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Reviewed by Philip Zozzaro for Readers' Favorite
“The winners are those who control the game and all players are suckers” is a quote attributed to gangster Meyer Lansky in Sin City Gangsters: The Rise and Decline of the Mob in Las Vegas by Jeffrey Sussman. Las Vegas wasn’t founded by the men who ruled the American Mafia, but they made an indelible mark on the city’s history. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had a vision of building up Las Vegas from a frontier town to an oasis in the desert. The ill-gotten gains from various rackets would be plowed into the building of casinos and the money would emerge clean on the other side. Siegel and successors such as Moe Dalitz viewed casino ownership as a shot at legitimacy, despite the skimming of the proceeds conducted in the count rooms to evade the pesky IRS.
Sin City Gangsters profiles the various men who aided in molding Las Vegas into what it is today. Jeffrey Sussman (who also wrote Big Apple Gangsters) relates some colorful anecdotes in describing how his interest in writing about Las Vegas was piqued. The city where fortunes are made or squandered looms large on the paths of the men highlighted in this book, whether they be Benjamin Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Howard Hughes, or Steve Wynn. Sussman’s exemplary chronology of Las Vegas brings the rise and fall of organized crime full circle. The evolution of Las Vegas from its mob-dominated past to a junk bond-backed glittery spectacle marketed as a “family town” proves readable in every sense. Sussman doesn’t lionize his subjects, but never discounts their impact on the desert paradise.