There is a certain irony in the fact that the first official “tribute” to organized crime in Las Vegas is in the casino hotel which was discovered to be skimmed by the mob more than any other, the Tropicana. Of course, the resort has long since changed ownership several times, and this “Mob Experience” –not to be confused with the Mob Museum in the works for downtown Las Vegas–is one aspect of a major property overhaul which has done wonders with the old dame.
The first indication that this is more irreverent “edutainment” than a serious exhibit is your entrance through the gift shop, selling shirts like these:
We are talking about people who murdered and maimed in cold blood, stole millions of dollars, and did all kind of other illegal, nasty, destructive things, right? Okay, I’ll lighten up.
The Experience begins as you are given a badge with an “alias” which will be your identity throughout (I was “Two Hands”). You walk through a replica landing dock, reading background on how organized crime started in the US: The Black Hand, New York gang leaders like Monk Eastman (Jewish) and Paul Kelly (Italian) and so on. Then you’re directed to take a “Visa” photo at “Ellis Island,” and suddenly face a hologram of Tony Sirico (you know, from The Sopranos) explaining prohibition. The holograms–there are more to come–are one of the most impressive elements of the Mob Experience. The other element is the role playing actors, like the guy running the hidden liquor warehouse you find yourself in next, who gives you an envelope to deliver to “Big Leo” at a sidewalk cafe, then the police sergeant who interrogates you, and the enforcer in Las Vegas who enlists you to help take care of business.
Several more recreated tableaus–speakeasies, casino floors, eye in the sky hideouts–try to bring you into the story, as does the hologram of Steve Schirripa (also The Sopranos, and a Vegas guy himself) explaining the “skim,” but it’s all a bit “Hollywood” until you enter the center of the experience, a series of galleries displaying actual property of the famous mob bosses, from Charles “Lucky” Luciano’s Studebaker (gorgeous) to Sam Giancana’s living room furniture (tacky) to Ben “Bugsy” Siegel’s home movies (mesmerizing) to Meyer Lansky’s diaries, bow ties and Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Mickey Cohen’s boxing gloves and monogrammed pajamas.
Then you’re back into the role-playing, blowing up a casino from inside a library (not sure I got that) before stepping into a warehouse to find out your fate from the Mob Boss hologram of James Caan (The Godfather I and II).
Far be it from me to give this a deep analysis as a historical cultural experience: but as an alternative to Madame Tussaud’s or the CSI Experience, LVME is a little bit fun, a little bit serious, a little silly, and a little real. Play at your own risk.
Tropicana Las Vegas
(702) 739-2662 (-2MOB)