Column: The Las Vegas Mob Experience — A Social Disgrace

William Donati is an English professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and author of the recently-released book: “Lucky Luciano: The Rise and Fall of a Mob Boss”

By William Donati

LAS VEGAS — The debut of the Las Vegas Mob Experience — a new museum housed in the legendary Tropicana — coincides fairly closely with the recent mob arrests announced by Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States.

So it looks like some wiseguys won’t be attending the opening on Feb. 17 that “tells the real story of the men behind the myths” — folks like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Sam Giancana, the Spilotros and others.

Those charged by Eric Holder’s office allegedly engaged in murder, extortion, loan sharking, prostitution, and other illegal acts. The convicted will have a new mob experience: prison, ruined lives, humiliated wives, sons, and daughters.

Why did they choose to be wiseguys, as they call themselves? Too many movies? Could be.

Whatever the case, we’ve got to stop glamorizing these folks.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly apparently agrees. He criticized the entertainment realm for using mobsters as screen material. In fact, “Boardwalk Empire”, a popular HBO series on the mob starring Steve Buscemi, just won a Golden Globes award for the series about criminal Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.

Yet, the author of the book stated that the real Nucky never killed anyone (Star Ledger, Sept. 19, 2010). So the series is nothing more than a bait and switch extravaganza of gangster hokum?

That’s right, just like The Godfather and The Sopranos – all fiction. Mario Puzo and screenwriters just invent characters, scenes, and dialogue – unlike crime reporters and non-fiction writers who have a professional obligation to present facts. So do viewers draw their historical information from entertainment hokum? Sure. That’s the problem.

At the Tropicana the curious can learn about “famed gangsters,” as the website states. Do they mean infamous?

No, they don’t.

Jay Bloom, the managing partner of Murder, Inc., which owns the new museum, appeared on local television in Las Vegas last summer. Mr. Bloom said it will neither vilify nor glorify the stars of the show. But aren’t gangsters already villains? Why honor them? The film Bugsy falsely attributes the city’s rise to Siegel’s vision.

Will the show disclose how Siegel threatened to kill Billy Wilkerson, the brains and major shareholder in the Flamingo? If you only read a single book about Vegas mobsters, I suggest The Man Who Invented Las Vegas. Billy Wilkerson’s son reveals solid information about Siegel’s relationship with his father, a successful businessman who started The Hollywood Reporter.

As for me, I prefer the sweet click of handcuffs on gangsters, not the slick publicity show

that honors brutal criminals and thereby creates more wannabes. Raymond Kelly is right.

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