Las Vegas' Mob Museum: An offer you can't refuse

Mal Chenu muscles into the underworld of the American Mafia.

To stand out from the mob in a town known as Sin City, you really have to excel. And so the Mafia did in Las Vegas' early days as Bugsy Siegel and his cohorts made the desert "empty town" their own. The story of Siegel, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky and others – and the law enforcement officials who took them on An offer you can't refuse – is told in gory detail at the Mob Museum, aka The National Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement, in the Downtown district of Las Vegas.

The museum covers the entirety of mafia operations, not just Vegas, and the crowd visiting on this St Valentine's Day – the 86th anniversary of the eponymous massacre in Chicago and the third anniversary of the museum – reaches into the neighbourhood like the early Cosa Nostra. We are finally read our Miranda rights and pose for mugshot selfies in the style made famous by Lindsay Lohan, Hugh Grant and Charlie Sheen.

The right to remain silent is not favoured by the loud couple from Miami, who believe it is important to demonstrate their reading ability whenever they come across a sign. I think about being a wise guy, but take the fifth instead.

One of the first exhibits is part of the actual bloody wall from the notorious Valentine's Day massacre in 1929, when Capone had six guys whacked, iced or clipped, depending on your gangster slang of preference. These bullet holes led to the science of ballistics and the rich gangster lexicon that boasts more than 20 words for "kill".

The museum winds a circuitous route – perhaps a metaphor for money laundering – and tells of the colourful identities whose forays into booze, drugs, prostitution, kidnapping, gambling, counterfeiting and murder are so legendary.

As if what we've seen isn't confronting enough, there's a graphic content area.

"We're bigger than US Steel!" boasted Lansky, "the Mob's Accountant", one of the few to beat the odds and die a free man of natural causes.

Artefacts, photos, videos, documents and dioramas lay out the whole fascinating saga, from Sicily to Hollywood. The Vegas section explains card counting, marked cards, loaded dice, yo-yo coins for slot machines and the "skim" off the top that was so brazenly walked out of the casinos in briefcases.

An interactive video invites me to take the blood oath in front of the Boss, Under Boss, Consigliere, Captain and other "friends of ours". It's mostly about omerta (code of silence), earning and respect for other "made" guys. I take the oath – I mean, watcha gonna do?

As if what we've seen isn't confronting enough, there's a graphic content area, depicting more gruesome tales, bloodier crime scenes and jars containing the fingertips of Yakuza members.

I pick up a couple of souvenirs at the gift shop, after they make me an offer I can't refuse. How good is it? Fuhgeddaboudit!

The writer was a guest of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Comments