Vegas myths we CANNOT dispel in 2023

Posted on: January 1, 2024, 8:01 am.

Last updated on: January 1, 2024, 11:45 am.

We begin 2024 with an admission… No matter how hard we tried, we didn’t always succeed. While we’re pretty sure the oft-repeated Las Vegas stories below are all nonsense, we’ve yet to provide proof.

Maybe this year, with your help, we can debunk these myths.

Manson’s Million

This is obviously a Photoshop job and not an actual color photo of mass murderer Charles Manson standing in front of the Binion’s Horseshoe Million Dollar display in black and white. However, believe it or not, it has fooled several bloggers. (Image: Vintage Las Vegas)

Charles Manson and his followers were once ambushed on camera in front of the Million Dollar Display, a famous photo op at Binion’s Horseshoe (now Binion’s Gambling Hall) since 1954. That’s at least according to a story published on January 20, 2000 in The Pulitzer -Prize awarded Las Vegas Sun. It has since been repeated by dozens of publications and websites.

The story, which only quoted Becky Behnen, Binion’s owner at the time, said the photo no longer exists because the FBI came by with a search warrant and confiscated it.

“To date, the FBI has the only copy of Manson’s photo containing Binion’s millions of dollars,” the former wrote Sun Reporter David Strow.

“This claim assumes a lot,” as the Twitter/X account Vintage Las Vegas noted. “The casino had an organized archive of a million tourist photos. The FBI knew that Manson visited him and took a souvenir photo, and (knew) about the souvenir photo archive. They wanted it (why??) and the casino knew exactly where to find it.”

Despite it, Casino.orgis his own Vital Vegas Blogger Scott Roeben has been communicating with the FBI for months, trying to track down the allegedly confiscated photo. His thanks were a big, fat goose egg.

“The search identified potentially responsive records,” the FBI responded to Roeben’s Freedom of Information Act request on November 30, 2022. “However, we were informed that they were not in the expected locations.” A further search for the missing records was also unsuccessful. Because we were unable to review the records, we were unable to determine whether your request was responded to.”

In a now-deleted reply, Strow himself tweeted: “My source for this (in 2000) was Becky Behnen, but I didn’t fact-check her.” I’d call it one of those Las Vegas legends that adds to our mystique, too if it’s hard to prove today. I think it was as simple as Becky Behnen telling me a third-hand story that I (foolishly) reported verbatim as fact.

Guy McAfee breaks ground with his Club 91 in 1939. By the way, he wasn’t just good at shoveling dirt. (Picture: LA Daily News)

“Rookie mistakes are much less interesting than dark secrets.”

Yet none of this is proof prove that one of the most notorious mass murderers of the 20th century didn’t smile and say “million dollar cheese” in a casino.

Unsurprisingly, Behnen did not respond to several messages we left for her.

How the Las Vegas Strip got its name

Former LA police officer Guy McAfee is widely credited with naming the Las Vegas Strip. The story – repeated in dozens of books, articles and websites about Las Vegas history – is that when McAfee bought the Pair-O-Dice casino in 1939, he referred to the street on which it stood as “the “Strip”.

It was supposedly a sarcastic comparison to the bustling Sunset Strip he left behind. McAfee’s casino, which he expanded and renamed Club 91, was located approximately where the north end of the Fashion Show mall is today. At the time, however, Highway 91 looked like a road to nowhere.

This story is deeply suspicious. For one thing, it wasn’t publicly recorded until McAfee’s widow claimed it in an interview after her husband’s death in January 1960. More importantly, McAfee wasn’t exactly known for his honesty. For example, as captain of the LAPD’s vice squad during Prohibition, his job was to target illegal bars, gambling parlors, and brothels.

McAfee eventually co-founded several of these organizations, along with organized crime members who paid him to share in their loot.

Bugsy Siegel gave the flamingo its name

Billy Wilkerson, editor of the Hollywood Reporter and the one and only visionary behind the flamingo, presents Marilyn Monroe with an award in an undated photo. (Image: Wilkerson Collection)

We’ve already debunked the myth that Bugsy Siegel was the father of Las Vegas. This dangerous criminal wasn’t even the flamingo’s father. The resort was the vision of Hollywood Reporter Founder and publisher Billy Wilkerson. In 1945, one of his friends suggested that instead of just losing money in casinos, he should build his own so he could always win.

All Siegel did was take over the Flamingo in 1946 – under threat of violence, according to some reports – when Wilkerson’s dream failed before he could complete construction because he had reportedly gambled away his money.

But the question is who gave the joint its name. According to the “official” story, Siegel named it after his friend Virginia Hill, who was nicknamed “Flamingo” because of her long, thin legs.

Most likely first spun by Hank Greenspun – who served as the Flamingo’s press representative in 1947 before founding it Las Vegas Sun — This story appears in Andy Edmonds’ 1993 biography of Hill, Bugsy’s baby, and 100 other locations.

Much more likely, Wilkerson, who envisioned it as a Miami beach resort in the desert, named it after the magnificent pink bird he fell in love with during a trip to Florida.

“He had a particular fondness for exotic birds and named several of his projects after them,” said Wilkerson’s son, William R. Wilkerson III Casino.org in 2023. One of these was his Beverly Hills restaurant, L’Aiglon (Young Eagle).

“After considering several ideas, all variations on exotic birds, he finally settled on the Flamingo Club,” Wilkerson said. “That was the main working title until Siegel came along.”

Wilkerson added that this was told to him in strict confidence by his father’s attorney, Greg Bautzer.

But what about a smoking gun? Something that would prove that the project was nicknamed Flamingo before Siegel, Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum became involved through a regrettably accepted check for $1 million in February 1946? Perhaps there is a dated drawing of his original flamingo logo by graphic artist Bert Worth?

“There were documents that confirmed that,” Wilkerson said. “But they were destroyed in the bonfire at my father’s office in 1951.”

Unfortunately, one man’s word does not destroy a myth, no matter how suspect that myth is.

If you can help us debunk any of these myths, please email corey@casino.org. Look out for “Vegas Myths Busted” every Monday. Casino.org. Happy New Year!

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