Thursday, April 4, 2013

Meyer Lansky: Gambling, sure. Mobster? No way.

Lansky in 1958 (LOC)
Posted by Jane Feehan

Mobster Meyer Lansky (1902-1983) operated casinos in Miami, Hallandale, Las Vegas, pre-Castro Cuba and other places across the country in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. U.S. Senate committees and law enforcement officers labeled Lansky a top figure in organized crime; some noted his association with the notorious Murder, Inc. of the 1930s.

When the federal glare became too hot, Lansky left for Israel with his wife Thelma (or “Teddy”) in 1972. He claimed those were the two happiest years of his life but Israel said he was a threat to public safety and expelled him. Lansky returned to the U.S. (Paraguay refused his entry) where he was arrested and convicted on a federal contempt charge for failing to respond to a subpoena. The decision was overturned on appeal. Then Lansky was tried for tax evasion but was acquitted.  

During those troubles, he and his wife lived in Miami Beach on Collins Avenue where he read philosophy and watched very little television -- except for the public broadcasting channel. A move to legalize casino gambling dominated Miami news during the late 1970s, in the days before the Seminoles assumed their role in the industry. Legendary Miami News reporter Milt Sosin interviewed Lansky, who was about 76 at the time, to get his take on the gambling controversy.

When asked if he was in favor of casino gambling, Lansky said there would always be people who would gamble; they found places to go such as the Bahamas and Vegas, why not Miami? Why not junkets to Miami? Sosin pointed to gambling opponents who claimed organized crime would infiltrate the business. But Lansky said there was no such thing as organized crime … and that police would say anything. “The whole thing [casino gambling] will be taken over by the puritan establishment, like Hughes and the hotel people in Vegas,” added the aging mobster.

Sosin asked about the dangers of “enforcers,” or increased crime if casinos were legalized. Lansky said everybody had collectors – even building and loan associations - but he didn’t believe stories of people having their legs broken or being killed.

He lacked credibility but some could say, as far as casino gambling is concerned, Lansky was a man ahead of his time. Today, instead of people taking junkets to Miami, many in South Florida – and in other states - merely drive across town to gamble.

Meyer Lansky died in Miami in 1983 of lung cancer. Thelma died in 1997. The size of the estate of the “accountant to the mob,” according to his will was not much, and has long been subject to conjecture. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Miami News, Feb, 10, 1978.
Miami News, Feb. 8, 1983
New York Times, Aug. 24, 2000.

Just out from Sandra Lansky, daughter of Meyer Lansky

Tags: Organized crime in Miami, gambling in Miami, Miami mobsters, Meyer Lansky, Miami history, Florida mob history, Meyer Lansky home, film industry researcher

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