Apr. 30, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
WISE GUIDE: Vegas mob map
History of Las Vegas
boasts large cast of colorful —
and dangerous —
Both the beginning and end of the mob's famed influence in
Las Vegas are marked by anniversaries this year. It has been 60
years since Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel opened the Flamingo, and 25
since Tony Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang was busted during a
burglary, the domino that would eventually topple the last
organized-crime regime to rule the Strip.
"The mob days are an integral part of Las Vegas history," says
"Policing Las Vegas" author Dennis Griffin. "Vegas was built on
Teamster money when no legitimate financial institution was willing
to invest in casinos, shopping centers and golf courses. Mobsters
also brought the celebrities. They could get top-notch entertainment
to the desert with one phone call."
In a recent poll conducted for the city, more than 70 percent of
tourists said they'd visit the former downtown post office and
courthouse if it were converted to a Mafia museum. Griffin and
former FBI special agent Dennis Arnoldy are even planning a mob bus
tour of various sites in town.
Based on accounts published through the years in the
Review-Journal; the books "Green Felt Jungle" by Ed Reid and Ovid
Demaris, and "Casino" by Nicholas Pileggi and Larry Shandling; the
expertise of Griffin; and the firsthand knowledge of Arnoldy, we've
compiled a map of some of the stops that tour should make.
1. Former Binion home
2040 W. Bonanza Road
The site of a thwarted 1951 hit that, if executed, would have
been the most public and dramatic in organized-crime history. Dallas
gangster Herbert Noble hated Benny Binion, who he blamed for his
wife's death. The former pilot was arrested while attaching bombs to
a surplus Navy fighter plane with which he planned to bomb this
still-standing house. (Later the same year, Noble was killed by a
bomb planted in his own mailbox.)
2. Car bomb site
Bank of Nevada building (former site), 300 S. Third
A car bomb exploded on the third floor of the parking garage here
on July 25, 1972, killing prominent attorney and former FBI agent
Bill Coulthard. The crime remains unsolved.
3. El Cortez
600 Fremont St.
Benjamin Siegel, who first came to town to establish the Al
Capone-backed Trans-America race wire service in 1941, had much
bigger plans in mind. "Bugsy," so-nicknamed for his short temper,
was one of a group of bookmakers and ex-bootleggers who took over
the El Cortez in 1943. The profits from the casino's sale helped
finance the Flamingo.
4. Meadows Casino (former site)
25th Street and Boulder Highway
Bootlegger Tony "Mr. Lucky" Cornero, the first known mobster in
Las Vegas, built this hotel and casino in 1931, the year gambling
was legalized in Nevada.
5. Spilotro headquarters
Gold Rush Jewelers (former site), 228 W. Sahara Ave.
Headquarters for the empire run by Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, a
suspect in about 20 murder cases nationwide, in the late '70s and
early '80s. (Joe Pesci played a thinly veiled Spilotro in the 1995
movie "Casino.") This store, used to fence stolen jewelry, wasn't
listed in the Yellow Pages.
6. Car bomb site
Tony Roma's, 620 E. Sahara Ave.
At 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1982, Spilotro associate Frank "Lefty"
Rosenthal turned his ignition key and started more than his '81
Cadillac Eldorado. Miraculously, Rosenthal escaped the blast with
minor injuries, thanks to a steel plate under the driver's seat
(standard on that model). Spilotro, his relationship with Rosenthal
on the decline, was the prime suspect.
7. Hole in the Wall Gang arrest site
Bertha's Gifts & Home Furnishings (former site), 896 E.
Hole in the Wall
Gang, from left: Lawrence Neumann, Frank Cullotta,
Leo Guardino, Ernie Davino and Wayne Matecki.
Gold Rush's jewelry was mostly stolen by Spilotro's Hole in the
Wall Gang, named for how they broke into buildings. On July 4, 1981,
that party ended when Spilotro henchman Frank Cullotta and five
others were arrested after breaking into this store (now Tower of
Jewels). "This was really important," says Dennis Arnoldy, lead
agent on the bust. "For the first time, we were able to build a case
where we could bring in Tony and other participants." (Before that
case could go to trial, Spilotro was killed by his own bosses in
3000 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Financed by Tony Cornero — who didn't live to see its 1958
opening — this was the largest of the mob-influenced Argent Corp.
casinos involved in skimming during the '70s. The FBI alleged Frank
Rosenthal was an executive here to oversee the mob's interests.
9. Desert Inn (former site)
3145 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Run by Cleveland racketeer, reputed mob leader and local
philanthropist Moe Dalitz, this property (razed to build Wynn Las
Vegas) served as home for dozens of his associates, who held regular
meetings in the houses surrounding its country club. Mobsters didn't
only live there, they died there. On July 31, 1955, Tony Cornero
suffered a reported heart attack at the craps table.
Former Rosenthal home
972 Vegas Valley Drive
The site of an argument during which Frank Rosenthal claimed his
wife, Geri (who was suspected of having an affair with Tony Spilotro), tried to shoot him on Sept. 8, 1980. Shortly afterward,
Frank Rosenthal said, police accompanied Geri to the First National
Bank (formerly at 2780 Las Vegas Blvd. South), where she emptied
three safety deposit boxes of documents, $150,000 in cash and $1
million in jewelry and left town. (If these events ring familiar,
you saw them re-created by Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro in
3555 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas' first luxury hotel and casino (now completely rebuilt
on its original site) was financed and opened by Bugsy Siegel in
December 1946 for $6 million. Unfortunately for Siegel, this was
$4.5 million more than budgeted by his bosses, Meyer Lansky and
Charles "Lucky" Luciano. The initial opening, although the hotel was
not ready, was a costly disaster, causing Siegel to quickly close it
and reopen when the hotel was completed, in March 1947. But the
Flamingo fell so far in the red, Siegel was suspected of skimming.
On June 20, 1947, the one-time hit man got hit himself, in
12. Spilotro hangout
My Place bar (former site), 4110 S. Maryland Parkway
This was Tony Spilotro's Bada Bing club. According to Frank
Cullotta, who turned state's evidence and entered the federal
witness protection program, Spilotro ordered executions while
sitting at the bar. Next door was the Upper Crust, a pizza parlor
owned by Cullotta.
13. Police shooting
Sunrise Villas VI, 2800 Emerson Ave.
On June 9, 1980, Hacienda maitre d' Frank Bluestein was shot and
killed by police, who pulled him over as he drove to his home inside
this complex. Detectives Gene Smith and David Groover reported
Bluestein — tailed after associating with Tony Spilotro outside the
Upper Crust — pulled a gun on them. Oscar Goodman, then attorney
for the Bluestein family, claimed the gun found by police was
planted. (That argument lost its weight when the gun was discovered
to be purchased in Chicago and loaned to Bluestein by his
14. Murder site
Heritage Square Townhouses, 3655 Mount Vernon Ave.
Nobody gets killed in Vegas, the old saying goes. They get driven
out to the desert, where fresh kills can be quickly buried in
pre-dug holes. On Jan. 6, 1997, an exception to the rule occurred
when Herbert "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein — one-time Spilotro right arm
and the last vestige of his Vegas reign — was shot and killed at
his home here. Seven men were charged in the crime. Four entered
guilty pleas, two were acquitted and one died before trial.
3801 Las Vegas Blvd. South
New York godfather Frank Costello was shot and wounded shortly
after the 1957 opening of this casino. In his coat pocket, police
found evidence suggesting he was one of its secret owners: a tally
of the Tropicana's revenues for a 24-day period. In the '70s,
entertainment director Joe Agosto (who also represented the Kansas
City mob's interests) turned government witness but died of a heart
attack in 1983, before some of the people he named were tried.
16. Murder site
2302 Rawhide St.
The house where Frank Cullotta admitted murdering government
informant Jerry Lisner in October 1979, following orders issued by
Tony Spilotro at My Place.
17. Former Spilotro home
4675 Balfour Drive
Tony Spilotro purchased this modest house in 1974, three years
after arriving from Chicago.
here to visit Corey Levitan's home page, FearandLoafing.com.