When a nightclub-owning gambling addict partnered up with a man by the curious name of “Bugsy”, the Las Vegas strip would never be the same. Billy Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter had dreams of a lavish and glamorous hotel filled with his A-list Hollywood celebrity friends while Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his wise guys were looking for a clever way to pocket the money. The construction was a tumultuous affair, paralleling the relationship between the two men, and once Bugsy was put in charge of the development, his elaborate and broken schemes (not to mention the secret passageways he orchestrated leading to getaway cars) ran the budget dry. Although Bugsy was careless with the monetary ventures of the hotel, the main overseer of the Las Vegas project, Meyer Lansky, gave him complete control of the Flamingo, leaving Wilkerson as a simple shareholder. It was a disaster. As if installing his girlfriend, a former actress, as the interior decorator was bad enough, investors in the project were not being paid—an unfortunate decision that would end up haunting Bugsy in the end—while Bugsy secretly looked for new ones and used the cash to continue construction.
If ever a day symbolized the difficulties of the Flamingo project it was the opening night. The hotel was incomplete and the weather so severe that the Hollywood crowd Wilkerson had hoped for never made it. The Flamingo closed and would not reopen, Bugsy vowed, until all construction was complete. The Flamingo reopened on March 1, 1947 and at $6 million dollars, was the most expensive hotel ever constructed. Three months later, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was shot nine times and died in his rented Beverly Hills house at the age of 41. The furious investors finally took their revenge on the gangster from New York. Yet Bugsy’s legacy did not vanish completely from the Flamingo. In the newly renovated hotel, there have been sightings of a ghostly presence in the wedding chapel and, of course, the exquisite Presidential Suite—only the best for Bugsy, even after death. — Nicole Ellul
3555 Las Vegas Blvd.
South Las Vegas, NV 89109
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