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October 30, 2014

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Goodman tours mob museum, says ‘there is no competition’

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Steve Marcus

Museum designer Dennis Barrie, left, speaks during a media tour of the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (the “Mob Museum”) in the former U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse building in downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, May 25, 2010. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, center, looks on. Dennis’ wife and co-designer Kathleen Barrie is at far right.

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Mob Museum Media Tour

A third-story room is shown during a media tour of the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement (the Launch slideshow »

The mob in Las Vegas

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When the city’s mayor is also one of its foremost mob authorities, there will be no competition among organized crime-themed attractions in Las Vegas.

That’s what the city’s former mob attorney mayor, Oscar Goodman, said today during a media tour of the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. It’s called the Mob Museum in shorthand. The space at the under-renovation U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse building, the very site of the Kefauver Hearings that brought many mob members into the national discourse for the first time, is largely Goodman’s vision.

And he wants to hear nothing of any other mob attraction being built in Las Vegas, specifically the Las Vegas Mob Experience being planned for the Tropicana. When asked if intended to visit the competition after it opened, Goodman took a metal pipe to the question.

“There is no competition. Forget about it,” he said, standing on the court steps where he not only tried his first case in 1967 (and being handed a stack of $100 bills totaling $3,000 for his trouble), but where he actually retched because he was so nervous trying that case. “This is a real museum. It’s not some sensational depiction of a particular moment in time.”

Goodman expressed surprise that the family of one of his more notorious clients, Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro, was partnered in the project at Tropicana. As has been reported, Spilotro’s widow, Nancy, and son Vincent are among the families hired by Mob Experience chief Jay Bloom to contribute their time and artifacts to the interactive theme attraction scheduled to open at the Trop by the end of the year.

“I don’t have any idea of what’s going on there, only what’s happening here,” Goodman said. “We have the real story, the full story, here.” He also intimated that he wasn’t convinced the Mob Experience would open at all, saying, “I’ve been hearing about that place for a long time,” but offered no specific information as to why it would not be opened as scheduled.

He reiterated, “We are not interested in the sensational. This is the real McCoy. There is no competition. That’s not the story here.”

In Goodman’s hands, the story was to lead a group of media members through the latest phase of the $42 million project, set to open in about a year at 300 Stewart Ave., where Stewart T-bones the valet entrance to the still-latent Lady Luck hotel-casino and the businesses on Third and Ogden streets.

Joining the mayor were Dennis and Kathleen Barrie, who have enacted such similar museum projects as the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. If there is a comparison, already, to be made between the Mob Museum and Mob Experience, it’s that the Mob Museum is taking a far greater interest (and spending ample space and resources) on the law enforcement component to organized crime. The downtown museum boasts the physical presence, stories and personal collections of many famous mob-connected families. The Mob Museum boasts one of the most famous physical structures in mob histories, which itself serves as part of the attraction.

“This is where the mafia was exposed, in a lot of ways,” Dennis Barrie said after today’s tour. “It will have to be told in an entertaining way, though. So much of Las Vegas is entertainment. You ask, ‘what do you learn at Madame Tussaud’s?’ And you do learn as you go through this museum. It will be both an entertaining and educational experience.”

Barrie later said the admission cost will likely be between $10-$15.

Asked by Kathleen Barrie to use our imaginations, as the exhibit is still largely in its larval stage, media first were shown the third floor, which visitors are shown after a ride on 1950s police-styled elevators. Guests enter a lineup in an attraction called “Mom 101,” just to get in that organized-crime mood. They can sit around a large table – to be literally around the table where mob business was conducted.

The second floor is the actual courtroom where such mob figures as Frank Costello were shown (or rather, his well-manicured hands) in public for the first time. The floor is dedicated to the 1950s and the Kefauver hearings. Video and audio presentations from the famous trials and hearings of the day will be detailed. Holographic images of figures who made the room famous — including Sen. Estes Kefauver — are planned for the space. “The Skim” attraction, which details how money was distributed from Las Vegas to the National Syndicate, is detailed on the second floor, which is also where the wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre will be displayed. An attraction labeled “Mob Mayhem,” centering on mobster-on-mobster violence, is planned for the second floor.

The first floor, the last to be visited, gives guests a chance to listen to actual FBI wiretaps and learn of the then-highly advanced practice of recording phone conversations. The gift shop and an exhibit detailing the still-alive “hot spots” of organized crime around the globe catch guests as they finish walking the exhibit. “Memories of the Mob” features the stories of family members and officials who have been interviewed over the years. “Myth of the Mob” takes on inaccuracies, glorification and exaggeration of organized crime in books and entertainment media.

The mayor seems to benefit from a sense of that myth, as a one-time legal representative of reputed mob figures, which he acknowledges. He’s unique among mayors in that his affiliation with that culture is a benefit, not a hindrance.

“If anyone else running for mayor had my background,” he said, “they wouldn’t get elected.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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