The allure of the Las Vegas Strip stretches back to the first construction of a hotel, the El Rancho in 1941. Considering that the area was once so isolated from civilization, there are many who have wondered why the city has grown into what it is today.
Indeed, Las Vegas is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world complete with every conceivable theme. This past Thanksgiving weekend saw an estimated 308,000 visitors travel to the city that never sleeps.
Over the years, hotel casinos such as the Dunes and the Sands have been leveled, and so was the Stardust. Somewhere in the mix, the Landmark adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center bit the dust and so did the Frontier and the Silver Slipper.
Plans were announced earlier this year to demolish the Riviera, which will be replaced by an expansion of the Convention Center.
In fact, the landscape changes so quickly here that many complain that history is not maintained; and is imploded instead.
Through it all, Las Vegas always recovers. Whether it is the downturn of the economy like the implosion of 2009 or the energy crisis that rears its head every few years, the city provides a sense of fascination unlike any other city in the world.
Even on Christmas Eve, – just when you would think the Las Vegas Strip would be empty – the sidewalks of the Las Vegas Strip are filled with onlookers from virtually every corner of the world long after the sun has set.
Then, too, the continual creation of special events fill voids that were otherwise dry spots in the seasons. For instance, masterminds like hotelman Michael Gaughan lured the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 31 years ago turned a mild month of December into a jam packed setting attracting enthusiasts and competitors from all over North America.
The creation of Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1996 led to annual NASCAR Sprint Cup events each March. If there was a slow period during that time of the year, the addition of NASCAR in 1998 changed that, too.
Even the hot summer months – formerly considered a weak spot on the calendar – is a buzz saw of activity as the National Basketball Association’s Summer League brings with it top-notch competition while also attracting strong crowds to the Thomas and Mack Center.
In every corner, Las Vegas reacts to the changes in the economy and the wants and needs of the tourists. Big time sporting events such as the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and combined with the gaming of Las Vegas result in huge invasions of fans wanting to bet the events.
In the middle of it all, there is no question that Las Vegas’ aura is at least partially successful because of the characters who have participated in the growth of the fascinating city.
In particular, members of the mob ran the city decades ago and the unique personalities of those days still represent the history of the city. The toughest people on earth have been here at one time or another and in fact, many still feel as though the city was in better hands when the mob ran it.
While the mob no longer rides herd over the city, there is no erasing the element from the history of Las Vegas. In fact, the history of the mob remains a hot topic and evidence of the interest was the creation of The Mob Museum in Las Vegas and an assortment of books written about the subject.
Created in 2012 at 300 E. Stewart Ave. in downtown Las Vegas and housed in an old post office building, The Mob Museum is a very real recreation of the Mob days of Las Vegas and it has drawn national acclaim and awards since the doors opened.
Attracting more than 800,000 visitors annually from all 50 states and nearly 35 countries in its first three years, The Mob Museum has been a hit from Day One.
With the mob’s heavy involvement in Las Vegas from the 1950s to the 1980s, its history is documented in The Mob Museum.
“With artifacts, clever interactive displays, atmospheric exhibits and photographs and videos, we see how the Mob maneuvered into business of pleasure, not releasing its hold until late in the 20th Century,” wrote Ed Rothstein of the New York Times.
Ellen Creager of the Detroit Free Press added, “The Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas is a treasure trove of artifacts and history on organized crime in America.”
National Public Radio might have put it best when it said in a statement, “Missing the Mob Museum would be a crime.”
Organized crime figures along with their families have even visited the Mob Museum. Among those visiting The Mob Museum have been Frank Culotta, Andrew DiDonato, Vinnie “The Animal” Ferrara, Tony Montana, Michael Franzese, Meyer Lansky II, the grandson of Meyer Lansky, to name a few.
While the history of the mob continues as a fascination in Las Vegas’s past, the disappearance of the element is a positive transition in the maturation of the city in the eyes of some, according to some. Figures like Tony “The Ant’ Spilotro and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel headed a long list of names who had influence on the Las Vegas Strip.
Among those who appreciated the color of the mob but also appreciates the “new” Las Vegas is author Philip Payne, whose resume includes work with some of the well-known gaming executives that operated during the mob’s tenure.
In fact, while many criticize the arrival of the Corporate America types who now dominate the Las Vegas Strip, Payne said it was interesting dealing with the personalities of gaming. When Las Vegas’ growth hit high gear in the 1990s, word spread and the city began receiving incredible exposure all over the world.
“It was interesting dealing with members of the mob, but they were half-hazard,” said the 75 year-old Payne, who has lived in Las Vegas since working with Howard Hughes in the 1970s. “Frankly, we needed Corporate America to keep things in order.”
An Englishman with keen knowledge of the inner workings of the Las Vegas Strip, Payne has been a consultant on many of the projects during Las Vegas’ growth period in the period dating back to the 1980s. His unpublished book “From Howard Hughes to My Little Pony: 21 True Casino Stories” details the transactions and the personalities involved in gaming worldwide.
Payne’s resume includes working at the Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy in Macau. He has worked with Steve Wynn at Wynn Las Vegas and AIC Conferences in Hong Kong and Las Vegas. He has also been a confidant of Lawrence Ho, the son of Dr. Stanley Ho in Macao.
Payne refers to Macau as “The Real Sin City Complete with exploitation, corruption and dark underbelly of the new gaming capital of the world.”
His multi-faceted writing talents are also evidenced his biography entitled Eric Burdon: Rebel Without a Pause” published in 2015. The Animals singer Burdon remains good friends with Payne.
In Payne’s words, modern day gaming minds such as Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adelson and Howard Hughes represent the sensible side of the development of gaming both in Las Vegas and abroad.
Wynn seems to be the one mastermind of the changes in Las Vegas.
“I don’t think Steve Wynn ever got the credit he deserved for launching a new Las Vegas,” Argent Corporation’s Allen Glick once told Payne. “And but for my testimonies, the growth of Las Vegas would not have taken the trajectory it did. He paved the way for institutional and public financing that was to propel the growth of the city, and Steve Wynn saw it first. He deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Indeed Wynn imploded the Dunes Casino and Hotel at Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard to make room for the birth of the Bellagio Oct. 27, 1993. In magnificent fashion, the Dunes sign exploded in a colorful development on what was to become the all-new Las Vegas Strip.
“Allen was exactly right about Wynn,” Payne said. “Wynn paved the way for institutional financing and he saw it first. As Glick said, Wynn deserved a lot of credit for the changing face of Las Vegas. +