Bugsy Siegel

Added on May 25, 2024, in Gambling Legends by Gambling Gurus

Caption: Gaming Icon “Bugsy” Siegel

Bugsy Siegel Part I

His was the story of money, flamboyance, and passion for big businesses – transforming the sandy desert plain of the Vegas Valley into a Gambling Mecca of some sort, with a multibillion-dollar value. It was a story of a man loved by all his employees for his generosity. However, beyond the façade, Benjamin Bugsy Siegel was one of the deadliest figures of his time.

Beyond the portico was a story of infamy, of brutality and of a notorious mobster with a penchant for rape, extortion, and murder. Yet, Bugsy Siegel remains one of the greatest legendary icons in the world of gambling, building one of the biggest casinos in Vegas with the completion of his famous Flamingo Casino Resort.

The Flamingo was his last project before his mysterious death that was later to be attributed to his fellow mobsters who lost huge cash on the project due to Siegel’s inexperience, and his spending spree habits.

Benjamin Bugsy Siegel: His Early Life

Benjamin Siegel, who was later to nickname himself “Bugsy” which basically meant crazy, was born on February 28, 1906 in Brooklyn New York, USA, into a family of poor Jewish parents of Russian decent, particularly of the modern day Ukraine. His father was Max Siegel who died two months before the mysterious murder of Benjamin on June 20, 1947. His violent temper saw him walk the path of infamy as a notorious gangster.

This was the niche where he was later to build an incredible professional career as a mobster, even before he conceived the idea of invading the Vegas Valley to build an amazing gambling empire that has stood the test of time – a business empire that was to contradict the gripping realities of the post world war II American business environment. From being the most feared teenage gangster of his time, starting out with thefts and racketeering around Lafayette Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Bugsy rose to become a first page-one “celebrity gangster” by pioneering great legacies in the gambling industry and by mingling with the Hollywood celebs and stars to enhance his aristocratic facade.

Benjamin Bugsy Siegel: The Memoirs of a Man of Many Sides

From his heyday as the mobster who lived his life at full-garrote, building the ubiquitous image of a vicious, ruthless hitman, to his stormy affairs with one of the finest of all – Virginia Hill, and then, to his last days image of a shrewd but audacious businessman who saw beyond the mob in the open desert plain of Vegas, nothing could be as impossible as capturing a complete story of Bugsy Siegel. But one thing is certain; opening a hall of fame for the legendary icons of the gambling world without Bugsy Siegel’s name is one omission too many. Bugsy Siegel is the legendary father of Vegas; the world’s gambling Mecca of decades.

Though his teen was not on reds of royal palaces, neither is his root traceable to any noble stock, yet the street gangster of a poor Jewish origin from Letychiv Podolia Governorate of the Russian empire was to be interred among the nobles in the Hollywood Forever cemetery in Hollywood, California. With a plaque on the grounds of the Las Vegas Flamingo Casino, and a Yahrzeit (remembrance) plaque in the Bialystoker Synagogue of the Manhanttan Lower East Side, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s life is an unusual memoir of how a life of gambling and crime could make legends out of mere commoners.

Founding Las Vegas, which became the world’s gambling nerve center, out of the barren Nevada desert was Siegel’s most memorable legacy. Who could have believed that the desolate plain of the West Coast would later house the famous Flamingo Hotels, an icon of prestigious gambling activities among the Hollywood legends and stars? Siegel was the gangster – Hollywood legend who raised the stakes of gambling life with all these astounding legacies in the gambling world.

Of him, Mark Gribben wrote: “Bugsy Siegel and Las Vegas are forever intertwined; like Bonnie and Clyde or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the story of one cannot be told without including the other. Bugsy Siegel is so synonymous with gambling in Las Vegas that many people are surprised to learn that he had a long and storied professional life before he headed west.”

Long Walk To Stardom

Siegel’s was a long walk from the streets to the palaces. First, he lacked that aristocratic background that would have given him a quick leap to stardom, as he had always wanted to have it, hence; Bugsy, as he nicknamed himself, took to the streets to walk his way to the dreamland of wealth, power and prestige. On Lafayette Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Bugsy joined a gang known for theft. Later, the young Siegel and a fellow gangster Moe Sedway were to build their own crime racket, forcing merchants to part with lots of their cash or lose their goods. They also raped, killed, robbed and gambled illegally.

Bugsy was later to join the mobster world of Meyer Lansky for whom he had an unflinching loyalty and with whom he built an unstoppable crime partnership. Lansky built a mob and Siegel became its hitman. The two were to later form the Bugs and Meyer Mob. It was not long before bootlegging and various other contracts began to flow from the New York and New Jersey bootleg gangs. This meant cash flow for Siegel.

The Mob also hijacked rival outfit’s booze goods steadily. By the time the Mob went headlong into bootlegging, Siegel had taken to his dream of high-class life. Before the handsome and charming Siegel married Esta Krakower, sister of a contract killer, Whitey Krakower, on January 28, 1929, he had bought a Tudor home in Scarsdale and a fancy apartment at the Waldof-Astoria Hotel. He was also known for fancy clothes.

The Hunger for Murder

The next phase of Siegel life was that of a man with a deep hunger for murder. Kill-for-hire was big business and the route to stardom. In a moment, Lansky and Siegel’s world jammed into the world of the later bosses of the Genovese crime family, Frank Costello and Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano. Siegel became their most valuable hitman as he went into fulltime bootlegging in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York, helping Luciano to eliminate rivals as he rose to the helm of the US mafia and American organized crime society.

Later Siegel formed Murder Inc.; with his crime associates whose stock-in-trade was kill-for-hire. His gambling life was growing and he was arrested in February 28, 1932 for vagrancy and gambling. Siegel’s activities around Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York came to a halt after his killing of the three Frabrazzo brothers. He then left for California. But don’t confuse this Bugsy with Bucksy Malone!

In Search Of a Gambling Haven

As Bugsy Siegel moved to California in the late 1930’s, two factors were at play: Siegel was haunted by the fact that many enemies were after him and his longtime hospital alibi had become simply unreliable. But, above the first factor, Siegel had developed a deep hunger for making great deals out of gambling. So, when the East Coast Mob sent him to California to build a syndicate gambling racket in partnership with Jack Dragna who was the boss of the Los Angeles crime family he willingly went forth.

Dragna was mandated by Lansky from his prison cell to work with Benjamin Bugsy Siegel. Knowing Siegel’s infamous virtue of brutality he accepted to do as he was told. Siegel became the boss of the partnership and recruited Mickey Cohen as his foot soldier. Siegel who was later to claim to earn his fast-growing wealth from legal gambling at Santa Anita Park had set up the national wire service to transfer the returns to the East Coast Mob.

He worked for Sidney Korshak as a bagman in Chicago, including the Chicago Wire service and Trans America Wire Service of Al Capone. Over half a million dollars flowed to the syndicate daily, with a large percentage chunk going into Siegel’s private pocket. He also racked up much from the syndicate’s narcotics and prostitution rings. However, what does Bugsy do next with his overflowing wealth from illegal deals and gambling? Read on to find out…


Continue to Benjamin Bugsy Siegel Part II