Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn to an ashkenazi jewish family. As a boy, he joined gangs and rackets which built up his lengthy criminal record. Eventually, he teamed up with Meyer Lansky who saw the need to start a jewish gang organized in the same manner as the Italians and the Irish. There, he got involved in bootlegging and hijacking and even served as the mob’s hitman.
Eventually, Siegel moved to California because he was in danger in New York and continued doing pretty much more of the same from extortion to racketeering. He ran casinos and a prostitution ring, all while befriending Hollywood movie stars and joining the highest circles of society.
During his time in California, Siegel was put on trial a few times. Although he was acquitted, it had significantly damaged his reputation so he sought to reinvent his personal image by diversifying into legitimate business with William Wilkerson’s Flamingo Hotel, a casino that would offer it all: gambling, the best liquor and food and the biggest entertainers. Eventually he coerced Wilkerson into selling all his stakes in the Flamingo.
Siegel went on a spending spree as he spared no expense on his casino and had huge cost overruns. On the opening day, the casino was still unfinished and so the opening was a fiasco: the celebrity guests were greeted by construction noises in a lobby still draped with drop cloths, the air conditioning broke down regularly and the luxury rooms were still not available. Two weeks later, the Flamingo shut down. And even though it reopened a couple of months later and began turning a profit, the mob bosses were growing impatient.
On the night of June 20, 1947, an unknown assailant fired at him through the window, hitting him many times, including twice in the head. During the hail of fire, Siegel’s left eyeball was blasted out, an unintended symbolic flourish for the man called the “visionary” who created Las Vegas. No one was charged with killing Siegel, and the crime remains officially unsolved.
Why he’s on the list:
Another mobster on my list. I started this blog with Al Capone who was a boyhood friend of Ben Siegel. So do I like mobsters? Not specifically. But I do like rulebreakers in general as every great idea or inventions came from challenging the norms and the accepted truths. And mobsters just happen to be pretty good at breaking the rules.
Like most notorious mobsters of his time, Siegel had a flashy style. He was making a lot of money and proudly flaunting it. And while this is something I doubt I would do, I’ve always enjoyed watching those who do as I find there is a certain beauty in the bluntness and vulgarity of showing off.
Even though Ben Siegel didn’t invent the Flamingo concept but merely stole the idea from Wilkerson, he is still considered the visionary behind the creation of my favorite city, Las Vegas. And it also serves as a reminder that coming up with good ideas is not as important nor as difficult as bringing your ideas to life.
The Flamingo cost a few millions and Siegel was killed for it. Over the years, the Flamingo generated billions. Yes, part of it is inflation but still. Let is serve you as a reminder not to let people take you down if they don’t share your vision.