soon ran out of money.
He needed money, even though he owned a night club in Hollywood, and was one of the owners of the "The Hollywood Reporter."
He started construction on the hotel in November 1945. By January 1946, he ran out of money.
Ben Siegel saw the opportunity. With money gathered by the Syndicate, Siegel first became a partner, then assumed construction of the new hotel.
Ben was no businessman like Meyer Lansky and knew nothing about construction. Contractors ripped him off, sometimes charging him twice for the same material.
Initially, the cost for the new hotel was set at $ 1.5 million. By the time Ben opened the hotel on December 26, 1946, the cost was at $ 6 million plus.
The hotel opened its doors as The Pink Flamingo. Opening night was a disaster. In January 1947, Ben had to close the hotel.
After all that time and money to build the hotel, tension was brewing among members of the Syndicate Lansky, Luciano, Costello and other mobsters.
They suspected Ben Siegel of skimming money, too. The Syndicate held several meetings about Ben Siegel in Miami and Havana, Cuba, with Lansky standing up for Ben.
In March 1947, Ben reopened the hotel as the Fabulous Flamingo and by May 1947, the hotel casino had a profit of $250,000 plus. Ben was happy and thought some heat was off him.
On June 20, 1947, an obscure gunman shot Ben Siegel to death in Hollywood, California. The gunman shot him through the window of Virginia Hill's bungalow living room, while Siegel read the Los Angeles Times.
No one was ever arrested or charged. Only 5 people were at his funeral, all relatives.
Minutes after Siegel was murdered in Hollywood, David Berman, Maurice Rosen and Gus Greenbaum walked into the Fabulous Flamingo and declared they were taking over the management. All three worked for Lansky in his casinos in New York, Miami and Havana.
The Hilton Las Vegas
In 1997, Hilton celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Flamingo Hotel. Ben Siegel's name was barely mentioned.
A spokesman for the hotel said: "Siegel's image was not a good one for the Flamingo or Hilton. You are talking about a robber, murderer and rapist here and these are not good human qualities."
Ben Siegel was a mobster, but he had a vision about the city of Las Vegas. The success of the Flamingo Las Vegas led to the advancement and development of the Las Vegas Strip.
By the 1950's most if not all of the hotels built on the Las Vegas Strip were by the Syndicate. The Syndicate's control lasted into the 1970s.
Ben Siegel to Casino Gambling Instructor
Ben Siegel Page to Las Vegas Entertainment