Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was an American gangster who contributed greatly to the development of Las Vegas in the 1940s. He is most known for the change in Las Vegas's image as a mining town to a gambling Mecca.
Bugsy Siegel was born on 28 February 1906 in Brooklyn to Jewish Russian immigrants. Affiliating with street gangs as a child, Siegel met future gangster Meyer Lansky in his teens. The two eventually formed the “Bug & Meyer Mob” which was involved in bootlegging activities in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.
Siegel married his childhood sweetheart, Esta Krakower, in 1929, although he would have several mistresses throughout his life. In 1930, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky met and became close with Charles “Lucky” Luciano. It was around this time that Bugsy began to work as a mob hitman. Between 1930 and 1931, during a war for mafia control known as the Castellammarese War, Bugsy Siegel murdered mobster Sal Maranzano, allowing Luciano to take control of the East Coast mafia. His nickname, “Bugsy,” came about during this time, due to his erratic behavior and violent tendencies.
In 1937, the mob sent Bugsy Siegel to develop ties with Jack Dragna, the leader of the strongest Californian mob. At this time, he also became friends with actor George Raft. Siegel’s friendship with Raft gave him an in to Hollywood's inner circle which opened the film studios up to his extortion tactics.
Bugsy Siegel is known as the “Father of Las Vegas” because of his major involvement in developing the gambling industry. After several failed attempts to buy out established casinos in the Las Vegas area, Siegel spent $5 million US Dollars (USD) to build the Flamingo casino and hotel in 1946. The hotel opened on 26 December 1946 with a guest list that included several major celebrities. Because the Flamingo lacked hotel rooms, it offered no incentive for gamblers to stay longer, and the casino closed in January of 1947. Bugsy Siegel ordered the hotel to be renovated to include overnight rooms, and the Flamingo reopened in March of 1947. Initial revenue of $250,000 USD proved the new Flamingo to be profitable.
On 20 June 1947, Bugsy Siegel was shot in Beverly Hills by an unknown gunman. The coroner ruled the cause of death as cerebral hemorrhage. The details surrounding the hit on Siegel are still unsolved, although many think that it was the work of the mafia. Siegel is buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.