Meyer Lansky was born Meier Suchowlański in 1902 in Belarus. He was Polish-Jewish although he and his family immigrated to the United States when he was less than ten years old.
It is not known exactly when Lansky joined the mob but it is thought that it might have been some time during his teens. Whatever the case, he forged strong friendships with fellow mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. These relationships served him well in his rise to the top of the Jewish Mob.
Doing Business the Smart Way
Lansky may have been a criminal but he understood more than a thing or two about how to run a successful business and he was naturally very smart. When he set up casinos in Cuba, Florida and New Orleans he took time to orient himself with how the games really worked. He was aware of the odds and organized his establishments in such a way that they remained profitable.
But just because he knew his math didn’t mean that he was using it to fleece his customers. In fact it was quite the contrary; at Lansky’s casinos gamblers were always assured of fair gaming. The mobster chose his croupiers very carefully ensuring that only the most honest of men served at his tables.
Between the end of World War II and the rise of Fidel Castro into power, Lansky proved that he could conduct business in a shady but very successful manner. He bribed the then Cuban president General Fulgencio Batista into allowing the mob to set up casinos in the country.
Before long, even the classy Hotel Nacional had a casino within its walls. These casinos were such a success that Lansky was willing to do whatever it took to keep the money flowing. It was reported that when there was a change of regime in Cuba, he paid President Carlos Prío Socarrás $250,000 to allow Fulgencio Batista to rule again.
Unfortunately, when the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro came into the picture in 1959, Lansky was forced to flee from Cuba. He left behind his Habana Riviera hotel casino and it is reported that it was looted alongside the rest of the casinos in the country. Castro went on to ban gambling and nationalize the mob’s hotels. The show was over for Meyer Lansky in Cuba.
A Legend Created
In spite of the fact that Lansky was a well-known mobster, he was never convicted of any serious crimes. In fact, all that prosecutors could pin on him was illegal gambling. Furthermore, it was thought that at the time of his death in 1983 he was worth about $300 million but the Feds have no idea where that money is.
Apparently, after the law finally caught up with Al Capone, Lansky quickly moved all his dirty money to Switzerland to avoid losing it all. The man was so intent on keeping his loot safe that he bought an entire offshore Swiss bank which he used to conduct cryptic financial transactions. But that is only one side of the story; it has been reported that he lost all his money in Cuba and died penniless leaving his family destitute.
Irrespective of how much money he had, Meyer Lansky is regarded as one of the greatest mobsters to have come out of the United States. As a result, he has been permanently immortalized in films, books, television shows and even music. Some of the most notable among these include The Godfather Part II, The Untouchables and Once Upon a Time in America.