Today, the legend of Moe Dalitz has been sanitized for human consumption and the image of Las Vegas. In the 1930s, the man was a ruthless crime boss ready to defend his empire by any means necessary.
Even the FBI knew he was the boss in Cleveland and surrounding towns, but they never did anything about it. A bunch of note takers.
Morris Barney Dalitz (December 25, 1899 – August 31, 1989) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but he grew up in Michigan.
His family ran a string of successful laundry outfits, but when Prohibition hit the nation, the Dalitz converted their fleet of trucks into supply vehicles to transport illegal alcohol to the speakeasies all around the state. He was considered a part of the old Purple Gang in Michigan.
The FBI Take Notice of Dalitz
His influence in bootlegging in Detroit, just across the river from legal liquor in Ontario, Canada and Cleveland, Ohio, just across Lake Erie from the same supply of tasty whiskey was massive.
Still, he liked to have a backup plan, so Dalitz allied with the Maceo syndicate in Galveston, Texas to get liquor smuggled in from Mexico.
When the US government finally realized Prohibition was a failure for everyone but criminals, the repeal left Dalitz dependent on his family’s laundry.
That was too pedestrian a life for him, so he branched out and concentrated on illegal gambling.
There were already several casinos in Detroit and Toledo, so Dalitz focused on Cleveland and Steubenville, Ohio. So did the FBI, stating in Special Agent notes that Dalitz’s Thomas Club and Ohio Villa were
“Swank night clubs, both notorious gambling resorts located near Cleveland in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.”
The 1939 memorandum for FBI Director John Edgar Hoover, said the clubs were
“Entirely renovated to provide additional space and facilities for its patrons, including the installation of a cooling system at the Durham Road location of the Thomas Club, Maple Heights, Ohio.”
Moe’s Criminal Associates
Moe Dalitz was a close and intimate associate of Louis Buchalter, a purported boss of Murder, Incorporated with henchmen Meyer Lansky and “Bugsy” Siegel.
Dalitz’s gang in Cleveland was also reported to be running policy rackets and gambling joints in Covington, Kentucky.
During the winter months, Dalitz’s number two-man, Thomas McGinty, ran the Frolics Club and Carter’s Casino in Miami, Florida, as well as the Fairgrounds Race Track in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Money was no problem. Sometimes the workers in the Mob’s businesses were.
When the Detroit Teamsters local demanded a five-day work week in 1949 and threatened to strike, Moe called Jimmy Hoffa.
An envelope containing $25,000 made the whole problem go away.
Meanwhile, the FBI characterized Moe as “head of the Mayfield Road Gang,” where “Dalitz, muscled his way into gambling, pinball, slot machine, and other rackets. His major competitor in the slot-machine racket in Cleveland, Nathan Weisenberg was ambushed and killed. Dalitz was never charged.”
In fact, Dalitz managed to avoid being charged with any crimes, even though he was once accused of harboring Louis Buchalter and Jacob Shapiro when they were federal fugitives.
He received special treatment from “Bugsy” Siegel, the collector/enforcer of the Trans America/Trans Union race wire and had illegal betting books in New York City and Saratoga Springs, New York, and Miami, Florida, as well as inside his Merchants Café casino in Newport, Kentucky.
What was Dalitz to do with all that illegal money? How about buying luxury homes for cash in other countries like Mexico and Switzerland? Sure, why not. That way, he could keep a close eye on his numbered bank accounts.
Welcome to Las Vegas Mr. Dalitz
In Las Vegas, Dalitz took an interest in the El Rancho casino. The draw of a legal climate and fresh money coming in was huge for Moe.
When Wilbur Clark ran out of money (he only had $250,000 for a $1.5 million-dollar project) at his proposed Desert Inn Casino, Moe Dalitz took the project to heart and Wilbur to the cleaners.
He met Clark in Las Vegas and then flew Clark to Cleveland to meet his top gang members, Sam Tucker, Thomas J. McGinty, Morris Kleinman, and Samuel Miller. Together they hammered out a sweet deal.
The gang poured a few hundred thousand into the project and took a loan from a small insurance group in Texas. The property opened in 1950 as Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn along what was being called the Las Vegas Strip.
Dalitz never even bothered trying to get a gaming license, happily leasing out the casino to Wilbur Clark while all the while holding about 83% of the company’s assets. Clark made a wonderful host for the resort, and even put his picture on the casino’s chips.
Desert Inn Casino Success
The property was a hit, drawing a strong crowd of Hollywood personalities like Zsa Zsa and Ava Gabor, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Golfers also loved the new Desert Inn course. Dalitz played the course each morning with the club’s resident pro, Howard Capps.
Capps gets credit for starting the PGA Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas. Dalitz and Allard Roen get credit for thinking up the prize, 10,000 silver dollars heaped into a wheelbarrow.
The first winner in 1953, Al Besselink, met Dalitz after the tournament and immediately donated half his winnings to the local Damon Runyan Memorial Fund for Cancer Research. He said, “Honest, I wanted to do it.”
In coming years, Hollywood celebrities like Walter Winchell, Bob Hope, and the Marx Brothers formed a Calcutta pool, wagering on who would win the tournament.
One year Gene Littler dominated the tournament with a 13-stroke victory and earning the $10,000 prize. Meanwhile, singer Frankie Laine drew Littler’s name in the pool and picked up $95,000. Vegas was a strange place!
The Desert Inn earned big bucks over the years, leaving plenty of cash for Moe Dalitz to lavish on his new hometown. He financed local subdivision building and got Teamster Union loans for other projects.
In 1955, Dalitz invested with Meyer Lansky in the National Casino in Cuba. Jake Lansky ran the casino, but once again, Wilbur Clark was the frontman with his face was on the chips. The casino reopened as Wilbur Clark’s Casino International.
Back in Vegas, Dalitz founded real estate company Paradise Development, with Merv Adelson, Irwin Molasky, and Allard Roen. Their projects in town included Sunrise Hospital, The Boulevard Mall, and the Las Vegas Country Club.
In 1955, when Stardust Casino point man Tony “The Hat” Cornero died while shooting craps at the Desert Inn, Dalitz took over the construction.
A wild ride ensued as Dalitz spent years trying to find a suitable front-man and enough investors to finish the $10 million-dollar project.
Eventually, John “Jake the Barber” Factor acquired the resort and leased the property to a long list of part-owners controlled by Dalitz.
The Stardust opened June 2, 1958, the largest hotel in Las Vegas with 1,065 rooms. It was also the largest casino and offered the largest swimming pool in the state.
Over the years the property was the largest moneymaker for the Mob, with skim reaching nearly $100 million dollars.
Moe Dalitz Fights Howard Hughes Over Desert Inn
Wilbur Clark sold his share of the Desert Inn to Dalitz and his partners in 1964. He died a year later.
On Thanksgiving Day the following year, Howard Hughes arrived in Las Vegas by train and rented the top two floors of the hotel.
Anxious to fill the valuable rooms with high-rolling gamblers for New Year’s Eve, the property manager asked Hughes to leave.
He refused. Emissaries were sent from Moe Dalitz to Hughes up in the penthouse, but the reclusive millionaire had no intentions of vacating the premises.
Hughes took great satisfaction antagonizing his host, eventually saying “I don’t need to leave, I’ll buy the place.” It was typical Howard Hughes banter, but Dalitz told Hughes to “put up or shut up,” telling the millionaire to fork over $15 million dollars.
Negotiations continued, well past New Year’s Eve. The businessmen fought over every aspect of the sale, from price to control to personnel. Each wanted the upper hand and the final say.
Finally, on March 27, 1967, Hughes and Dalitz arrived at a price, $6.2 million in cash and the assumption of $7 million in loans. Hughes, forever the recluse, didn’t want anything to do with running the PGA Tour Tournament of Champions. “No problem,” said Dalitz, and he moved the tournament to the Stardust Resort.
Moe Dalitz Later Years
Dalitz retained outright control of the Stardust until it was purchased in November 1969 by the Parvin-Dohrmann Corporation, a front for the Chicago Outfit. Then he continued to purchase real estate in Las Vegas and eventually built the Sundance Hotel.
Due to the difficulty in obtaining a gaming license, Dalitz chose friends Al Sachs and Herb Tobman to run the casino in 1980. They were also licensed at the time to run the Stardust Casino and the Fremont Casino downtown.
However, after several decades the FBI was finally closing in on Mob bosses associated with skimming cash from Las Vegas casinos, including the Stardust and Fremont. Sachs and Tobman were removed from those properties as well as the Sundance, so Dalitz applied to manage the resort.
His application was ignored by the Nevada Gaming Control Board which refused to accept or deny it. In July 1984, Dalitz surrendered management of the property to Jackie Gaughan until the casino could be sold.
That finally happened in 1987 when Lincoln Management Group purchased the Sundance and renamed it Fitzgerald’s, after Lincoln Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a Reno and Lake Tahoe casino owner who was an old friend of Moe’s from Detroit.
Fitzgerald passed away in 1981 but had operated the Chesterfield Club casino in Macomb County, Michigan, for the old Purple Gang. He moved to Reno in 1946 and ran the Nevada Club and later a skyscraper property called Fitzgerald’s.
To finish the story, Lincoln Management bought the Sundance from Dalitz and then bought Harold’s Club the following year, the last Howard Hughes property. Casino owners make strange bedfellows.
Moe Dalitz himself became a well-known figure in Las Vegas, donating time and money to a host of community projects from places of worship to libraries. He received the “Torch of Liberty” award from the Anti-Defamation League in 1982.