Have you ever noticed that nearly every single gangster film, book, or documentary, has some kind of gambling in it? Or that nearly every single gambling story has some kind of gangster in it? Why is it that gambling and gangsters seem to go together so nicely? What is gambling that attracts these gangster types so? It's actually a pretty interesting history, and one I thought I would share with you.
The original mobsters
Gangs, gangsters, mafias and mobsters, they've all been round for quite some time. There are stories of the Sicilian Mafia in the mid 1880's, the Chinese Triads in the 1780's and the Gangs of New York in the early 19th century. No one really knows who the original gangsters were (would you really want to annoy someone by making a guess?), but there was one common denominator between them all; they were scary! Organized crime was pretty serious through the 19th and 20th century, with people like Al Capone, Frank Costello and the Kray Twins all being well-known names. The types of organized crime they liked? Bootlegging, prostitution and, of course, illegal gambling.
Las Vegas – Sin City
In Nevada, there was a city rife with gangsters who ran the ultimate underground casinos, whilst gambling was still illegal; namely Las Vegas. Before the glitz, glamor and shiny lights, Las Vegas was full of organized crime, much of it being casinos run by mobsters. In 1931, the state of Nevada finally legalized gambling and so began it's rise to one of the biggest gambling cities in the world. Instead of the gangsters looking for some other crime to commit, they decided they could make hefty profits in legal casinos, and that is exactly what they did. Well-known names such as Bugsy Siegel invested heavily in casinos and hotels, which made up the beginnings of the Vegas strip. Many of the casinos, and hotels, still there today were originated by mobsters and run by the mafia.
So, why gambling?
You would think that gangsters make a ton of money from all of their organized crime, so why risk it all at the tables? There are two main reasons that gangsters loved to gamble, to show off and to launder their money. Big stacks of cash from illegal jobs would be laundered through casinos, easier and quicker than any other type of laundering. 'Blood money' could be bet on the roulette wheel, and then 'clean money' would be taken home when they won. Thank goodness times have changed with casinos and online casinos nowadays! Of course, it is all about showing off your wealth too. Turning up to a casino with a few hundred thousand dollars is certainly one way to prove how much money you have. A whiskey in one hand, cigar in the other and thousands of chips in the table, that's the true gangster way. Old school gangsters are cool, even if what they did was pretty illegal, and certainly beat the type of kid gangsters we get nowadays.
And what better way to show off how cool, wealthy (and scary) you are? By betting big at the casino! Now, where's my trilby?