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Mobster in a Barrel

As Lake Meade recedes some surprising things have come to the surface.

Mobster in a Barrel

The mob lore associated with Las Vegas and its casino business is a funny thing.

On the one hand, the gaming capital has worked hard since the corporate takeovers of casinos in the 1970s and 1980s to shed its mobster history, and escape from all the stereotypes that go with it.

On the other hand, the history of when “the boys” ran things can be attractive to thrill-seekers and the curious. Just look at the popularity of the Mob Museum, in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas. I admit I ponied up the admission fee and spent hours walking through the place.

(I wanted to see pictures of all my old buddies. Just kidding.)

I’ll admit the old stories of holes in the desert with patent-leather shoes sticking out of them are intriguing. But last month, those stories bobbed up in a big way out at Lake Mead, when the receding lake—there’s a bathtub ring around it as the water continues to disappear in drought conditions—revealed a surprise: Beachcombers stumbled upon a barrel containing human remains. Then, within a week, a second set of remains appeared.

News reports didn’t say whether the remains had pinstriped suits and two-toned wing tips. However, comments reported in the Associated Press from Oscar Goodman, the colorful ex-mayor of Las Vegas, were priceless. “There’s no telling what we’ll find in Lake Mead,” Goodman said. “It’s not a bad place to dump a body… I’m relatively sure it was not Jimmy Hoffa.”

Damn, Goodman went and stole my Jimmy Hoffa joke before I even got to make it!

But Goodman should know, considering his clients back in the day like Tony “The Ant” Spilotro—the real Nicky Santoro, which was the character based on the mobster as portrayed by Joe Pesci in the movie Casino.

Heck, Goodman even plays himself in the movie, as Nicky/Tony the Ant’s lawyer. Last month, he told the AP that a lot of his former clients were interested in “climate control,” mob talk for keeping the lake level up so the barrels stayed down.

Not likely. The lake level has dropped more than 170 feet since I first started to go to Las Vegas in the early 1980s, which was around the time Tony the Ant got whacked and the old Stardust crew went to the slammer in a skimming scandal.

The Stardust was the Tangiers in the movie. Lefty Rosenthal was Robert DeNiro as Ace Rothstein, and… Oh, just watch the movie on Netflix.

The point I am making in a painfully circuitous manner is that they’re probably going to find more “boys.” I’m thinking reality show here. Bobbing for Gangsters. Also on Netflix.

Speaking of gangsters, Caesars Entertainment is reportedly looking to unload Bugsy Siegel’s old joint, the Flamingo, for at least $1 billion. Nothing has been confirmed. Caesars’ new owners have stated that one of the operator’s Las Vegas Strip properties is likely to be sold to reduce debt, but they’re not saying it’s the Flamingo. Still, reports in Bloomberg and other news sources are juicing up the rumor mill that the Flamingo will go.

I always liked the Flamingo, especially the pool and a couple of the bars. But I always thought they should have preserved more of what the place was like before Bugsy was rubbed out. They could have preserved the original hotel, or at least the suite occupied by Siegel and his girlfriend Virginia Hill. I would have paid to go through the trap door in the closet and down the ladder to an underground garage where there was always a waiting Cadillac to make a quick getaway, complete with a chauffeur. (I guess that was a pretty easy job. Three shifts.)

I’ll bet they could have made millions every year off tours of that suite, which had bulletproof windows, one entrance and five exit points. They tore out the suite in 1953, and the last remnants of Bugsy’s “carpet joint” hotel were gone by 1993.

All that’s left is a plaque where the hotel once stood, near the present swimming pool. It notes who Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was, and marks where the hotel stood.

What’s ironic is that Siegel usually gets credit for inventing Las Vegas with the Flamingo, but in reality, it wasn’t even his original idea. He muscled the place off Billy Wilkerson when the L.A. restaurateur came up $400,000 short on construction costs.

Mobsters are like that. (Not that I know any.)

And no, they’re not going to find Bugsy in Lake Mead. He was killed in Los Angeles and buried with his movie pals at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

But I still wouldn’t rule out Jimmy Hoffa.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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