24 October 2011
Las Vegas as it exists today wouldn't exist without the Mob - the movie 'Casino' isn't exactly fiction, though the characters have different names. Vegas may have shaken off the shackles of Mob links, and become a much safer City because of it, but it doesn't mean it should ignore where it came from. The Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino sets out to address its past head on, and we're all invited to come take a look.
First up, I have to say that unfortunately the museum was undergoing renovations when I visited late September 2011 - and the website says parts of the attraction will stay closed until further notice. This is disappointing since the 'interactive' bits are what are being upgraded, meaning what you're left with are 6 rooms with static exhibits, and one 1 hour documentary about the making of the Godfather, and the way the Mafia tried to stop it. It's interesting stuff, but I suspect it will be a lot more fun when it's fully open for business again. Still, that's the luck of the draw and I'll be heading back when I'm next in Vegas in a couple of years to get the full effect - the interactive/participatory bits are what really make the experience according to a lot of the reviews I've read.
What you'll currently find when you get in:
An introductory room giving some background to Mob involvement in Las Vegas from Bugsy Siegel through to Tony Spilotro (the man Joe Pesci's character was based on in 'Casino'). This room also has a great interactive screen which lets you see the Las Vegas Strip through the years, hotels being added at a rate of knots since the 1980s. It also reminds you that up to 20 years ago, you could walk down the Strip being sand blasted from the desert (with thanks to a friend's parents for that little nugget!).
You then go through to a central room with 5 'sub rooms' devoted to mobsters Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel [one of the original founders of the Flamingo Hotel - still going strong today], Meyer Lansky, Sam Giancana, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and Mickey Cohen. You'll get to see everything from Lucky Luciano's Studebaker, to home movies and private photographs, jewellery, golf clubs, clothes, shoes, diaries, and, oddly enough, fan mail - 1100 objects in total. You even get a recreation of Bugsy Siegel's sitting room where he was later gunned down. Really fascinating stuff - but there's a lot of reading to do, so give yourself time.
One more thing to say: the photographer who placed us against the green screen to pose us for later souvenir pick-ups was the most miserable, least customer-facing person I've ever met. He turned up at the end to try and sell us pictures, but we didn't buy anything as he irritated me too much. This is something which is really easy to make sure doesn't happen again.
All in all a really interesting couple of hours - but I would wait until it's fully open again with the interactive experience - unless you're a Mob obsessive. Or a Made Man, of course.