Nevada’s Legalized Gambling and Bugsy in the Movies

On March 19, 1931, Nevada state legislators voted to legalize gambling in the state. The measure was passed out of concerns about people leaving the state and how hard times had hit the state during the Great Depression.

After the U.S. acquired the territory in 1848 after the Mexican War, a large number of settlers moved to the state following the discovery of gold and silver. Nevada became a state toward the end of the Civil War, but by the time the Great Depression arrived, the state was not doing well and the move to legalize gambling was seen as a way to save the state’s economy.

During the early decades of legalized gambling, organized crime controlled much of Las Vegas. Among the organized crime leaders was Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who arrived in the 1940s as portrayed in the movie Bugsy (1991), directed by Barry Levinson and starring Warren Beatty.

The most famous gangster film also features a character based on Bugsy Siegel. The character of Moe Greene in The Godfather (1972) is based on Siegel. In the film, Michael Corleone arranges to have Greene killed in a massage parlor with a bullet in the eye after Greene refuses to sell his casino interest. Alex Rocco plays Greene/Siegel in this clip below.

In Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, Greene is killed in his Hollywood home, which is a little closer to the real-life death of Siegel, who was shot and killed while he was at an associate’s home in Beverly Hills. Speaking of the real man, you can see the real Bugsy Siegel and the 1940s Las Vegas scenery in this footage posted on YouTube by one of Bugsy’s daughters. Check it out.

While Bugsy is no longer around, celebrate the anniversary of the Nevada law by recognizing you are lucky to be alive. Enjoy the day.

What is your favorite movie set in Las Vegas? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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