Moe Sedway and Las Vegas

Above: Moe Sedway enjoys a cigar with friend and casino partner Gus Greenbaum (Right)

Moe Sedway was an American gangster and a close associate of the infamous mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Born in 1894 in Ukraine, Sedway immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side. He became involved in the criminal underworld in his youth and eventually rose to become one of the most powerful organized crime figures in Las Vegas during the 1940s and early 1950s.

Sedway’s relationship with Bugsy Siegel was one of his life’s most important and influential. The two men met in the early 1920s when Siegel was starting in the New York underworld, using his good looks and snappy suits as a lure for women he often used and then abused, sometimes forcing them into prostitution rackets. Moey, a small thug with deep-set eyes, has often been called a hanger-on, clinging to Siegel to climb the criminal ladder. But that’s not a fair assessment.

All mobsters are strung-along by their bosses since there can only be one Lucky Luciano, one Al Capone, or one Bugsy Siegel in a generation. Sedway took his fair share of thumps and dished out his complement of punches and kicks along the way.

In the 1930s, the friends formed the core of a syndicate that would eventually become known as the “Bugs and Meyer Mob,” or “Murder Incorporated,” with Meyer Lansky and their number one hitter, Abe Reles.

Although Sedway was more likely to handle logistics and Reles stayed close to New York, Siegel was the ultimate loose cannon, taking jobs for crime families in Philadelphia and Chicago and even venturing to Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, Sedway and Siegel became involved in illegal activities, including bootlegging, gambling, and loan sharking. They murdered rival gangsters, though the goal then was to shake down Bugsy’s Hollywood friends for loans as high as $100,000 that he had no intention of ever paying back. Both actor George Raft and MGM Studio owner Louis Mayer were donors; others followed.

Sedway married Beatrice “Bea” Sedway in 1936 and had a relatively everyday family life afterward. Other mobsters like Siegel spent much of their time with multiple girlfriends while their wives raised the children.

Las Vegas Beckons to Siegel and Sedway

Meyer Lansky scoped out Nevada’s legal gaming haven in the 1930s, and while Siegel’s reputation preceded him and intimidated the downtown Las Vegas casino owners, Sedway finagled their way into several clubs, including the Las Vegas Club, the Northern, and the Frontier, and even arranged to get their race wire into Guy McAfee’s new Golden Nugget.

At the Las Vegas Club, Sedway talked J.K. Houssels into giving Bugsy 50% of the casino (which included a network of Mob owners including Meyer Lansky, who handled distribution of skim), and Moey kept 10% and oversaw the operation of the casino.

Sedway was also sharp enough to invest his cash into over a half-mile of prime real estate along what became the Las Vegas Strip. When Bugsy convinced himself and dozens of other mobsters to invest what became $6 million into Billy Wilkerson’s stalled Flamingo casino, Moe stayed out of the way.

He had political aspirations (and was a city councilman), which infuriated Siegel, who screamed at him, “We don’t run for office; we run the politicians.”

Sedway was known for his quick temper and willingness to use violence to protect his interests. He was also very loyal to Siegel and was said to have been devastated by the latter’s murder in 1947. Still, he liked to shoot the breeze with other businessmen and often sneaked into the offices of Leo Kuykendall, who considered him the most important informer in his twenty-one years with the Las Vegas FBI. Yikes.

Things Changed when Bugsy Siegel Died

After the hit on Bugsy in 1947, things changed considerably in Las Vegas. Average Joe’s had to admit there was a gangland problem in the desert, as did local politicians. The local gaming system changed, eventually creating a new gaming control board that oversaw casino ownership and licensing.

While the Flamingo’s sketchy opening and massive losses contributed to Siegel’s death, so did his hot temper and face-to-face outrage with Lucky Luciano. Even Meyer Lansky was unable to cancel the murder contract. Still, the Chicago Outfit’s consolidation of the nation’s race wire in 1947, which Siegel had controlled and profited from for several years, made him expendable.

Sedway, too, became expendable and lost his race wire concessions at seven clubs along Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. He also faced increasing pressure from the federal government, which was cracking down on organized crime. He was forced to deal with several cutbacks in his casino ownership, finding himself by the early ‘50s with a 7 ½ percent hold on a single club, the Flamingo.

At the Kefauver hearings, Sedway’s testimony was enlightening. Although he often lied, refusing to admit that Bugsy Siegel ever had a part of the race wire in California and say others owned the concession in Las Vegas, he did admit that Meyer Lansky owned a part of casinos in town.

At one point, Sedway also admitted that others were involved, including Dave Berman, Gus Greenbaum, Bugsy Siegel, and more. His testimony ran 30 pages, including:

Mr. HALLEY. Does Meyer Lansky still own any interest in the El Cortez?

Mr. SEDWAY. No, I don’t think so.

Mr. HALLEY. How about Jack Lansky?

Mr. SEDWAY. No. He also was an associate with us, and then he bought it from us.

Mr. HALLEY. He bought you all out?

Mr. SEDWAY. Yes; with another man.

Mr. HALLEY. What is his name?

Mr. SEDWAY. J. K. Houssels.

Mr. HALLEY. Do the Lansky’s have any interest in the Thunderbird?

Mr. SEDWAY. I don’t know.

Mr. HALLEY. They stay there a great deal, don’t they?

Mr. SEDWAY. Not Meyer; Jake has been there.

Mr. HALLEY. How long was Jake there, to your knowledge?

Mr. SEDWAY. I think he was there up to a couple of weeks ago when I saw him before I went to the hospital. I have been in the hospital now for 11 days. Two weeks yesterday is when I went into the hospital, and I think he was there before that. I don’t know when he went in.

While that short set of questions may seem innocuous, it is actually startling because Meyer’s brother Jake is sometimes a forgotten figure overshadowed by his brother, but it points out two things. First, Jake was involved in many clubs (including the coming Sahara) and helped Meyer get the skim to the crime families who were interested.

And second, although all reports before that time were that Bugsy’s partners had purchased the El Cortez, made bank, and sold out to help finance the building of the Flamingo, the sale had been only to J.K. Houssels.

However, the discourse proves that the Mob was still invested in the El Cortez and stripping it of cash through skim, just like they were with the Las Vegas Club, the El Rancho Vegas, and the Flamingo. Other clubs would follow.

Despite his reputation as a ruthless mobster, Moe Sedway was also known for his charitable work. He was an active Las Vegas Jewish community member and was involved in several philanthropic organizations. He served as a Clark County alderman and was head of the local United Jewish Appeal, and was on the board of directors of the Clark County Library.

Morris “Moe” Sedway passed away shortly after his testimony at the Kefauver hearings on January 3, 1952. He was 57.

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