Las Vegas myths come and go, but this one has legs.
The myth is the Flamingo casino got its name from Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill. Hill reportedly had long, thin legs, so her nickname was “Flamingo.” Another theory says she got her name because when she drank, her cheeks got pink.
The story about the naming of Flamingo after a long-legged “mob queen” is very dramatic and makes perfect sense until you realize this whimsical tale isn’t actually true.
While the flamboyant “Bugsy” Siegel is often credited with building Flamingo, the casino was actually the brainchild of Billy Wilkerson, founder of the Hollywood Reporter.
Wilkerson’s the one who gave the Flamingo its name, before “Bugsy” ever entered the picture.
In 1945, a friend of Wilkerson suggested that rather than just gambling in casinos, he should build one. Wilkerson made his way to Las Vegas and found a 33-acre site he purchased for $84,000.
Wilkerson named his project the Flamingo Club.
He ran out of funds in 1946, and sought help from east coast mobster Meyer Lansky, a decision that always works out well for everyone involved.
Financial backing from organized crime involves hands-on oversight by mob associates, and in this case the hands belonged to “Bugsy” Siegel and his cohorts Gus Greenbaum and Moe Sedway.
Eventually, Siegel took over the reins of Flamingo and when it opened on Dec. 26, 1946, the resort tanked to the tune of about $500,000 in losses over its first few days.
Flamingo closed and did better upon reopening, but Siegel’s mobster friends suspected he was stealing from them. What could possibly go wrong?
Flamingo is considered the first modern resort in Las Vegas, but Siegel wouldn’t be around to enjoy its success or witness its longevity.
Siegel was whacked on June 20, 1947, but his place in Vegas history lives on. The case remains officially unsolved.
The latest homage to “Bugsy” Siegel, as well as Meyer Lansky, can be found at today’s Flamingo. The resort recently opened a new restaurant, Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse.
The restaurant is awesome, and a fitting nod to these colorful characters, immortalized in Las Vegas lore.
Now, you know!