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January 31, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

Story of embattled Mob Experience fit for ‘The Sopranos’

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

In the past few years, the best only-in-Vegas story was the trial of the county commissioners caught taking bribes from strip club tycoon Michael Galardi.

But this recent business with the Las Vegas Mob Experience at the Tropicana is beginning to rival the G-Sting trial for its sheer Vegas absurdity. (Disclosure: The Las Vegas Sun has a cross-promotional agreement with the attraction, in which it shares photo and video content in exchange for brand placement.)

The story of lawsuits and countersuits, allegations of misplaced and misused funds and a threat from the descendant of a real-life mobster is starting to look like an ingenious piece of performance art — the fourth wall of the theater collapsed so that we can all truly experience the life of degenerates.

Or, maybe it’s secretly a Sopranos episode in the making. Tony’s nephew Chris is again off on some errant bit of dreamy entrepreneurialism until his vision is destroyed when Uncle Junior muscles the museum from him, steals the artifacts and sells them on eBay.

Except that if the idea were pitched, writer David Chase would say it was too far-fetched.

Not here in Vegas, where we may have kicked the Mob out of town, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our share of hoodlums, losers and harebrained schemes sprinkled like dust among our occasional risk-taking genius.

A quick review of the saga of the attraction and its management company called — no, seriously — Murder, Inc.:

Just months after the $25 million, 26,000-square-foot interactive walking tour opens, lead developer Jay Bloom is forced out, according to creditors, and then sued. Business partners charge him in court papers with “looting the company” of more than $1 million for personal and business ventures. Bloom, however, now says he left voluntarily, and that he put most of his ownership interest in escrow so more money could be raised for the Experience.

Bloom turns around and sues the Tropicana for not honoring marketing commitments.

The Tropicana — a casino known for having Mob ties way back when — is truly stuck in the middle, as contractors come demanding payment for work at the Mob Experience and file liens against the property.

(In the new Mob, instead of pulling a Joe Pesci and stabbing your enemy in the neck with a pen, you file lawsuits. Amp it up, people!)

Other creditors say they’re owed $4 million on promised future receipts, which aren’t happening because the “interactive” part of the experience is shut down, attendance plummets and prices are reduced from $40 to $15 for what’s left of the museum.

Lenders claim Bloom hijacked the Mob Experience website as part of his sabotage efforts. Oh no, Bloom says, the site went dark because no one paid the bill. Touché!

Next up, Vincent Spilotro, son of the infamous Anthony Spilotro, the basis for Pesci’s Nicky Santoro in “Casino,” says he’s owed money for artifacts he sold the museum and consulting money he was promised. In a court filing, Bloom says that in an email, “it appears (the new manager Louis Ventre) indicated he was in fear for his life.”

The attraction voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Monday. Mob Experience spokesman Spence Johnston tells me the company hopes to secure new financing and bring back the high-tech, hologram-filled interactive part of the museum, with some refinements, by the end of the year.

I took a tour of the museum last week. If you can get around the glorification of criminality — when will the South Bronx open “The Crack Epidemic Experience”? — it could be a cool, if incomplete, examination of history and, with a real speak-easy, a great only-in-Vegas hangout.

I ask Johnston if the staff snickers at all about the saga.

“It’s entertaining,” he says sheepishly. “It’s a Mob story. It really is.”

Bloom says allegations against him will be proven untrue, and that he hopes and believes the situation will be resolved amicably, with the Las Vegas Mob Experience becoming a top Vegas attraction.

He then offers this cryptic quip: “The Mob works in mysterious ways.”

A version of this story first appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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  1. It seems when you mix personalities and egos, you will get this situation as a result. Because of history, this particular exhibit warrants its place here in Las Vegas.

    May they quickly and amicably resolve these issues so that the Mob Experience will continue, grow, and attract the audience who would enjoy and benefit from it. It is welcome in helping the local economy (once they straighten finances out).

  2. Loved this line: "Except that if the idea were pitched, writer David Chase would say it was too far-fetched."

    Problem with this Mob Museum in Vegas is the same problem Disney is having..."You cannot destroy what made something great while trying to "Recapture The Magic" of its youth. The mob was essentially 'Run Out; of Vegas, a Vegas they built and it worked. That's when people come along and ruin it with corporate and legal BS. Remember when Vegas was cool? You had to have an E ticket to ride, now you just need a polo shirt, some Bermuda shorts and sandals with black socks.

  3. JPC,

    You missed the obvious connection, that the ex-Mob Lawyer called in a favor or two so his downtown endeavors would face less competition. :)