Born: December 24, 1899, Boston
Died: August 31, 1989, Las Vegas
Nicknames: Moe, Mr. Las Vegas
Associations: Meyer Lansky, Purple Gang, Mayfield Road Mob, the Outfit, Stardust Hotel, Desert Inn Hotel, Las Vegas Country Club, Sunrise Hospital, Teamsters Union
Known universally as Moe, Morris Dalitz came out of the rough world of the Midwest Mob in Detroit and Cleveland to become a leading Las Vegas businessman and philanthropist. However great his success in Las Vegas, Dalitz was never able to completely shed his early associations with organized crime.
Dalitz was a bootlegger in the mid-1920s. He was among those who attended a famous 1929 organized crime summit in Atlantic City with luminaries such as Atlantic City Mob boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and Joe Adonis. According to Alan Balboni in The Maverick Spirit, Dalitz, then in Michigan, had rivals for his nascent bootlegging operations and sought the protection of the largely Jewish Purple Gang of Detroit. The Purple Gang was notorious in the 1920s and 1930s for its unrestrained violence in the struggle to gain control of illegal liquor importation and sales during Prohibition and, after Prohibition, gambling and prostitution rackets.
The Purple Gang members urged Dalitz to relocate, and he did, to Cleveland, where he continued to move alcohol throughout the Midwest until the end of Prohibition while expanding a network of legitimate businesses such as catering companies, food wholesalers and laundries. He also operated “protected” casinos in Ohio and Kentucky. Daltiz was indicted only once, for bootlegging, in 1937, and the charges were ultimately dropped.
Dalitz enlisted in the Army in 1943 and served as an officer in the quartermaster corps in charge of laundry facilities in New York while living in the Hotel Savoy-Plaza. After the war, Dalitz joined other Mob-associated investors looking for mostly legitimate opportunities in the Southwest and particular in Las Vegas, a city that Mob leadership had declared “open” for anyone to come in and make a legal buck.
Dalitz, along with two convicted felons he had worked with in the Midwest since the 1930s, took over construction of Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn in 1950. However, Dalitz, who had seen what unconstrained publicity could do to those with checkered backgrounds, was smart enough to stay out of the limelight. Dalitz poured his enthusiasm into building the modern Las Vegas. He built the first golf course at the Desert Inn, was one of the four founders of the Las Vegas Country Club and helped build residential communities in the rapidly growing city. Dalitz 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 engineer a $1 million loan from the Teamsters Union pension fund to build Sunrise Hospital, thus at least helping to set the stage for other Teamster loans to Las Vegas commercial projects and, ultimately, through the Mob’s control of the pension fund, to Mob infiltration of casinos in Las Vegas. Along with the Desert Inn, Dalitz helped fund and run two other casinos in Las Vegas, the Showboat and the Stardust. The former appeared to be free of Mob infiltration, but the Stardust became synonymous with a massive “skim” of profits that went to Midwestern mobsters.
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.
By the 1970s, Dalitz was feted by Nevada’s governors, state Supreme Court justices, and other community leaders. But he was still publicly associated with the Mob. In 1975, Penthouse magazine ran a story that suggested Dalitz was using Mob-controlled Teamster money to build a resort in California. Dalitz sued the magazine for defamation. He won an apology from Penthouse, but dropped the suit. As late as 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. The Sundance later became Fitzgeralds and today is The D resort.
When Dalitz died in 1989, those at his funeral included former Clark County District Attorney Rex Bell, former Sheriff Ralph Lamb, Sheriff John Moran and Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie.