Chapter 5: Welcome to the Flamingo
December 26, 1946.
It seemed that Bugsy had done everything right to prepare for the Flamingo's grand opening. The casino was fully staffed, restaurant & bar workers were ready to serve and the showroom was booked with famous entertainers including comedian Jimmy Durante & bandleader Xavier Cugat.
On the first of 3 planned opening nights, Siegel was there to greet guests - in a black tuxedo with a pink carnation - with Virginia Hill at his side, her hair dyed platinum blonde.
Cars jammed the highway outside the hotel and inside, the casino was so full that it was a struggle to get across the room. Jimmy Durante's showroom performance was met with cheers from the sold-out audience and according to those who were in attendance, there was A LOT of $100 chip action at the gaming tables - meaning cash was flowing...big time.
Sounds like it was a huge success, right?
Advertisement for the Flamingo's three grand opening nights
Photo Credit: Casino Collectible News
The Flamingo's fortunes faded over the next few nights. The A-List celebs he'd invited - including Lucille Ball, Ava Gardner and Veronica Lake - were no-shows. And, adding insult to injury, the cash that high-rollers were risking at the tables wasn't staying at the casino as the Flamingo was said to have lost upwards of $500,000 over the course of several days. And to top it off, because the Flamingo's hotel rooms weren't complete yet, guests had to go find accommodations at other properties - where they likely went and gambled away their Flamingo winnings.
The casino continued to bleed money through New Year's Day and by the end of January 1947, Siegel made the decision to temporarily shut down the Flamingo so he could save money while completing the hotel and its amenities - including the Olympic-sized pool, golf course and tennis courts. Bugsy took out a full-page newspaper ad announcing that the Flamingo would shut its doors from February 6 to March 1 to finish construction.
Flash forward to late March...
The Flamingo's completed pool area circa 1947
Photo Credit: Vintage Las Vegas
Upon reopening, the Flamingo now had hotel rooms, activities and amenities superior to its competitors in Las Vegas. And the good news? It looked like the resort's fortunes had taken a turn for the better; within just two months of reopening, Siegel had shown a profit of over $300,000. Also, more of Hollywood's elite - including Gary Cooper, Wallace Berry and Susan Hayward - were making their way east to Vegas, generating lots of great publicity for the resort.
Marilyn Monroe (second from right) at the Flamingo pool, 1947
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Archives
Unfortunately for Bugsy, it wasn't enough to save him. His arrogance & independence in running the Flamingo project had pushed the bosses to their limits and, unbeknownst to him, the decision had already been made back in February - before the Flamingo's reopening:
Siegel had to go.
Just before 11pm, on the evening of June 20, 1947, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was sitting of the couch of the Los Angeles home he shared with Virginia Hill - who just happened to be in Paris at the time. As he was reading a copy of the LA Times, shots rang out as an unknown assailant fired at him through the window with 30mm M1 Carbine rifle.
Nine shots were fired with Siegel being hit 4 times; twice in the chest and twice in the head, with one of the shots blowing his left eye out of its socket.
That marked the end of Bugsy's reign at the Flamingo.
Immediately following Siegel's death Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum and mob associate Morris Rosen walked into the Flamingo and announced that they were now in charge. Rosen put together a group of investors - including Sedway, Greenbaum and mob boss Meyer Lansky - to raise $3.9 Million to buy the property from Siegel's Nevada Projects Corporation.
Meanwhile, Billy Wilkerson had been hiding in Paris for several months following an encounter with Siegel in December of 1946 where Bugsy, living up to his nickname, had publicly threatened to kill him. However, upon receiving the news of Siegel's murder, Wilkerson returned to the US and was back in Los Angeles on June 23, 1947.