Talk with Bugsy Siegel

Bugsy Siegel was a notorious American mobster and crime boss instrumental in the development of Las Vegas as a gambling and entertainment destination.


Who is Bugsy Siegel?

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (born February 28, 1906 – June 20, 1947) was a notable American mobster who was a driving force behind the development of the Las Vegas Strip. Siegel was a charismatic and dangerous figure, known for his charm and violent temper.

Born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, Siegel became involved in crime early in his life, eventually establishing himself in bootlegging and gambling operations. He was associated with the Jewish mob and became closely connected with the Genovese crime family, one of the Five Families that dominated organized crime in New York City.

Siegel was also a foundational figure in cross-country organized crime in the United States. Alongside his childhood friend Meyer Lansky, he helped develop the National Crime Syndicate in the United States. He was involved in a variety of criminal activities, including bootlegging during Prohibition, racketeering, and murder.

In the 1940s, Siegel moved to the West Coast and began developing the Las Vegas casino scene. He was instrumental in the financing and construction of the Flamingo Hotel, one of the first major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Unfortunately, the Flamingo initially struggled financially, leading to disputes among mob investors. His mismanagement and the massive costs associated with the Flamingo eventually led to his murder in 1947, by unknown assailants. Despite the failure at his inception, his vision helped set the foundation for Las Vegas to become a resort destination, profoundly impacting its history and development.

How did Bugsy Siegel's association with the mob begin?

Bugsy Siegel's association with the mob began in the rough neighborhoods of Brooklyn, New York, where he was born to a Jewish immigrant family in 1906. During his youth, Siegel befriended Meyer Lansky, who would become a lifelong associate and a significant figure in organized crime. Together, they formed the Bugs and Meyer Mob, a gang that engaged in theft, bootlegging, and protection rackets during the Prohibition era.

Siegel’s charm and fearless nature caught the attention of organized crime figures. His involvement escalated as he and Lansky established connections with other major criminals of the time, including Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Siegel played a pivotal role in the development of the National Crime Syndicate, a confederation of crime families that organized crime activities across the United States. His contributions to the mob deepened, leading to more significant and more violent undertakings, solidifying his position within the American mafia landscape.

How did Bugsy Siegel start in organized crime?

Bugsy Siegel began his involvement in organized crime as a teenager in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Born in 1906 to Jewish immigrant parents, he grew up in a tough neighborhood where he befriended Meyer Lansky. Together, they formed a gang initially involved in theft and extortion. They eventually established a more organized group known as the Bugs and Meyer Mob, which engaged in bootlegging during Prohibition, among other criminal activities.

Siegel's charisma and penchant for violence helped him rise quickly within the criminal underworld. His partnership with Lansky proved crucial; Lansky's business acumen complemented Siegel's more aggressive approach. Through Lansky, Siegel became connected with other future major figures in the American Mafia, including Charles "Lucky" Luciano, with whom they participated in the development of the National Crime Syndicate in the 1930s.

What were the major challenges Bugsy Siegel faced in building the Flamingo?

Bugsy Siegel faced several significant challenges when building the Flamingo, one of the first luxury casino-hotel complexes in Las Vegas:

  1. Financial Overruns: The initial budget for the Flamingo was substantially exceeded. Originally estimated to cost $1.5 million, the final cost of the project ballooned to around $6 million. Siegel's ambitious vision for an opulent hotel with luxurious furnishings and state-of-the-art facilities led to spiraling costs, including expensive imported materials and high-end finishes.

  2. Construction Delays: The project faced numerous delays due to a variety of reasons including changes in the original plans, logistical challenges, and difficulties in sourcing materials. Delays were exacerbated by Siegel's insistence on only using the best materials, regardless of how it affected timelines or budgets.

  3. Mob Financing and Pressure: Much of the funding for the Flamingo came from mob associates through the Syndicate. As costs soared, so too did Mob scrutiny and impatience. Figures such as Meyer Lansky and other investors were anxious about the mounting expenses and their return on investment, putting immense pressure on Siegel to complete the project successfully and begin generating profits.

  4. Legal and Safety Concerns: During construction, there were also concerns about legal issues and safety standards. Las Vegas at the time was still largely undeveloped and lacked a robust framework for dealing with rapid urban development, which posed additional bureaucratic and logistical hurdles.

  5. Opening Night Failure: The hotel’s grand opening on December 26, 1946, was less successful than expected. The Flamingo opened prematurely with unfinished hotel rooms, which discouraged visitors who came initially; coupled with bad weather, the launch did not attract the glamorous Hollywood crowd Siegel had hoped for, leading to poor initial revenues.

  6. Personal Distractions: During much of the construction phase, Siegel was also involved in various personal affairs and legal troubles, which may have diverted his attention from the project at crucial times. His high-profile lifestyle and mob connections inevitably led to distractions from the day-to-day management of the construction.

Despite these numerous challenges, after a brief closure following the initial disaster, the Flamingo reopened in March 1947. It eventually turned a profit, but not in time to save Siegel, who was assassinated in June 1947, largely due to dissatisfaction among his mob peers with how the Flamingo’s finances were managed. This hotel-casino complex later became an iconic success and helped pave the way for the development of Las Vegas as a major resort city in the decades following.

How did Bugsy Siegel contribute to the Flamingo Casino?

Bugsy Siegel was a key figure in the development of the Flamingo Casino in Las Vegas, which became a landmark establishment and played a pivotal role in the transformation of Las Vegas into a major resort city. During the 1940s, when Las Vegas was still a relatively obscure town in the Nevada desert, Siegel saw the potential for developing a luxury hotel and casino that could attract high rollers from across the country.

Siegel was involved in financing and overseeing the construction of the Flamingo, which was one of the first casinos to bring Hollywood glamour and entertainment to Las Vegas. The casino opened on December 26, 1946. Despite a rocky start, including the initial opening being less successful than anticipated, Siegel's vision proved prescient. After some changes and further investment, the Flamingo eventually turned profitable.

The Flamingo's success encouraged further development on what would become the famous Las Vegas Strip, helping to establish Las Vegas as a major center for gambling and entertainment. Siegel's involvement with the Flamingo would, however, be short-lived, as he was tragically murdered in 1947, under circumstances that remain mysterious and are often attributed to his mob associations and the significant debts incurred during the construction of the casino. Despite his untimely death, Siegel's efforts at the Flamingo left a lasting impact on Las Vegas and its development.

What does Bugsy Siegel do?

Bugsy Siegel was a notorious American mobster primarily known for his role in the development of Las Vegas as a gambling and entertainment hub. Born Benjamin Siegel on February 28, 1906, in Brooklyn, New York, he became involved in organized crime early in his life. Siegal was a key figure in the National Crime Syndicate in the United States and played a pivotal role in the expansion of the mob's cross-country gambling operations, including the development of racetracks and illicit gambling dens.

Most famously, Siegel is credited with being a driving force behind the creation of the Las Vegas Strip, marking his legacy as a foundational figure in the transformation of Las Vegas into a major resort city. His most notable project was the development of the Flamingo Hotel, one of the first luxury casino-hotels in Las Vegas, which opened in 1946 but initially struggled financially.

Despite his vision, Siegel's life was marked by his criminal activities, including bootlegging, gambling rackets, and allegedly, murder. His association with organized crime ultimately led to his violent death; Siegel was assassinated in 1947, likely because of dissatisfaction with how he managed the Flamingo project, which involved significant financial losses for his mob associates. His death remains one of the more infamous events in mob history, symbolizing the volatile nature of organized crime in mid-20th century America.

Is Moe Greene based on Bugsy Siegel?

Yes, the character of Moe Greene in the novel and film "The Godfather" is indeed based on Bugsy Siegel. Moe Greene, a visionary who builds a major casino in Las Vegas, mirrors Siegel's real-life achievements and ambitions with the Flamingo Hotel, one of the first major casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. Both figures are known for their pioneering roles in the development of Las Vegas as a gambling and entertainment hub, although their stories end in similarly violent deaths, reflecting their involvement in organized crime.

What is a good movie about Bugsy Siegel?

A highly recommended movie about Bugsy Siegel is "Bugsy," directed by Barry Levinson and released in 1991. The film stars Warren Beatty as Bugsy Siegel and focuses on Siegel's transformation from a mobster to a visionary entrepreneur who dreams of building a gambling empire in the Nevada desert, eventually leading to the development of Las Vegas. The movie blends historical events with dramatic embellishments and has received critical acclaim for its direction, screenplay, and Beatty's performance. "Bugsy" was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and it won two Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

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