Between the 1880s and the 1920s, many millions of Jews fled persecution in Eastern Europe – with over 2 million of them made their home in the United States. Most found themselves in New York, in neighbourhoods like Brooklyn Brownsville and the Lower East Side.
LIFE OF CRIME
Like so many immigrant groups, many felt unable to ‘’achieve’ in the traditional sense – blocked by prejudice from respectable jobs, and the money those jobs could bring. A life of crime was the predictable result for many – and it’s from these humble beginnings, hustling on the streets, that two of history’s most notorious Jewish mobsters emerged: Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, and Meyer Lansky.
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While they grew up in different neighbourhoods (Siegel in Williamsberg and Lansky on the Lower East Side), they had a very similar upbringing – and the same who-dares-wins attitude to the hustler’s lifestyle.
Siegel was an extortionist – forcing protection money from local sellers using threats of violence. Lansky on the other hand ran his own gambling operation. He had a head for numbers – and an uncanny ability to tip the odds in his own favour without his marks becoming any the wiser.
It wasn’t long after their first meeting that the pair decided to team up – creating the Bugs-Meyer Gang. Like many at the time, they moved between the booze business, and the gambling trade. The also ran ‘Murder Inc ‘ – an organization that offered contract killers for hire.
These two Jewish mobsters were instrumental in bringing together Mafiosi from all over the country in the 1940s, creating the national syndicate that reportedly lives on to this day. They brought together the syndicate in order to get the support and the money to work towards a common goal – the establishment of Las Vegas as a haven for gambling resorts from which they could all skim vast profits.
HITTING LAS VEGAS
Bugsy and Meyer built the Flamingo Hotel – the first resort in Las Vegas. But Siegel got greedy – embezzling so much money that the project ended up costing 4 times the originally agreed budget. Just six months later, rather predictably, he wound up dead.
The Flamingo soon became a success – and led to scores of other resorts that were opened and run by Casino Mobsters from almost every faction. But the first Casino Mobsters were undoubtedly Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Without the Jewish Mob, Las Vegas wouldn’t be anything like the casino city it is today.