Located in an old courthouse building in Downtown Las Vegas, The Mob Museum tells the story of the mafia in America. It’s a story that most Americans are at least somewhat familiar with, but how often do you learn about it in a museum setting rather than from a secondhand story in a movie?
After a recommendation from a tour guide and the convenience that it’s located directly across the street from my hotel I figured… why not check it out? And I’m glad I did.
The exhibit begins on the third floor and works its way down. After a brief introduction as to what made certain young immigrants turn to crime in the first place, they cut right to the chase: the rise of the temperance movement and the massive black market created by the prohibition.
Once alcohol became legal again, the crime families and the dirty cops and other officials who accepted bribes didn’t all disappear overnight. So the mafia branched out, using their connections on all sorts of other criminal enterprises.
One of those as it turns out was back home in San Francisco, where a now defunct mob family started — what else — Fisherman’s Wharf. Somehow that’s both a little surprising and at the same time, it explains a lot.
One of the big new crime schemes was of course gambling. There’s a reason The Mob Museum is located in an old courthouse in Las Vegas, and a video presentation on the second floor followed by a gallery on the history of the mob in Las Vegas explain that connection in more detail that I could possibly fit into this post.
The exhibits on the first floor go into the eventual fall of the mafia in America with new laws and new policing methods that made it simpler to prosecute career criminals on charges other than tax evasion. Of course it’s not all sunshine and rainbows these days if you look outside of this country, and there’s a section about large gangs in other countries responsible for everything from animal poaching to human trafficking.
The final room ends on a much lighter note with depictions of the mafia in popular media and even features props and pages of scripts from everything from The Godfather to Breaking Bad to The Sopranos.
Now I shouldn’t need to say this but this is a museum with mature themes like death and features graphic images and disturbing stories. They’re not trying to sugarcoat anything that happened, but at the same time it’s not a bunch of shock images either. Given the museum setting I think they struck the right balance in that respect.
My recommendation: If you’re interested in the history of the mafia it’s worth checking out. I recommend the off-hours “happy hour” ticket as it’s a significant discount. Skip the audio tour as the museum already has plenty of interactive and video exhibits anyway and the audio portion is largely redundant.