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The Nation

March 30, 2011

Las Vegas embraces mob roots with new attractions

LAS VEGAS — Speakeasies, bootleggers, gun-wielding crime bosses and tough-guy accents pay homage to Las Vegas' mob roots in a pair of new attractions showcasing Sin City's criminal history.

An interactive attraction featuring gangster memorabilia and commentary from film mobsters James Caan, Mickey Rourke and Frank Vincent opens Wednesday on the Las Vegas Strip. And Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob defense lawyer, plans to launch his Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement later this year.

For Las Vegas, the attractions represent an unprecedented embrace of its infamous founders.

"What differentiates us from any other city is our history," Goodman said. "This is the story of America."

The desert oasis made famous by scantily-clad showgirls, ubiquitous slot machines and 24-hour happy hours has long celebrated its reputation as a haven of vice, but its relationship with the mob has taken a few hits in recent years. The city that once proudly boasted of its ties to organized crime —Goodman played himself in the 1995 mob movie "Casino"— has instead promoted its family-friendly restaurants and Broadway shows for the past decade.

No more.

The Tropicana casino and hotel, a one-time hangout for organized crime now more known for its bargain-counter room rates, celebrated its new "Mob Experience" attraction Tuesday night with a red carpet party attended by "Baywatch" siren Pamela Anderson and comedian Rita Rudner, as well as a handful of mob heirs, including the son of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the inspiration for the bloodthirsty Joe Pesci character in "Casino."

The sprawling casino attraction features the diary of mobster Meyer Lansky, Spilotro's gun and family photos and home movies from other infamous criminals. Visitors are greeted by life-size holograms of chatty gangsters and a chance to get "made."

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