Casinos & Clubs & Other Businesses
After prohibition ended in 1933, Meyer made a choice to not go legit. Becoming a legal business owner would have been easy at this time. Lots of others did it. He could have went to school through the Jewish Educational Alliance. He expressed an interest in being an engineer, but as we know, he took a different path. He became a partner in the Molaska Corporation, Inc. with his father-in-law Moses Citron and Moe Dalitz (Mr. Las Vegas). The company supplied molasses to the distilling industry after Prohibition ended. Soon, the Molaska Corporation would declare bankruptcy. Meyer did not become a legal liquor distributor nor did he turn his car and truck rental business into a legal one.
Enter casino gambling…which wasn’t legal yet. He had clubs (carpet joints) all over the U.S. His main holdings were in Saratoga Springs and horse racing in New York and Broward County. He also had similar operations near New Orleans and Council Bluffs. For a short time, there were even gambling operations in Monte Carlo. Meyers biggest love was Cuba. He really liked Florida too. He was definitely an East Coast kind of man.
Meyer Lansky TM
Saratoga Springs, New York
Through their Arnold Rothstein connections, Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano came to Saratoga Springs. Luciano oversaw the Chicago Club. Inside Rothstein’s casino they worked their way up from the gambling games and tables to bigger things. Bribery and indulgence were found at the “lake houses.” Between the bribes and the fact that the casinos took Saratoga Springs out of poverty, there was definitely a look the other way mentality in this era. The “lake houses” are where Meyer put two and two together so efficiently. He would use this to his advantage in running and building top end casinos in Florida, Las Vegas, and Cuba. Meyer was always learning, honing his craft and moving upward. Meyer was an intrepid entrepreneur.
Meyer Lansky, with his partners, Frank Costello and Joe Adonis turned a restaurant, Lido Venice, into the illegal casino called the Piping Rock Nightclub. The Piping Rock had a large casino with 12 roulette wheels, 3 craps tables, 1 card table and a bird cage. Adonis made sure the games ran smoothly. Big-time entertainers were brought in for their wealthy patrons. They did at one time get in a bit of trouble for the lack of a liquor license.
Meyer also had a stake in the Arrowhead Inn. Gaming, restaurant and bar – the Arrowhead had it all.
Piping Rock Club
Saratoga was a hive of illegal gambling in the 1930’s. The Piping Rock Club was one of the largest casinos.
A Brief Gambling History
In 1932, Lansky transformed a little place called the Lido Venice into the Piping Rock Club. Read More
Saratoga Springs, N.Y. became haven for gambling vice, until 1950’s. Written by David J. Krajicek. Read More
Hotbed For Organized Crime
Spectrum News 1 – Saratoga Springs: Once a Hotbed for Organized Crime. Saratoga is known for horses. Read More
Potatoes Kaufman (Potatoes – what a great name right!) opened a casino in Hallandale, Florida called the Plantation. His casino business did pretty well, but when he opened it up to Bingo, business took off like a rocket! Those Bingo players they know how to spend cash. Not everyone in the county liked gambling and had filed a public nuisance injunction against them. Meyer’s wife Anna had a good friend, Flo Alo. Her husband, Vince “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo also knew Meyer. Plus, Lucky Luciano was in the joint, so it was natural Meyer and Jimmy team up in Florida. Jimmy reached out to Potatoes about becoming partners. Potatoes knew he needed help with that injunction. Meyer figured out that only the one parcel of land had the injunction against it. Plan B was initiated, they moved the building to the parcel next to it and called it “The Farm.” Genius! Meyer brought brother Jack Lansky in to grease the wheels for the reopening. One can assume the bribes were flowing.
Many other clubs were developed under the Jimmy Alo world in Hallandale. Jake held a stake in The Farm. Ike Miller and Meyer Lansky had a partnership. Jimmy had a partnership with Moe Sedway. No drama with these guys, everyone did business with everyone. Well, those with “connections” at least. In 1936, Meyer Lansky and Bill Sims even opened a dog track in Hollywood, Florida. Business was booming!
Mobsters of Old Hollywood
The Real Mobsters of Old Hollywood by the Hollywood Gazette. Meyer’s brother Jack worked in Hollywood. Read More
East Coast Gangster
Iowa Weird: The East Coast Gangster Who Owned a Council Bluffs Dog Track by Ty Rushing. Read More
Council Bluffs, Iowa
Meyer Lansky was a part-time resident in Iowa. What was the attraction to Council Bluffs in 1941? Bill Sims and Meyer Lansky rented the Dodge Park Fairgrounds and opened up greyhound racing there. They called it the Dodge Park Kennel Club. The lease was a $1,000 a week and had to be open for at least five weeks a year. They operated in the summer months, when the dog track Lansky owned in Florida was closed. This was the attraction to Council Bluffs.
The people of Council Bluffs knew Meyer as the guy who co-owns the dog track. He was also the guy who hired you when you were short on cash.
Lansky even earned praise from a Police Department detective who said, “I couldn’t say one word against the man. When I knew him, you couldn’t ask for a nicer fellow.”
In 1946, Iowa made dog track gambling illegal. The Dodge Park Kennel Club was remodeled into an amusement park at that time.
Las Vegas, Nevada
El Cortez Hotel
Moe Sedway and partners purchased the El Cortez from Marion Hicks and J.C. Grayson in 1945. Some accounts say the purchase price was $600,000 and others say $800,000. In today’s dollars, that would be over 13 million dollars. Meyer Lansky and Ben “Bugsy” Siegel were Sedway’s partners. This was their first foray into Las Vegas casino ownership. Later that same year, Sedway declared the hotel will be owned by new leaders – Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum, and Edward Berman. Lansky and Siegel were out.
Evidently, Meyer Lansky and Benny Siegel were looking for a new location in Las Vegas, Nevada. A few months later Billy Wilkerson began construction on the Flamingo Hotel and Casino on Highway 21. Highway 21 later became Las Vegas Boulevard or you may know it as the Las Vegas Strip.
You’ll have to try the Meyer Lansky Mule Cocktail at Siegel’s 1941 when you are in town. What a classic joint!
El Cortez Hotel & Casino
March 1945 the El Cortez was sold to Moe Sedway and partners Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Read More
Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and partners (mostly Eastern crime syndicate bosses) invested in Billy Wilkerson’s new casino construction project, The Flamingo Hotel Casino for two-thirds ownership. Lansky’s portion was 100 shares for $62,500.
The Flamingo opened its doors on December 26, 1946. There was a lavish launch party with Spanish band leader Xavier Cugat, and Jimmy Durante headlining with guests including Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Cesar Romero, Judy Garland, and Joan Crawford. There was a problem, only the casino and show room was open – the hotel was not complete and it could not make a profit. Two weeks after the grand opening, the Flamingo closed down, and didn’t re-open until March 1947.
On June 20, 1947, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was murdered in California. On June 21st Meyer Lansky sent Syd Wyman at The Flamingo Hotel a telegram telling him of Ben’s death, to change the casino cage locks, he would arrive tomorrow evening, business as usual with staff, and no press interviews. Bugsy’s murder and the subsequent press coverage brought big attention to a little western town named Las Vegas in the desert state of Nevada. The Flamingo became the place to be and was a roaring success! It still is the place to be today over 75 years later – check out Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse at the Flamingo next time you are in town.
“My dad told me a story…about driving out here from Miami Beach with my grandfather to see Siegel,” who was building the Flamingo.” Meyer never wanted the average person to gamble. He felt it would cause problems with their wives and bankrupt the poor. He only wanted the wealthy to gamble.
Financing the Flamingo
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Financing the Flamingo Hotel, 1946-1947 by Larry Gragg. Read More
The Flamingo in the 1940’s
Inside look at The Flamingo in the 1940’s. Billy Wilkerson agreed to Benny Siegel’s offer.
The Thunderbird Hotel
My Great Uncle Jake Lansky ran the Thunderbird from 1948 to the mid-50’s.
Opening Day 1948
Meyer Lansky’s brother Jake Lansky’s car is front and center on opening day.
Meyer Lansky TM
My grandfather was captivated by Cuba, from 1936 when he first established casino resort operations in Havana, through the 1950’s when travel to Cuba came alive. He loved the food, the music, the culture, and the people of Havana.
President Fulgencio Batista convinced Meyer to take over the gambling operation in Cuba because it will be legalized. Legalized gambling…Meyer was in. Meyer liked his business kept quiet. He didn’t want his people investigated. Cuba was the perfect place for him. He could take everything he had learned over the years and build a luxury resort hotel and casino that catered to wealthy Americans. Cuba was thriving!
Hotel Havana Riviera
Meyer Lansky built the Hotel Havana Riviera in Havana, Cuba from the ground up. He hired Irving Feldman to build it for him. Meyer requested nothing but the best. It was even the first hotel in Cuba to have air conditioning. They broke ground in January 1957 and to Feldman’s credit it was completed before the end of the year on December 10th. They could teach construction crews a thing or two today. The hotel was twenty-one stories and had 440 lodging rooms. The casino also had a dress code, which was strictly enforced. The casino license was in Eddie Levinson’s name and the casino manager was Eddie Torres. The main hotel was managed by brothers, Ben and Harry Smith. Meyer’s name only appeared as the director of the hotel’s kitchen, an employee. His dream was to build Havana into the Monte Carlo of the Caribbean, he succeeded!
Trouble was brewing. When Batista was ousted as President by Fidel Castro, the Hotel Havana Riviera had been open for just a little over a year. In 1960, Cuba confiscated the Havana Riviera Hotel and many other American businesses. Meyer never said what his investment had been, but one could bet it was a large bankroll when you see the beauty, size, and opulence of the Hotel Havana Riviera.
Hotel Havana Riviera
Photo by our friend Peter Moruzzi (2017).
In Havana Cuba during its heyday. Boys Dino Cellini and “Trigger Mike” Coppola keeping watch over the roulette table, far left.
Hotel Habana Riviera (Verdado)
The ‘Riviera’ as it’s known locally, is a veritable 50s museum.
Steve Allen Show
Hotel Havana Riviera on January 18, 1958.
The Hotel Havana Riviera during construction in 1957 in Havana, Cuba.
Open for Business
The iconic Hotel Havana Riviera right after Meyer opened it.
Sculptor Florencio Gelabert designed the lobby sculpture depicting dancers.
Lobby design looks as impeccable today as it did over 65 years ago.
Even the high dive at the Hotel Havana Riviera was a stunning piece of artwork.
New Year’s Eve
1959 in Havana Cuba. Meyer would hand over the keys to the castle 22 days later.