Meyer Lansky was born Meyer Suchowljansky in Grodno, Russia (now Belarus) on July 4, 1902. The son of Jewish parents, his family immigrated to the United States in 1911 after suffering at the hands of pogroms (anti-Jewish mobs). They settled in New York City’s Lower East Side and by 1918 Lansky was running a youth gang with another Jewish teen who would also become a prominent member of the mafia: Bugsy Siegel. Known as the Bugs-Meyer Gang, their activities began with theft before expanding to include gambling and bootlegging.
Eventually Lansky and Siegel became involved with Italian gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Luciano was behind the formation of a national crime syndicate and allegedly decided to murder Sicilian crime boss Joe “The Boss” Masseria on the advice of Lanksy. Masseria was gunned down in 1931 by four hit men, one of whom was Bugsy Siegel.
As Lanksy’s influence grew he became one of the mafia’s major bankers, earning him the nickname of “The Mob’s Accountant.” He managed mafia funds, financed major endeavors and bribed authority figures and key individuals. He also channeled a natural talent for numbers and business into developing profitable gambling operations in Florida and New Orleans. He was known for running fair gambling houses where players did not have to worry about rigged games.
When Lansky’s gambling empire expanded to Cuba he came to an agreement with then Cuban leader Fulgencia Batista. In exchange for monetary kickbacks Batista agreed to give Lansky and his associates control of Havana’s racetracks and casinos.
He later became interested in the promising location of Las Vegas, Nevada. He helped Bugsy Siegel convince the mob to finance The Pink Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas – a gambling venture that would ultimately lead to Siegel’s death and pave the way for the Las Vegas we know today.