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Tony Spilotro, the reputed mafia overlord who oversaw Las Vegas hotel-casinos for the Chicago mob, is forever known as "The Ant."
But to his family, Tony Spilotro was not "The Ant." During the holidays, he was Tony the Santa.
The Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana depicts both Tony Spilotros: The reputed crime boss depicted by Joe Pesci in Casino, and the man who donned a Santa Claus costume for his family during the holiday season.
"Some of the home movies his wife and son provided us are fantastic," said Jay Bloom, managing member of the Mob Experience planned to be in place by the end of this year at the Trop. "We have Tony as Santa Claus, with his family."
There is footage, too, of Tony the Ant with Donald Duck.
"We have him with his family on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland," Bloom said during a phone interview Saturday afternoon. "We have some amazing, amazing artifacts."
It is not known if the Disney employee portraying Donald Duck actually was aware he or she was interacting with one of history's more famous reputed mobsters.
Spilotro's widow, Nancy, and son Vincent have been signed on as paid consultants for the Tropicana projects and sold their personal collection of Spilotro-related artifacts to Bloom and his investment partners. The Spilotros' involvement is an ironic twist in the intensifying rivalry between the mob project planned for the Trop and the city's $42 million Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (the Mob Museum) in downtown Las Vegas. One of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's most famous clients during his career as a defense attorney who took on reputed mob figures was, as fate would have it, Tony the Ant.
Through that relationship, Goodman actually appears — in a business-transaction vein — in the Mob Experience. Checks written to him by Spilotro for Goodman's work as his defense attorney are to be displayed at the Trop.
"It has nothing to do with Oscar Goodman," Bloom stresses, "but getting the Spilotros' collection was a big plum. It was very important in telling the story as to who these people really were."
As Bloom reiterates, the Mob Experience is not a museum, nor is it a Mafia Disneyland, either. He describes the attraction as, "more about entertainment, an experiential environment, where we take this artifact collection and use the technology you see in theme parks for an interactive experience. So, instead of just seeing a gun under a piece of glass, you will see a hologram apparition of the gangster who used the gun describing it."
Also on board as a hired gun, as it were, is Antoinette Giancana, known as "Mafia Princess" (the title of her autobiography) and daughter of longtime mob head Sam Giancana. She and the Spilotros will be joined by other yet-to-be named family members of reputed mob figures in audio and video clips and will make recurring appearances at the Mob Experience to tell the stories of those depicted in the attraction. (The Las Vegas Sun is involved in the project at the level of assisting in research of the subjects displayed and recording video interviews with family members partnered in the project.)
Bloom said the Mob Experience will be set up at the Tropicana's pavilion area, near the back of the hotel. Planning for the attraction dates at least 18 months. Bloom and his associates in Murder Inc., a subsidiary of his Eagle Group Holdings, the umbrella company for Murder Inc., the company financing the project, began purchasing the collections owned by Giancana and the Spilotros (among others) at that time. Partners in the project include Louis Ventre, a New York stockbroker and associate of Bloom's for 14 years, and longtime Las Vegas resort executive Michael Unger.
Upon securing the collections to be used in the Mob Experience, officials sought a major auction firm to appraise the artifacts so they could be insured. They were told that an unsolicited bid was made for the entire collection: $10 million.
"We weren't selling, but it was good to know what the value actually was if we were to sell it," Bloom said.
In describing how those items would be used, Bloom says that from the outset the concept was not to simply build a museum.
"Basically, you'll walk into a movie set," Bloom, a former New York investment banker, said. "You'll be pulled into a story, where you're in an immersive environment that lives and breathes."
As visitors move through the interactive displays, they will be taken on a journey in which the outcome will be that you are either "whacked" or "made" in an exhibit called Final Fate. It is to be a walking tour. There are no rides, no "Mr. Tony's Wild Ride"-style attractions.
In addressing concerns that this attraction might serve as a happy celebration of mobsters and their legacy, Bloom has stressed that it will inform visitors about the mob culture in a highly entertaining fashion.
"It's like any other cultural account of that subject," Bloom said. "You don't see people screaming about The Sopranos, or The Godfather, or Goodfellas. We can keep this in proper context."
Nonetheless, the project should be aesthetically compelling, especially for those dazzled by virtual entertainment. Assisting in the technical development and production of the Mob Experience are Plain Joe Studios of Corona, Calif., which specializes in interactive displays and "virtual" design, and Visioneering Studios of Irvine, Calf., whose long list of projects includes Downtown Disney and Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, Calif.
Bloom said the price scale should be in line with resort-housed attractions on the Strip. CSI: The Experience, for instance, charges $30 for adults, $23 for children ages 12 and under.
Without offering a full layout of the project, specific plans for which will be announced in late May or early June as the Tropicana unrolls details of its $165 million expansion, Bloom speaks of fog-screen projection and three-dimensional, lifelike figures appearing to narrate the tour.
Bloom says it is not out of the question to expect up to 1 million visitors to enter the Mob Experience annually.
"We have a Strip location, we'll have an extensive marketing and PR strategy, we are at a property that I feel is going to again be a major resort in Las Vegas," Bloom said. "I would not be surprised at 1 million."
By comparison, officials with the downtown Mob Museum, located on 300 Stewart Ave. in what was once the city's federal courthouse, has said that project would bring in 600,000 to 800,000 annually. The downtown exhibit similarly is laden with mob-themed attractions. Its artistic director is Dennis Barrie, co-creator of the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
With Goodman as the political and public relations force behind the downtown Mob Museum, the Mob Experience can expect a lively competition. In a New York Times story that was posted online Saturday and ran in the newspaper's print edition Sunday, Goodman said, "They are no competition because we are the real thing. Forget about it."
That story closed with Goodman saying, "My whole life has been competitive. And I don't lose."
In addressing the inevitable comparison between the two attractions, Bloom said they are alike only in their themes.
"It's not as if you're looking at two museums. Ours is an entertainment attraction primarily," Bloom said. "They are a municipal undertaking with public money. We are a private attraction. They are totally different. Mayor Goodman says they are the real thing, but we've got the real people who were actually part of that history supporting us."
That includes the family of Tony the Ant, who seems to live forever in Las Vegas lore.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.