A Mobster Opened the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas

Daytime view of the front entrance to the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, with cars parked in the foreground, Las Vegas, Nevada, early 1950s
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While the Flamingo Hotel was not the very first casino hotel on the Las Vegas strip, it remains there as one of the oldest and most iconic places to stay in Sin City. On December 26, 1946, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel opened the Flamingo Hotel and had high hopes for the property. However, things took a turn for the worst for Siegel after opening night.

The owner of the Hollywood Reporter, Billy Wilkerson, was working on a property in Las Vegas and wanted it to be the epitome of European-style luxury. With such a grand vision, he ran out of money and had to halt the hotel opening. This is where Siegel came in. Siegel and his mob friends convinced Wilkerson to let them become new partners and handed over the cash he needed to finish the hotel. Siegel named it The Flamingo after his girlfriend Virginia Hill. She was nicknamed “The Flamingo” due to her fiery red hair and long legs.

(Original Caption) 8/17/1940-Los Angeles, CA: Benny (Bugsy) Siegel, Hollywood night life figure, is shown after being taken from his luxurious Holmby Hills home for questioning in Los Angeles about the gangland slaying of Harry Schachter in Hollywood last Thanksgiving

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Opening night wasn’t what they hoped. The weather was awful and it prevented Hollywood guests from attending. While Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat led the entertainment for the evening, it just wasn’t enough to keep guests around. Gamblers who didn’t have rooms left and spent money elsewhere. The casino was already $300,000 in the hole after the first week. Within two weeks, the casino was closed and re-opened on March 1, 1947, as The Fabulous Flamingo.

Daytime view of cars parked in front of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, late 1940s

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By April, Siegel forced Wilkerson out and began to turn a profit. Things didn’t end well for Siegel as he was murdered on June 20, 1947. While the crime remains unsolved to this day, many people believe it was his former partners who had him killed for not giving them enough of the profits.

General views of the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on August 17, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada

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Despite going through many changes in owners over the years, the name Flamingo still remains. In 2020, the hotel opened a new restaurant called Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse, paying tribute to Siegel and Meyer Lansky, who helped open the hotel 77 years ago.

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