Las Vegas embraces its mob roots

A limousine once belonging to mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel is on display at the "Mob Experience" exhibit at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)A limousine once belonging to mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is on display at the “Mob Experience” exhibit at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS | Speakeasies, bootleggers, gun-wielding crime bosses and tough-guy accents pay homage to Las Vegas‘ mob roots in a pair of new attractions showcasing Sin City’s criminal history.

An interactive attraction featuring gangster memorabilia and commentary from film mobsters James Caan, Mickey Rourke and Frank Vincent has opened on the Las Vegas Strip. And Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob defense lawyer, plans to launch his Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement later this year.

For Las Vegas, the attractions represent an unprecedented embrace of its infamous founders.

“What differentiates us from any other city is our history,” Mr. Goodman said. “This is the story of America.”

The desert oasis made famous by scantily clad showgirls, ubiquitous slot machines and 24-hour happy hours has long celebrated its reputation as a haven of vice, but its relationship with the mob has taken a few hits in recent years. The city that once proudly boasted of its ties to organized crime — Mr. Goodman played himself in the 1995 mob movie “Casino” — has instead promoted its family-friendly restaurants and Broadway shows for the past decade.

An actor playing a beat cop walks through a set at the exhibit. (Associated Press)

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An actor playing a beat cop walks through a set at the ... more >

No more.

The Tropicana casino and hotel, a one-time hangout for organized crime now more known for its bargain room rates, celebrated its new “Mob Experience” attraction with a red-carpet party attended by “Baywatch” siren Pamela Anderson and comedian Rita Rudner, as well as a handful of mob heirs, including the son of Tony “the Ant” Spilotro, the inspiration for the bloodthirsty Joe Pesci character in “Casino.”

The sprawling casino attraction features the diary of mobster Meyer Lansky, Spilotro’s gun and family photos and home movies from other infamous criminals. Visitors are greeted by life-size holograms of chatty gangsters.

The publicly funded mob museum, meanwhile, is slated to open in December at a downtown Las Vegas courthouse where a detailed mob hearing that helped expose organized crime to ordinary Americans was held in 1950.

The $42 million museum started as an effort to save one of Las Vegas‘ few historic buildings. It has amassed a wide collection of gangster artifacts, including the wall from Chicago’s St. Valentine’s Day massacre, the only gun recovered at the mass shooting and the barber chair where hit man Albert Anastasia’s life came to an end in a 1957 New York murder.

“This isn’t some lampoon,” Mr. Goodman said. “It’s not a gimmick. This is going to be a real museum.”

The museum will highlight money-laundering schemes, mob violence and the role organized crime played in Las Vegas and other cities.

Both Las Vegas attractions expect to lure hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, driven at least in part by the nation’s unquenched fascination with the silver-screen mob bosses of “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather.”

“There is a certain excitement to think people who had done illegal things and got away with it were in charge here,” said Alan Balboni, a Nevada historian.

Neither attraction has sidestepped controversy, however.

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