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A Daughter's Memories: Millicent Siegel Reminisces About The Man The World Called 'Bugsy'

siegel_crop.jpg

Associated Press

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel poses after his arrest in Los Angeles, April 17, 1941.

When Millicent Siegel was 15-years-old she rode a train from New York to California to spend the summer with her father.

On that trip, she didn't read the newspaper -- and of course, there were no cell phones or Internet that could get the news out instantly.

When she arrived in California, she learned of her father's death.

Her father was reputed mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

Siegel had a history with the mob in New York where his boyhood friends included Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano.

When Siegel came to Las Vegas in the 1940s, he built one of the first casinos on what is now the Strip -- the Flamingo. 

Millicent Siegel says her dad had a vision for Las Vegas, and when he came here, it was on legitimate terms.

The reason for coming to Las Vegas was to build a profitable business not to be a mobster.

Benjamin Siegel was killed in 1947. The story goes that leaders of the mob were tired of the time it took the Flamingo to become profitable under Siegel's control.

Millicent died earlier this November, aged 86.

We revisit a 2011 interview with her about her father's life and legacy in Las Vegas.  

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On stories about her father:

Some of the stories are blown out of proportion. His idea of coming to Vegas to make a legitimate place to open a hotel was his goal. The rest of it -- I just know my family life, which was just a very normal life.

I don't know much about New York dealings and that kind of thing. I was too young.

On her day to day life:

Like any other child, I went to school. I had friends. I lived in a house like everybody else. My father was away sometimes on business. Then my parents divorced and we moved back to New York. He was out here building the hotel, but before that it was just a normal life in California.

On the earlier days of construction of the Flamingo:

I remember coming out here while he was looking for an area. He did buy the El Cortez to learn the hotel business and the casino business. We had spent time going back and forth to California on summer vacations while he looked around for the project and developed it.

On what she thought of the Flamingo:

The size of the structure didn't impress me. It impressed me that it was the biggest thing around at the time in Vegas. Like my father said, it would be the first hotel that you would see coming from the airport or driving into town before you went down the so-called Strip.

I had seen Vegas for so long over a period of time growing up here it was a complete change but coming from New York there were bigger buildings.

On going into the counting room:

Very strange. It was a huge room and there were huge machines that counted the coins that I had never seen before. There were people on those machines and there were people counting the cash. They would put it in things and put it away. That was about it.

I didn't see skimming. I didn't see them going 'one for me, one for you.' I did not see that. I just saw a big counting room.

On what she thinks about the Las Vegas of today:

I hate the way it turned out. That wasn't his idea. His idea was more like Palm Springs. Where there were big hotels, maybe not 20 or 30 stories high. More fitting the landscape -- like the Sands was. 

What would transpire later was not his idea of the Mickey Mouse-thing it turned out to be. There are some beautiful buildings here, but they don't belong here as far as the landscape is concerned.

When corporations took over, they had to have more rooms, more this, more that. Everybody couldn't get tall enough or big enough whatever. I don't think it ever would have become in his mind what it is today.

On his vision for his life:

I think at some point in his life with Meyer they wanted to become legitimate, not be known as a mobster, and they wanted a business that their children could go into, but they definitely wanted a legitimate business and to this very day, we don't know who killed him. We don't know why he was killed and everything is speculation -- like all hotels, they just had a hard time opening and getting the full swing of the thing, which is normal for a lot of businesses.

He always said he was looking for people from California and Arizona and back east, that this would be their new play area and that's what he envisioned. Golf courses, green landscaping, but never high-rises.

On a fair portrayal:

They don't want to know that he was a family man. They don't want to know what his life was outside of what they said he did or not did. And he's a legend at this point, particularly about Vegas and what brought him here and what killed him.

On the biggest misconception:

He was a man who grew up on the Lower East [Side] and didn't have much of an education. He was extremely bright. He was so young when he died. His young life was spent trying to support a family and without an education or without money to go into a business of any kind...

I've never known what he's been accused of officially. I just know he was striving to go legitimate and have a hotel and he's had other businesses before that. He had a garage in New York. He was always striving to make a name for himself as a legitimate person.

Guests

Millicent Siegel, daughter, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel

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