Only a Myth?
The link between gambling and gangs has been portrayed in many popular films, such as the Godfather movies and Casino. Some people who have experience with Hollywood’s tendency to mythologize might think that there is hardly any truth to such representations. However, if one examines real gambling history in the United States, it turns out that these links between the mob and the gambling industry do have a lot of basis in history. Below is some basic information about real gangsters.
Gangs often tend to be thought of as having a particular racial affiliation: Italian, Irish, Russian, Jewish, etc. This is not necessarily because people who study and write about gangs are racist. Rather it is just that at the time many Europeans were migrating into the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, the established population had a tendency to discriminate against them. Many immigrants then decided to turn to crime instead of starving due to the xenophobia of established Americans. In Las Vegas, the two major ethnic groups involved in gambling-related crime were Italians and Slavic Jews. The stereotype is that most hitmen and “muscle” were Italian, while those with clerical and accounting skills were predominantly Jewish. It was an interesting case of ethnic groups cooperating in crime, instead of being deadly rivals.
How Things Worked
Many casinos were money-laundering outfits for mobsters. Sometimes, casino management would take an active role in the “dirtier” aspects of organized crime, funding violent activities and ordering or at least facilitating hits. Actually, sometimes the owners actually were gang leaders. One of the best-known ones was a man named Benjamin Siegel. He was involved in many projects, including the construction of the Flamingo, where he was an investor. Eventually, he tried to lead the project. He was murdered before the Flamingo really took off, and others had to take over and make the establishment more profitable.
Organized crime in Las Vegas was very much bound up in the personalities of gang leaders. As the leaders who came to the fore in the 1940’s got older, gang life became less active as more and more people started to retire. By the 1960’s, things had quieted down considerably. On top of this, mob bosses had to deal with increasing scrutiny from public authorities as well as private bodies, such as the famous journalist Ned Day.
The Mob in Las Vegas Today
While gangland connections in the area still exist, activity is quieter and considered to be much less extensive.
However, it turns out that there is a new gangland-gambling scandal—not in Las Vegas this time, but in New Jersey. Stanley Ho, a casino mogul in the area, was publicly accused of having ties to organized crime in China. It appears that there is still a strong link between casinos and crime in America, but the location has changed, as well as the ethnicity of the people involved. These links have also become more “international.” Instead of involving gang contacts in different U.S. cities, the links cross continents. Perhaps this link is only changing, not really disappearing.