While organized crime weaves its way into Hollywood’s versions of Las Vegas, the extent of the mob’s actual involvement in the conception and development of the city is debatable.
Larry Gragg, chair and Curators’ Teaching Professor of history and political science at Missouri S&T, and Amanda Kamps, Hist’09, presented papers on their Vegas-based research at the Far West Popular Culture and American Culture Associations’ annual conference, held in March in Las Vegas.
“I have spent the last two years writing about mobsters in Las Vegas,” Kamps says. “This was my first chance to actually visit ‘Sin City’ and see the places I’ve detailed in my work.”
Gragg has had a longtime interest in the connections between organized crime and Las Vegas. “My paper, ‘Film Depictions of Organized Crime in Las Vegas,’ deals with the ways motion pictures contributed to the general beliefs Americans had about the mob’s role in the development of Las Vegas after World War II,” he says. He is also writing a book on the subject.
Kamps’ paper focuses on the notorious mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and the way he was able to use his various personae to open his Flamingo Hotel and Casino in 1946-1947, says Gragg.
Kamps says her study of Siegel offers great insight into the interactions between post-war Las Vegas and the mobsters who descended upon the frontier town. “My paper focuses on Siegel’s use of his reputation as a brutal killer to accomplish his business goals,” she says. “This not only demonstrates Bugsy’s own deviousness, but also sheds light on how the perception of mobsters was perpetuated.”