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Desert Companion

Dressed down, dressed up

When the Flamingo opened, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was so determined to be classy that he required the staff to wear tuxedoes. One day, or so the story went in “The Green Felt Jungle,” he found a man clad in a tuxedo relaxing on a chaise lounge. Siegel kicked the chair and yelled, “What the hell are you doing? Get back to work, you bum, before I boot your ass.” The man said, “But … I’m a guest!” A decade later, when the Tropicana opened, J. Kell Houssels, Jr., later its owner, recalled how its gourmet restaurant Perino’s required a coat and tie of guests. It didn’t work because “Las Vegas was supposed to be more casual than that,” he said.

Not on New Year’s Eve, 1948-1949, at the Flamingo, more than a year after Siegel’s involuntary departure from the scene. Not only was everybody dressed up for the occasion, but they had much to celebrate. Earlier in the year, the Thunderbird had joined the Flamingo, El Rancho Vegas and Hotel Last Frontier on the Strip with hidden investors named Meyer and Jake Lansky. Las Vegas’s population had tripled in a decade, and the postwar boom was on. By this time, their auld acquaintance Bugsy was largely forgotten: Gus Greenbaum, Moe Sedway, Davie Berman, Icepick Willie Alderman and Ben Goffstein, among others, had turned the Flamingo into a highly profitable operation.

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