Patrons of the Flamingo using the north restrooms near the Linq may spot a familiar face. It’s a huge photo likeness of a dude who looks just like Bugsy Siegel, the mobster who opened and owned the hotel-casino in 1946 until his murder in LA a year later. It’s a curious new inclusion, but not the only recent local nod to Siegel. A new memorabilia exhibit linked to Siegel and the old Flamingo is now on display at the Mob Museum. Which begs the question: Is there a renewed enthusiasm for the man seen as—or, depending on who you ask, mistaken for—a visionary of Las Vegas?
“What I would say is that interest in Bugsy Siegel continues to be high,” says Geoff Schumacher, the museum’s director of content development. “More importantly, there’s a growing nostalgia for old Vegas.”
“He’s part of the mythos that is Las Vegas,” says Brian “Paco” Alvarez, an urban historian and curator. “He really is part of the fabric of this community, and interestingly, people start Las Vegas history with him.”
Bugsy Siegel has always been one of the city’s most iconic figures, but his legacy has been widely debated. The 1991 movie starring Warren Beatty inflated not only his role in the city’s development but with the Flamingo itself, which was well under way by the time Siegel came around and bought a majority ownership from Hollywood Reporter owner Billy Wilkerson. Flush with cash (to a point), he expanded on Wilkerson’s vision of a European-style luxury resort, arguably the genesis of Vegas’ megaresort era.
“Despite the fact Siegel didn’t conceive of the idea of the Flamingo—that credit should go to Wilkerson—he nonetheless was one of the first to see Vegas’ potential to become bigger, and the way to do that was to build a resort that was as attractive and as comfortable as any of the nightclubs in LA,” says Schumacher.
Siegel also wanted to get out of the gangster business and become a legit casino operator. This is where the new Mob Museum exhibit—a collaboration with the Museum of Gaming History centering around memorabilia from the two Flamingo grand openings—comes in.
Alvarez says working in Siegel-related artifacts is a no-brainer. “People like the ability to see something tangible, and say that they saw Bugsy Siegel’s ashtray.”
There may be more exhibition materials attached to—and general interest in—Siegel in the near future, especially with a potentially revelatory biography coming out in January. “He’s the icon of old Vegas from a mob standpoint,” Schumacher says. “Who stands taller—or lower, depending on how you look at it—than him in terms of recognition?”