Mob Protégé Bernie Sindler Tells All

The former affiliate of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel shines a light on Las Vegas’ colorful past.

bernie_sindler_WEBWhen card games were dealt in clubs and private homes, when the mob ran most American gambling and when Las Vegas was barely an idea, Bernie Sindler was there.

Sindler, a former affiliate of Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, comes from a generation when those who knew didn’t speak. Talking freely about inside business wasn’t just bad form; at a time when most gambling business was illegal, it could get someone arrested—or worse.

But most of the people who might have gone to jail for secrets revealed are long gone. Being one of the last men standing affords Sindler a measure of freedom. So he has written a book, The Bernie Sindler Story: Life With Lansky, Siegel, and the Mob (Seven Wives Press, $23), sharing his unique insights into the days when the mob—if it didn’t exactly run Vegas—certainly made money here.

Sindler came to Las Vegas after a remarkable sequence of events. A chance late-1944 meeting with Lansky on a Miami-bound train led to the influential underworld financier taking the 20-year-old Sindler under his wing. At Lansky’s behest, Sindler came to Las Vegas in late 1946 to scope out the town and troubleshoot the games at the soon-to-open Flamingo. Aside from stints in Los Angeles and London, Sindler has called the city home ever since.

Sindler had a ringside seat for some of the city’s most historic moments: the still-unsolved murder of Siegel; the opening of the Frontier and its quick sale to Howard Hughes; the Rancho Circle murders; and the 1980 MGM Grand fire. He claims to be pretty sure who really killed Siegel and has hunches about a few other Vegas mysteries.

Add in a series of romances (Sindler has been married seven times), jet-setting travels and some good old-fashioned card tricks (Sindler first caught Lansky’s eye while practicing his sleight of hand), and you’ve got a made-for-Hollywood script. Above all, Sindler provides a unique perspective on one of the city’s most colorful eras.

Content to deal cards, host players and invest, Sindler never wanted to call the shots. Lansky deliberately kept him in the dark about many of his dealings, ensuring that while Sindler rubbed elbows with the mob guys, he never became one of them. That might be why Sindler, in his 90s, is here to share his story.

But why now?

Sindler didn’t set out to write a book—at least not at first.

“Seven or eight years ago, I thought about my life, and I started writing things down. I found I enjoyed it,” he says. “I thought I’d leave something for my kids—I never thought it would turn into a book. I just wanted something for them to remember me by.”

Talking with friends, Sindler began to realize that there was a broader hunger for stories of old Las Vegas. After working on his life story for several years, Sindler turned to Gamblers Book Store owner Avery Cardoza for advice and, with the help of Cardoza and editor Dana Smith, worked his manuscript into its current form. That’s why now it’s not just his children and grandchildren who will be able to look back on his remarkable life, but anyone who wants to learn more about some of the stories behind the stories that made Las Vegas. The success of the Mob Museum (where Sindler will be signing books from 1-5 p.m. on December 11) demonstrates the abiding interest the public has in our city’s past.

If Sindler’s journey—from his nurturing by Lansky to his incredible run in Las Vegas—seems like too much, Sindler is just as surprised as you. More than 70 years after that fateful train ride, he still looks back in awe.

“So many things shouldn’t happen to one person,” he laughs. “I’m like Forrest Gump!”

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