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Las Vegas embraces mob roots with new attractions
Critics have also slammed the attraction for being too deferential to the family members of the gangsters. The exhibition glosses over the mob bosses’ violent histories while praising them as handsome fathers. In one room, an actor asks visitors how a petty casino thief should be punished for his crime. “Do we use a shovel on him?” the actor asked an encouraging crowd during Tuesday’s grand opening.
At the same time, the mob museum has been hounded by criticism that Goodman, a longtime mob ally, is glamorizing organized crime.
“Why are any of these brutal killers being honored? This is nothing but gross sensationalism,” said William Donati, an English professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the author of “Lucky Luciano: The Rise and Fall of a Mob Boss.”
“This is the image of Las Vegas that we want to portray?” Donati said. “What are they going to do next, have a show honoring the drug cartels of Mexico?”
To appease critics and burnish its academic credentials, the mob museum brought in historians, law enforcement officials and acclaimed museum leaders to help build its collection.
Ellen Knowlton, a former FBI agent based in Las Vegas, said she initially worried the project would romanticize mob culture after Goodman asked her to head the not-for-profit museum. She focused on the consequences of crime and persuaded collectors and federal investigators to provide photographs, transcripts of wiretaps and other materials from various mob investigations.
“If you thought organized crime was a glamorous lifestyle when you walked into the museum, you won’t feel that way when you walk out,” she said.
Like many of America’s colorful cities, Las Vegas boasts a rich history of hustlers, gangsters and hoodlums.
The city’s backroom deals and money laundering schemes gained worldwide notoriety because of criminal legends such as Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who ran the Flamingo hotel in the 1940s and named it after his mistress. The racketeer was implicated in at least 30 murders, according to the FBI.
In later years, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal ran the Chicago mob-owned Stardust, Fremont, Hacienda and Marina casinos.
Unlike in other cities, where mob bosses fought for territory, Las Vegas was deemed an open playground for gangsters of all nationalities.
“This was the golden goose,” said Michael Green, a historian at the Community College of Southern Nevada who is working with the mob museum. “Las Vegas was a young enough city not to be bound by old elites and old rules.”
Nevada’s tightening regulations and increasingly corporate culture began to turn off mobsters in the 1970’s, allowing Las Vegas to become the corporate-run tourist mecca it is today.
There are still those who long for the past. Longtime casino workers frequently reminisce of the days when mob bosses delivered flowing tips and safe streets.
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Memories of a long brotherhood tempered in common struggle
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