First among equals the story of Moe Dalitz
- September, 26 2018
Both Newport, KY and Las Vegas would not be the towns they are today had one man not been born. That man was Morris Dalitz, better known as Moe. Moe was born Dec. 24, 1899, in Boston. The family moved to Michigan when Moe was still a child, and his father opened Varsity Laundry in Ann Arbor, serving the University of Michigan students. Long before his career in the underworld Moe learned from his father the essential business skills that would serve him well throughout the rest of his life. It was through his successful laundry business that Moe first encountered the world of organized crime.
Moe was attempting to keep his laundries from organizing and, according to author James Neff, at one point hired Mafia thugs to make his point. It was this conflict that introduced Moe Dalitz to Jimmy Hoffa, future president of the Teamsters union, the labor organization that one day would be responsible for lending Nevada casino developers and the mob the millions it would take to build the first wave of casino resorts in Las Vegas.
By prohibition Moe, now living in Cleveland, had become an accomplished bootlegger. Moe had the great idea to run liquor across Lake Erie into Canada. (It should be noted that the Canadians had the good sense not to attempt prohibition.) Moe’s success as a bootlegger was confirmed by his invitation and attendance to the famous 1929 organized crime summit in Atlantic City with luminaries such as Atlantic City Mob boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.
During prohibition Moe continued to “import” alcohol from Canada and distribute throughout the Midwest. The entire time, Moe reinvested his profits from bootlegging into an ever-expanding network of legitimate businesses. He held an interest in the Michigan Industrial Laundry Co. in Detroit and the Pioneer Linen Supply Co. in Cleveland and percentages in the Reliance Steel Co. and the Detroit Steel Co. And there was Milco Sales, Dalitz Realty, Berdene Realty and the Liberty Ice Cream Co. He even owned a piece of the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad.
By 1933 and the repeal of prohibition, Moe was perfectly positioned to further diversify his business operations. He acquired a string of small gambling operations in Ohio and Kentucky. Two years later in 1935, Moe fully understood the power and profit that gambling more than any other business could create. By 1936 Moe and his associates, called the Cleveland four, had acquired locally the Beverly Hills Club in Southgate, the Lookout House in Covington and the Coney Island racetrack that we know today as Belterra Park Gaming located at 6301 Kellogg Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45230. The Beverly Hills was Moe’s first experience with gambling on the size and scale that we would recognize today. The overwhelming glitz, glamour and open nature of the Beverly Hills had earned it the moniker of “the jewel on top of the hill” and this jewel made Moe and his associates millions.
Despite his overwhelming success in both legitimate and illegitimate business Moe answered the call of his country when he enlisted in the Army in 1941 at 41 years old. Moe ended up serving as an officer in the quartermaster corps in charge of what else…. the laundry facilities in New York. During his wartime service Moe didn’t live like the rest of the officers choosing to spend much of his time living in the Hotel Savoy-Plaza.
After the war, Moe left the army and joined other Mob-associated investors looking for legitimate opportunities in the Southwest and this led him to the growing town called Las Vegas. The appeal of Vegas was obvious to a man like Moe. Unlike Newport, Las Vegas offered the full protection of state law to the gambling operations that few in the country knew as well as he did. In 1950 Moe and his partners took over construction of the floundering Desert Inn. The decades of hard-fought experience Moe had earned in Newport could now be put to full use. Moe Dalitz was free in Las Vegas to pour his enthusiasm, experience and resources into building the modern Las Vegas we know today. Among his many friends, investors and business partners he was known as the first among equals for his gracious nature and natural leadership ability.
Moe brought many things to Las Vegas. He built the first golf course in Las Vegas at the Desert Inn. He was one of the four founders of the Las Vegas Country Club. In the 1960s, Dalitz continued to develop some of the premier institutions of modern Las Vegas, including what is now the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Nevada Resort Association. In 1967, he sold his interest in the Desert Inn to reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who had moved into the top floor of the hotel. In 1969, Dalitz sold his interest in the Stardust to a Mob associate, which would turn out to be a smart move as the hotel ultimately became a target of federal and state investigators.
Moe also focused on giving back to his adopted hometown. He helped build residential communities in the rapidly growing city. He supported a host of charitable causes and helped start what is now the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; reportedly, he was the first $1,000 contributor and helped collect money to build the $100,000 football field. He also helped secure a $1 million loan from the Teamsters Union pension fund to build Sunrise Hospital. The entire time refusing to take credit or be publicly thanked for his efforts.
Moe accepted the life that he had chosen but that didn’t mean that it didn’t leave its mark on him. Towards the end of his life confided in a friend “‘I’ll bet your grandpa drank whiskey,’ and I said that he did. ‘I’m the guy who made the whiskey, and I’m considered the bad guy. When does the time ever come that you’re forgiven?’” This was a question that would haunt him for the rest of his life. In 1980, Dalitz was involved in the development of a hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas called the Sundance, but he had to defer management of the property to others when he realized he could not get a license from the Nevada regulators because of his Mob contacts. “Mr. Las Vegas” as he was now popularly known was being forced out by the very city that he had done so much to create.
Moe continued his philanthropic work and was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Cancer Research Center and Hospital in 1976. In 1982 he received the Torch of Liberty Award by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. In 1979 he set up the Moe Dalitz Charitable Remainder Unitrust, a million-dollar fund to be divided upon his death. When Moe Dalitz “first among equals” to his friends and “Mr. Las Vegas” to his adopted hometown died in 1989, 14 nonprofit organizations split $1.3 million and his funeral was attended by former Clark County District Attorney Rex Bell, former Sheriff Ralph Lamb, Sheriff John Moran and Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie. Las Vegas and Newport are both forever connected and shaped by the life of this amazing man.