Something big was going down on the Las Vegas Strip on April 27, 1998. There was a buzzing, almost festive atmosphere outside the hard-luck Aladdin Hotel.
Television news helicopters hovered above, and an estimated 20,000 onlookers gathered on the streets.
It was the final chapter of the troubled resort that was controlled by the mob two decades earlier, then rescued by a big-name entertainer only to fall into financial ruin and eventually disappear from the Strip skyline.
In the end, the Aladdin was a failure. It couldn’t recover from the days of pillaging under the Detroit and St. Louis crime families in the 1970s.
Before he died in December 2020, former Nevada Gaming Commissioner George Swarts said the Aladdin never really had a chance.
“It could have been so much better, but it just didn’t work,” he said. “And after the mob was gone from it, the people that tried to fix it just didn’t have any luck. It’s like it was cursed.”
The Aladdin was put out of its misery on that April evening. Its 17-story hotel tower came tumbling down in a coordinated implosion.
And after the mob was gone from it, the people that tried to fix it just didn’t have any luck. It’s like it was cursed.
George Swarts, former Nevada Gaming Commissioner
The owners had hope of a rebirth with a new $1.3 billion gaming complex.
But the ghost of the mob was still there. Left standing was a piece of the Aladdin’s past — its Theatre for the Performing Arts.
The high-tech concert venue, financed by mafia-controlled Teamsters pension fund money, would become the heart of a new and bigger Aladdin. Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa controlled the pension fund’s purse strings for years. But the new Aladdin also ended up failing.
If you want to know what ignited the campaign to push the mob off the Strip, you probably should start with the Aladdin. With all of its troubles, the resort may be as important to the history of Las Vegas as any of the casinos run by organized crime.
Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says other mob-managed casinos, like the Stardust, drew more notoriety over the years.
“There was a certain involvement that included glamour and violence that you don’t see with the Aladdin. But the Aladdin is a great case study — the clean operation that becomes dirty that then is rescued. But even then, the Aladdin was never the financial success that the Stardust was, that some of the other mob-involved operations were for whatever set of reasons. So the Aladdin may be the little engine that couldn’t. But it’s also a little engine we should pay attention to.”
Part 8: Aladdin’s Curse
The downfall of the Aladdin and the mob on the Strip dominate the final episode in the Review-Journal’s second season of the popular true crime podcast series, “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas.”
Your host for season 2 is Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German, who has covered organized crime in the city for more than 40 years.
Where and how to listen
Search for “Mobbed Up” on your preferred mobile podcasting app and tap “subscribe” or “follow” or click here to listen to the series on the Review-Journal website.
Season One of “Mobbed Up,” published in summer 2020, chronicled the rise and fall of the mob in Las Vegas over the course of 11 episodes.