Sedway story moves out of Bugsy’s Shadow in new book about old Vegas

September 27, 2023 7:07 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
September 27, 2023 7:07 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

“I just got out of bed and I’m loaded with drugs.”

–Moe Sedway to the Kefauver Committee

As a lover of Las Vegas history, I have a special place in my heart for Moe Sedway.

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Maybe it was his drooping profile and sad-dog eyes, which set him apart from his vain and polished running mate Benjamin Siegel, that did it. Unlike the infamous Bugsy, there was no mistaking Sedway’s mug for a movie star.

Or it could be his unintentionally hilarious testimony before the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, better known as the Kefauver Committee, that won me over. Any guy who can accidentally rat out an entire network of mob contacts while simultaneously explaining his heavy drug use and weeks-long battle with that heartless intestinal gangster diarrhea qualifies as a colorful character and then some.

Gone since 1952, of natural causes no less, Sedway lives again in the pages of Larry D. Gragg’s latest Las Vegas study, Bugsy’s Shadow: Moe Sedway, “Bugsy” Siegel, and the Birth of Organized Crime in Las Vegas. Published by High Road Books, an imprint of the University of New Mexico Press, it brings interesting depth to a character treated more like a sidekick than a superstar in most reviews of the mob’s unmistakable role in the building of modern Las Vegas.

Born in Poland, Sedway came to Las Vegas with Siegel in 1941 from New York City by way of Los Angeles. Sedway was, indeed, Bugsy’s shadow. Sedway had a keen way with numbers and was all but indispensable when it came to administering the mob’s horserace wire to the West Coast. He wasn’t exactly a wallflower; he’d been charged but not convicted of assault and robbery. But compared to the volatile Siegel, Moe was a hand-wringing United Nations negotiator.

Followers of Little Moey’s colorful life will surely be pleased that a whole book has been published about his rough-and-tumble journey to Las Vegas and his own place in the “gambling-mecca” pantheon about which so much has been written.

Perhaps to the Kefauver Committee’s surprise during its Las Vegas stop in November 1950, and undoubtedly to the utter amazement of the throngs of Americans who followed the organized-crime roadshow, Sedway appeared happy to mention some of the innumerable mugs he’d met. The line of notorious hoodlums and racketeers Sedway didn’t know was a short one.

Among many: Siegel, Meyer and Jack (sometimes Jake) Lansky, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Frank Erickson, Longie Zwillman, Lucky Luciano, Charlie and Rocco Fischetti, Jack Dragna, Greasy Thumb Guzik, and just about anyone who was anyone from Cleveland.

That’s not to mention a number of Las Vegas’ leading lights and prominent members of the Jewish community. Like so many of his contemporaries, Sedway came to appreciate the ability of a Las Vegas residency to wash away the sins of a previous life of notoriety elsewhere.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, however, Sedway didn’t plead the Fifth before Kefauver. In fact, he all but requested more time from the committee.

When it came to discussing business specifics, Sedway managed to lose his memory. He dissembled and sputtered and generally acted appropriately for a fellow of his pedigree. Sedway acknowledged his business partnerships with Siegel in the racebooks at the Frontier Club and Golden Nugget, but such information was public knowledge.

He didn’t have much to say about taking over the Flamingo in the wake of Siegel’s June 1947 murder in Beverly Hills, but who could have expected him to?

Although some historians have blamed Sedway for admitting organized crime’s deep presence in Las Vegas, by 1950, it was hardly a state secret and only denied by those who figured to benefit most from the booming new economy created by gamblers’ money. It would remain hard to explain to outsiders, however, as the world began to take an interest in the bright lights of Las Vegas.

Gregg’s latest book continues his study of Las Vegas history, which began nearly two decades ago. A man in love with his subject, it’s an affair that has produced previous books Bright Light City: Las Vegas in Popular Culture and “Bugsy” Siegel: The Gangster, the Flamingo, and the Making of Modern Las Vegas.

The book is enjoyable, especially for denizens of the fedora era of Las Vegas, but followers of Gragg’s previous work will note that he covers some familiar ground in this one. Part of that is, of course, unavoidable, understandable, and necessary given Sedway’s position as Siegel’s sidekick and his place in early Las Vegas gambling history.

More than anything, the book is a reminder that many nefarious hands helped shape the gambling racket in the post-World War II generation. There’s room on that shelf for more volumes.

Moe Sedway was indeed Siegel’s shadow, but Las Vegas would be a shadow of its colorful self without him.