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Vegas mayor bets new museum will be a hit

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Mafia is alive and well in Vegas. This week saw the opening of the new Mob Experience, and the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — a k a the Mob Museum — is scheduled to debut in late 2011.

The latter is the $42 million pet project of the flamboyant Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

“When I was first elected, I looked out my window at city hall and saw this old courthouse where I tried my first case,” said Goodman, a former high-profile mob lawyer who played himself in the movie “Casino.”

Goodman wanted to preserve the historic building — an unusual concept in Vegas — and turn it into a museum. Maybe one devoted to art ... watercolors, perhaps.

“And then a light went on,” Goodman said. “I thought, ‘What distinguishes us from other places? How about a mob museum?’ ”

The setting makes sense. In 1950, the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime held the seventh of 14 nationwide hearings in the building’s second-floor courtroom. Led by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, the televised hearings had slack-jawed Americans glued to their TVs as they watched bookies, pimps, crime bosses and hit men get grilled by the government.

The ensuing crackdown on illegal gambling drove operators to Nevada, the only state where the practice was legal. Las Vegas cemented its reputation as the gaming capital of the country, and the town evolved into a haven and playground for organized crime.

The Mob Museum will re-create the Kefauver hearings courtroom so it appears as it did in 1950. Museum visitors will be able to see and hear testimony from the investigation and famous mob trials, as well as listen to authentic FBI wiretaps.

A high-tech display will show how mobsters used “the skim” to distribute money from the casinos to the national syndicate. Another exhibit identifies organized crime’s hot spots around the globe, while “Myth of the Mob” looks at inaccuracies surrounding the Mafia in entertainment.

“And we have a piece of Chicago out here: the wall of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre,” Goodman said. “You’ll see the bullet holes.”

You’ll also see Goodman’s meatball recipe in the museum. Actually, it’s reputed Chicago mob boss John “No Nose” DiFronzo’s recipe. Goodman says he jotted it down after DiFronzo, a former client, cooked them for him one night.

“Whenever we have a party in our home … my wife makes the ‘Mob Meatballs,’ ” Goodman said. “Now we call them the ‘Mayor’s Meatballs.’ ”

And we soon may be calling Goodman’s wife “mayor.” Carolyn Goodman is running for the city’s top post, which her husband has to vacate this summer because of term limits.

Goodman was hoping the Mob Museum would open before he left office. He blames the delays on the bureaucratic hoops that go along with renovating historic buildings.

Once the museum finally launches, Goodman expects it to attract between 600,000 and 800,000 visitors annually. Admission likely will cost $10 to $15.

As for competition from the new Mob Experience across town, fuggedaboudit.

“We have a real museum with a real connection to history,” Goodman said. “We’re treating ours very seriously.”

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