The Flamingo, Las Vegas’s First Mob-Built Casino, Turns 75

Las Vegas Strip icon the Flamingo is celebrating 75 years in business, a significant milestone in the town’s first mob-built resort’s colorful history. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Strip’s oldest still-operating resort

The oldest still-operating resort on the Las Vegas Strip and Sin City’s first mob-built casino, the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, has turned 75.

Emmy Award-winning journalist Kayla Astrinos shared news of a KTNV half-hour tribute to the Flamingo as it celebrated its 75th anniversary on Sunday.

According to a Flamingo news release, the iconic resort is offering guests “anniversary-themed offers at the resort, from a social media sweepstakes to hotel, spa and wedding packages.” The offers are part of the Flamingo’s 75th anniversary celebrations and will run until the end of the year.

The Flamingo is also honoring its team members with “75 Days of Appreciation,” while the resort will be hosting VIP casino guests for an exclusive anniversary dinner.

Senior vice president and GM Dan Walsh said in the news release that in its 75-year history, the Flamingo “has continued to evolve and thrive, though most of the resorts built around its era are long gone.”

The difference 25 years makes

For most people familiar with the history of Las Vegas, that celebrity mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was the owner of the Flamingo when it opened to the public on December 26, 1946, is common knowledge.

What has changed in the 25 years since the Flamingo turned 50 in 1996 is that the brand no longer shies away from its connection to Siegel and the mob.

Hilton hotels purchased the Flamingo in the early 1970s and would later rename it the Flamingo Hilton. Flamingo Hilton spokesman Terry Lindberg said back in 1996 that the “Bugsy image was not something that was particularly endearing to the Flamingo or Hilton.”

Lindberg stated Siegel was “not George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. We’re talking about a robber, rapist and murderer. Those are not endearing qualities. We want to remember the history of the Flamingo without glamorizing it. We’ve made a conscious decision to distance ourselves from the Bugsy heritage.” Siegel got gunned down in the Beverley Hills home of his girlfriend in 1947, and the murder remains unsolved. The Las Vegas Review-Journal quotes Larry Gragg, an emeritus history professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology as saying that, within 15 minutes of Siegel’s murder some 300 miles away, mobsters Gus Greenbaum and Moe Sedway strolled into the Flamingo and declared that they were taking over.

While crime families had been dabbling in ownership of other casinos in Vegas, the Flamingo was the first mob-built casino in town. It’s Miami Beach, art deco style was a drastic trendsetter, breaking the mold of Old West-themed properties and heralding the Strip’s first real luxury resort, complete with glamorous amenities and entertainment.

Copy editor at the Las Vegas Review-Journal Karl Kistner took to Twitter on Monday to share a quote from Vegas journalist Geoff Schumacher, who reckons Siegel’s Flamingo accelerated the growth of the Strip:

Acknowledgment that Siegel and the mob were part of Flamingo’s history became part of the brand narrative in 2020, with the opening of the Bugsy and Meyer’s Steakhouse, a retro-style eatery named for Siegel and his mob associate Meyer Lansky.

embracing the Siegel connection was simply “acknowledging the true history of the Flamingo”

Sean McBurney — president of regional operations for Caesars Entertainment, the current operators of the Flamingo — said that embracing the Siegel connection was simply “acknowledging the true history of the Flamingo.”

McBurney added the mob connection was “something that’s unique to Flamingo” but added the brand stopped short of “condoning the method of operations.”

Ability to change

The Flamingo has been sold many times throughout its history. In 1967, US businessman Kirk Kerkorian purchased it and cut all ties with the mob, shifting focus to corporate gaming. Kerkorian made a success out of the Flamingo before selling to Hilton in 1972. In 2005, the Flamingo changed hands again to current owner Caesars’ subsidiary, Harrah’s Entertainment.

The oldest, most storied resort on the Strip has, however, always kept its finger on the Vegas pulse. When the dawn of monster integrated resorts hit Sin City in the late 1980s, the Flamingo changed with the times. By 1993, it had added over 3,500 rooms and a 200-unit timeshare tower, and in 2018 it unveiled a $156m hotel renovation. In June 2020, the Flamingo was one of the first Las Vegas resorts to reopen after the pandemic’s first wave.

According to the Review-Journal, as the Flamingo turns 75, its past is “a reflection of the Strip’s history and the iconic corridor’s ability to reinvent itself time and time again.”

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