Moe Dalitz was a prominent American businessman and organized crime figure who rose to prominence during the Prohibition era. Born on December 25, 1899, in Boston, Massachusetts, he grew up in a Jewish family and dropped out of school at 14 to work in the garment industry. However, he realized quickly he could make more money in the bootlegging business and began working as a speakeasy operator.
Dalitz became a significant player in the Midwest and the West Coast organized crime scene, including bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution. However, he was also known for his philanthropic efforts, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Las Vegas.”
Dalitz’s biggest claim to fame was his involvement in developing Las Vegas as a gambling mecca. In the 1940s and 1950s, he invested heavily in constructing several casinos, including the Desert Inn, the Sands, and the Stardust. He was also involved in building Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, named after his wife, Betty.
Despite his illegal activities, Dalitz avoided prosecution for most of his life. He was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Special Committee on Organized Crime in 1950; he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer any questions. However, he was later indicted on charges of income tax evasion in 1978, and he pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to evade taxes. He was sentenced to three years probation and fined $5,000.
Dalitz died on August 31, 1989, at the age of 89. His legacy is complicated, as he was both a successful businessman and a member of organized crime. However, his contributions to the development of Las Vegas cannot be ignored, and his philanthropic efforts helped to improve the lives of many people in the city.
Moe Dalitz – Early Ohio Casinos
Moe Dalitz, a prominent figure in organized crime, established several successful casinos in 1930s Ohio. At the time, gambling was illegal in the state. Still, Dalitz and his associates were able to operate their businesses through bribery, corruption, and a network of connections with law enforcement and politicians.
Before Ohio, the Dalitz family ran laundry outfits. Not money, just normal clothes, but when Prohibition turned the nation on to illegal liquor, Dalitz used the laundry locations trucks to transport illegal alcohol to the speakeasies. He was a part of the old Purple Gang in Michigan, with ties to surrounding states, especially Ohio.
The Purple Gang were known for their violent tactics and ruthless behavior, which included murder, extortion, and racketeering. And they had a penchant for revenge: Known for their vengeful behavior, and they would often go to great lengths to punish those who crossed them. They would sometimes even target family members of their enemies or engage in public displays of violence as a warning to others.
Dalitz’s first significant foray into the casino business was the formation of the Mayfield Road Gang in Cleveland, Ohio. The gang was involved in several illegal activities, including bootlegging and gambling, and Dalitz quickly rose to the organization’s top.
In 1933, Ohio legalized horse racing, allowing Dalitz and his associates to expand their gambling operations. They opened several “bookie joints” or “wire rooms” in Cleveland, where patrons could bet on horse races that were being run in other states. These highly profitable operations allowed Dalitz to become a significant player in the Ohio gambling scene.
Dalitz’s most successful casino was the Cleveland Syndicate, which he established in 1937. The casino was located on the top floor of the Mayflower Hotel, owned by Dalitz’s associate, Morris Kleinman. The Cleveland Syndicate was a high-end establishment that catered to wealthy patrons, and it quickly became one of the most popular casinos in the city.
The Cleveland Syndicate was known for its luxurious decor and high-quality entertainment. It featured a ballroom that could accommodate up to 1,000 guests, as well as a restaurant and several bars. The casino also employed a team of dealers and pit bosses trained in the latest gambling techniques.
Despite its success, the Cleveland Syndicate was not immune to scrutiny from law enforcement. In 1942, the police raided the casino, and Dalitz and several associates were arrested. Despite the illegality of gambling at the time, Dalitz was able to operate his businesses through bribery, corruption, and connections with law enforcement and politicians. His success in Ohio laid the groundwork for his later success in Las Vegas, where he became a significant player in developing the city’s casino industry.
Dalitz continued to operate his casinos in Ohio throughout the 1940s and 1950s, even after he moved his operations to Las Vegas.
Moe Dalitz and Howard Hughes
Moe Dalitz and Howard Hughes played a major role in developing Las Vegas as a gambling and entertainment hub. While Dalitz was a prominent businessman with ties to organized crime, Hughes was a billionaire entrepreneur and aviator who significantly impacted the aviation, film, and hotel industries.
Dalitz and Hughes crossed paths in the 1960s when Hughes began investing in the Las Vegas hotel and casino industry. At the time, Dalitz was one of the most influential figures in the city’s gambling scene. He had already established several successful casinos, including the Desert Inn, the Sands, and the Stardust.
In 1966, Hughes arrived in Las Vegas and took shelter in the Penthouse Suite of Dalitz’s Desert Inn casino. Although billboard signs, articles, and even the casino’s chips first stated, “Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn,” Clark was a figurehead who, like William Wilkerson at the Flamingo just a few years before, had started construction on a resort only to be bailed out and heavily divested before the property opened.
After nearly 30 years of prosperity, Howard Hughes purchased the Desert Inn from Dalitz (through Johnny Roselli as the Chicago Outfit’s fixer) for $13 million, the most expensive real estate transaction in the history of Las Vegas at the time. The significant sale began Hughes’ foray into the hotel and casino industry. It also signaled a shift in power in the city’s gambling scene.
Hughes’ management style was drastically different from Dalitz’s. While Dalitz was known for his hands-on approach to managing his casinos, Hughes was a recluse who rarely left his hotel suite, and his casinos were subject to extensive skimming for several years. He was also known for his eccentric behavior, which included a fear of germs and an obsession with cleanliness.
Despite their different management styles, both Dalitz and Hughes played a significant role in the growth and development of Las Vegas. Dalitz was instrumental in transforming the city from a dusty desert town into a glamorous gambling destination, and Hughes helped establish Las Vegas as a center for entertainment and luxury.
In addition to their involvement in the Las Vegas hotel and casino industry, Dalitz and Hughes shared a common interest in aviation. Dalitz was a pilot and owned several small planes, while Hughes was a legendary aviator who set numerous records and founded Hughes Aircraft Company.
Hughes’ interest in aviation also led him to purchase several casinos near the Las Vegas airport, including the Sands and the Frontier. He saw these properties as an opportunity to attract high rollers who were also aviation enthusiasts, and he invested heavily in developing the city’s airport infrastructure.
The relationship between Dalitz and Hughes was complex, as both men were known for their secrecy and aversion to publicity. While they may have had their differences, they shared a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s business acumen and accomplishments.
While they may have had different management styles and personalities, they both made significant contributions to the city’s hotel and casino industry and the aviation industry. Their legacies continue to be felt in Las Vegas today, and their impact on the city’s history cannot be overstated.