The Mob Museum in Downtown Las Vegas—officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement—is the definition of art meets life meets art. It’s the brainchild of former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, who represented mobsters like Meyer Lansky, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, and Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro, in the actual federal courthouse in which the Mob Museum now resides.
The idea, of course, is that all of American history should be represented, even its sordid underbelly. Some of the founding fathers of Las Vegas are some of the nation’s most notorious names. But true to its name, the museum gives equal play both to the history of organized crime in our country and also the history of eradicating it. So along with its fascinating (and alarming) exhibits on crime, you’ll see artifacts and items related to law enforcement’s role in controlling the Mob (think weapons, wiretapping tools). A renovation in 2018 added new features such as a crime lab, firearms training simulator, and even an underground distillery. (Love a Prohibition-era cocktail scene? This is as authentic as the speakeasy concept gets.)
History and Background
The Mob Museum opened in 2012 on February 14—a date chosen to coincide with the 79th anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, in which seven men from the Bugs Moran gang were murdered by Al Capone’s South Side gang. One of the grisly centerpieces of the museum is the actual brick wall from the Massacre, riddled with bullet holes and blood stains. It’s a sobering reminder that organized crime in the United States has been a dynamic business since Prohibition began in 1920.
In a city that has imploded plenty of its early buildings to make way for ever-newer casinos, the Mob Museum building is one of the few historically significant buildings remaining in Las Vegas, an important example of the Depression-era neoclassical architecture the federal government was building in the 1920s and ’30s. The building served as both the federal courthouse and the U.S. Post Office Building. As the federal courthouse, it held some of the notorious Kefauver Committee hearings, which exposed organize crime and the corruption of public institutions in the early 1950s. Significantly, the courtroom hosted the seventh hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Today, you can walk into that historic courtroom and see and hear selections from the actual hearings, which were televised in the 1950s—bringing organized crime to life for the first time for American families.
Former Mayor Goodman advocated for the $42 million dollar renovation of the 41,000-square-foot building, which now includes three floors of exhibition space devoted to interactive exhibits, many with artifacts that were loaned or donated by significant Las Vegas families on both sides of the law. You’ll see some of the Mob’s biggest names, including Al Capone, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Ben Siegel, Sam Giancana, Tony Spilotro, and Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. The museum also worked with the FBI and three famous undercover agents who fought the Mob, including Joe Pistone, made famous by the movie "Donnie Brasco." The museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2017. In 2018, it completed a first major renovation, opening The Underground, a working distillery and speakeasy where museum guests can learn about rum-running and bootlegging. Organized Crime Today spotlights the evolution of organized crime in contemporary times. And the Firearms Training Simulator and Crime Lab Experience demonstrate how law enforcement apprehends criminal organizations.
What to See and Do
You won’t want to miss the historic courtroom, where Mob affiliates and Nevada’s then lieutenant governor testified in the Kefauver hearings. The hearings so captured the public imagination that they were even broadcast by movie theaters. The courtroom has been restored to how it would have looked during the hearings in 1950.
The “Open City” exhibit, which refers to a city in which any Mob syndicate could invest, includes artifacts like the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s “black book” of excluded people (including many notorious gangsters), the handcuffs in which Tony Spilotro was arrested in 1983, costumes from the Folies Bergere at the mob-controlled Tropicana, and more.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall, well-known to have been the byproduct of a hit ordered by Al Capone’s Chicago outfit, was reconstructed piece-by-piece from 300 bricks salvaged from the wall in 1967. For those who love a truly interactive (boozy) history lesson, The Underground Speakeasy, located in the basement, serves its own moonshine-based cocktails and other Prohibition Era cocktails (like a bathtub gin fizz) with a side of history.
For those who are more interested in staying on the right side of the law, the Crime Lab multimedia experience lets you learn about crime scene investigation, fingerprint and DNA analysis, and ballistics, and you can try your own hand at forensics.
How to Visit
Buy your ticket in advance online. Nevada resident tickets start at $16.95 for general admission, which admits you all day to the permanent exhibits. For $28.95, you can add a special experience, like the Firearm Training Simulator, the Crime Lab, or a Distillery tour and tasting (obviously for those 21 years and up). A Premier Pass, for $35.95, buys you the permanent exhibit and two experiences. Non-residents pay $29.95, $41.95, and $48.95, respectively. You’ll need to use your tickets during the time slot you choose when you buy them.
If you’re staying Downtown, the Mob Museum is an easy walk from nearly every hotel (it’s just a few blocks away from the Fremont Street Experience). There’s parking available in the lot next to the museum for $7 (for three hours), and you can find parking nearby at the Downtown Grand, Main Street, and El Cortez hotels. You can hop on the Downtown Loop, the free shuttle that goes around Downtown and stops at Fremont East, Pawn Plaza, The Arts District, and Las Vegas Premium Outlets North along the loop that includes the museum. It’s also an easy Uber or Lyft drive from the Strip.
Tips for Visiting
- The Mob Museum has $8 self-guided audio tours (worth it), which take you through the Museum’s exhibits and are narrated by former mayor (and Mob defense attorney) Oscar Goodman.
- Make sure you allow three hours to see the Museum, and more if you book any of the special experiences.
- While some of the special exhibits require that kids be 11 years old to experience them, the rules of the museum are that children under 14 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Use your discretion when bringing kids; the Mob Museum isn’t short on depictions of real gore.