Illegal Gambling before Las Vegas – Part 2

In his 30 Illegal Years to the Strip Bill Friedman explains how Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Charles Luciano, John Torrio, Moe Dalitz, Meyer Lansky and Joe Adonis and Frank Costello created the modern criminal gambling Syndicate that ruled organized crime in the United States. He wrote “The seven leaders of the three dominating Prohibition gangs imported the world’s finest liquors on a massive scale. Although they conducted their business in an illegal and dangerous world, these seven espoused traditional business values and rejected the key tools of organized crime – monopoly, violence, and vendetta. This made them the most unlikely gangsters to rise to underworld leadership. But they earned every criminal’s respect, and fate made them the most powerful gangland leaders in American history.”

In the second episode, Mr. Friedman tells how Frank Costello was not your usual old time mobster. He believed in making concessions and agreements that benefited everybody, not violence benefiting nobody. He opened exclusive high end nightclubs like the Copacabana in New York City. He had the largest slot machine route in the United States. After an assassination attempt ordered by rival mobster, Vito Genovese, Costello proved he was against violence and went so far as to refuse to identify Vincent “The Chin” Gigante as the man who attempted to assassinate him in 1957. “The Chin” would go on to be the boss of the Genevose family. “The Chin” was famous his later years to feign mental illness and walk the streets of Greenwich Village talking to himself, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe. He would later be convicted of racketeering and die in prison. Shortly after the murder attempt, Frank Costello retired as an active mob boss of the Luciano Family and Vito Genovese would take over. The “Chin” would succeed Vito Genovese, using a series of high profile mobsters acting as if they were the Boss.

During his retirement, Costello was known as “The Prime Minister of the Underworld.” He still retained power and influence in New York’s Mafia and remained busy throughout his final years. Like the Godfather in the Mario Puzo story, Costello occupied himself with gardening in his later years..

On February 18, 1973, after 11 days in the hospital, Frank Costello died of a heart attack. It was his 82nd birthday.

Photo of Frank Costello by Al Aumuller, World Telegram staff photographer – Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.

Books by Bill Friedman Against the law

To make a donation or purchase premium podcasts episodes go to


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top