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The Flamingo, which ushered in Las Vegas glamour and gangsters, turns 75

Terence Faircloth/flickr

From Bugsy Siegel to Donny and Marie, the Flamingo has seen a lot in its 75 years on the Strip.

On Dec. 26, 1946, mobster Siegel opened the Flamingo after taking over construction of the property when original developer Billy Wilkerson ran out of money.

Siegel named the property after his girlfriend Virginia Hill — whose nickname was “The Flamingo” because of her red hair and long legs — and it ushered in the era of Vegas glamour, gambling, and gangsters. Siegel never saw the success of the Flamingo, dying in a hail of assassins’ bullets less than a year later.

Michael Green, an associate professor of history at UNLV, said the case remains unsolved because there are so many suspects, from fellow mobsters he cheated to Hill's brother, who was angry at how he treated her.

“I think it's almost like, to give away a spoiler, ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’" where a fictional detective is presented with a train full of people with motives for murder, Green said.

Fellow historian Larry Gragg, author of a biography of Segel, said while the identity of the killer or killers remains unknown, a group of mob-connected individuals showed up at the Flamingo minutes after Siegel was slain 280 miles away in Los Angeles and announced they were in charge.

“That tells me it is a well-crafted hit,” Gragg told State of Nevada, “but I still do not know with certainty who the shooter was and what the motive was. I just know it was very well defined.”

He said that had the casino been luckier, it might have avoided the financial problems it encountered in the months leading up to Siegel's death.

"The casino was beautiful, it had all the amenities you would want, but the gamblers were winning not the house," he said.

Gragg is scheduled to take part in a panel discussion about the history of the Flamingo on Tuesday evening at the Mob Museum. The event is sold out but can be streamed here.

The Flamingo has gone through a succession of owners since Siegel's untimely departure, and it become part of the Caesars Entertainment family in 2005.

Its showroom opened with Jimmy Durante and has played host to everyone from Judy Garland to the Rat Pack to Ella Fitzgerald to Foreigner to, of course, Wayne Newton, a longtime fixture. Tom Jones recorded a live album there in 1968, and siblings Donny and Marie Osmond ended an 11-year residency at the Flamingo in 2019.

Michael Green, associate history professor, UNLV; Larry Gragg, retired history professor, Bugsy Siegel biographer

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.