We’ve written with some detail elsewhere about the history of the mafia in the United States from the early days of the 20th century through to the establishment of mafia families on the east coast and the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) laws. In this article we’re going to examine a period of U.S. mafia history in more detail – the era in which mafia ran much of Las Vegas – Nevada’s gambling city.
Casinos began to emerge in the 1930s in Las Vegas when gambling became legal in the state. Perhaps it was because the Second World War was interrupting things or perhaps it ws just because Nevada was a long way from the mafia’s traditional east coast territory, but it took another decade for the mob to realise that there was money to be made in the city.
The mafia originally had a hard time making headway in the city’s casinos; Las Vegas was largely run by a number of influential families who had managed to protect and build their investments in the relatively lawless early days in the region. They knew how to look after their own interests and it wasn’t until mobsters Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel and Meyer Lansky managed to funnel money through sympathetic mormon banks and build The Flamingo.
This was the first step for organised crime in Las Vegas and the Teamster Union became another vehicle through which east coast mobsters could fund casino developments. By the 1950s they were well ensconced in Vegas and making huge amounts of money legally by just operating successful casinos. However they were also ‘skimming’. This practice involved the removal of money directly from the casinos counting rooms before it could be taxed. It was untraceable and could be used in any manner by the gangsters. Much of the proceeds headed back east to New Jersey and New York.
The good times for the mob were effectively ended in the early 1950s when the federal authorities began to take an interest and to target Las Vegas specifically. This coincided with the arrival of the reclusive, eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes in Vegas who began to buy up casino and other property and intrude upon the mob’s patch. However the myth that Howard Hughes forced the mob out of Vegas is just that, a myth.