A couple of years fter Bugsy Siegel’s death, another key player set up shop in Vegas. He was Cleveland bootlegger and illegal casino operator Moe Dalitz. He had an asset that would eventually change Sin City: he was associated with Jimmy Hoffa. That relationship would lead to an influx of Teamster Pension Fund cash that financed Vegas’ growth at a time when traditional funding was hard to come by.
Excerpted from The Battle for Las Vegas – The Las vs. the Mob
Morris “Moe” Dalitz was born in Boston in 1899. His father, Barney, operated a laundry and taught Moe the business as he was growing up. The family moved to Michigan where Barney opened Varsity Laundry in Ann Arbor, catering to University of Michigan students.
As time went by, Moe opened a string of his own laundries in Michigan before branching out to Cleveland in the 1930s. Once there, he expanded his earning potential by getting involved in the bootlegging business and becoming associated with the Mayfield Road Gang. By the time prohibition ended, Dalitz had opened several illegal gambling joints. His two careers — legitimate business owner and criminal bootlegger and casino operator — would combine to lead him to Las Vegas.
In the first instance, Moe’s laundry business resulted in his developing a close relationship with a very important man: Jimmy Hoffa. This happened in 1949, when the Detroit Teamsters local demanded a five-day work week for laundry drivers. Laundry owners, including Dalitz, strongly opposed the union’s position. Negotiations reached an impasse, with each side unwilling to budge.
Dalitz, the shrewd businessman, saw a way around the issue. He had the owner representatives bypass the local’s negotiator, Isaac Litwak, and reach out directly to its former business agent and current leader of the Detroit Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa. Agents of the laundry owners asked what it would take for Hoffa to intervene on behalf of the owners. Hoffa’s man said $25,000 would do the trick. The owners agreed. Neither side bothered to inform Litwak of the developments.
During a subsequent bargaining session, Litwak was confident he had the owners on the ropes. Late in that meeting the door opened and in walked Jimmy Hoffa. He told the group there would be no strike and he wanted the contract signed on the owners’ terms, with no five-day work-week provision. The stunned Litwak had no choice but to comply.
In the great scheme of things, this transaction wasn’t a particularly big deal. But it did open the door for something much bigger ten years later: multi-million-dollar loans from the Teamster Pension Fund to finance the mob-controlled casinos of Las Vegas.
Also in 1949, Moe Dalitz found a business opportunity in Vegas similar to Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo experience. Another Strip hotel and casino construction project had been abandoned and was available to anyone who could come up with the right money. Dalitz, casino-savvy from running his own illegal businesses, and three of his cronies from Cleveland raised the funds and purchased the Desert Inn. The Strip’s fourth resort opened on April 24, 1950.
The 1950s saw seven more casinos added to the Strip, all allegedly backed by mob money from the Midwest and East Coast. The Sands and Sahara opened in 1952, the Riviera and Dunes in 1955, the Hacienda in 1956, the Tropicana in 1957, and the Stardust in 1958. One existing property changed names when the Last Frontier became the New Frontier in 1955. During that same time period the population of the Valley grew from 45,000 to 124,000.
The ’50s also saw an increase in the number of celebrity weddings held in Las Vegas. Among the more notable, Rita Hayworth and Dick Haymes were wed in 1953, Kirk Douglas and Ann Buydens in 1954, Joan Crawford and Alfred Steele in 1955, Carol Channing and Charles Lowe in 1956, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme in 1957, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and David Janssen and Ellie Graham exchanged vows in 1958.
Moe Dalitz and Jimmy Hoffa combined to bring the first installment of Teamster Pension Fund money into Las Vegas in 1959. But the $1 million loan didn’t help to build a hotel and casino. It financed the Dalitz-controlled Sunrise Hospital.
To help assure that the new medical facility would have some business, Hoffa worked out a deal between his union members, their employers, and Sunrise for the provision of medical treatment. The employers agreed to pay $6.50 per month for each union employee into a fund that paid the provider of the medical services; Sunrise Hospital. In turn, the hospital promised to set five beds aside specifically for union members and provide basic medical care.
After this successful beginning, more Teamster money found its way to Vegas in the 1960s and beyond. The millions of dollars in loans were used to build or expand casinos, shopping malls, and golf courses. This was at a time when most lending institutions wanted nothing to do with entrepreneurs from notorious Sin City.
In 1966, the Aladdin and Caesars Palace joined the growing number of Strip resorts. The Teamster-financed Circus Circus opened in 1968.
More big-name celebrity weddings took place in Vegas in the ´60s. Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker were married at the Dunes in 1962 and Betty White and Allen Ludden said their vows at the Sands in 1963. The Dunes hosted its second big marriage of the decade when Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim tied the knot in 1965. The next year, Xavier Cugat and Charo were hitched at Caesars Palace. Two mega-nuptials occurred in 1967, between Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu at the Aladdin, and Ann Margret and Roger Smith at the Riviera. Wayne Newton and Elaine Okamura were wed at the Flamingo in 1968. By the end of the decade, the valley’s population had reached 273,000, more than doubling in ten years.
As the years passed, Moe Dalitz continued to use his friendship with Jimmy Hoffa to facilitate loans sought by Las Vegas businesses. In spite of his power, Dalitz kept a low profile, remaining an intensely private man. He became heavily involved in charity work and in 1976 was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Cancer Research Center and Hospital. In 1982 he received the Torch of Liberty Award by the Anti-Defamation League. Moe Dalitz died in 1989 of natural causes.
As the ´60s came to a close, Las Vegas was booming. It was an “open town” for organized-crime families nationwide, many of which had already established their presence. But one of them held a position of dominance — Chicago.