With carpet joints running from Saratoga to Key West, Lansky attracted the attention of many different government officials. Some were on his payroll, others were his sworn enemies. But the probably the most powerful government official to be drawn to Lansky wasn’t even American. He was Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, the former army stenographer who had twice grabbed power in the Caribbean nation 90 miles south of Miami.

In 1952, when Batista seized power, Cuba was known as the Paris of the New World. Europeans and Americans flocked to the sunny beaches and danced to the hot rumba rhythms of the Cuban big bands, drinking daquiris and rums and smoking cigars. Gambling was big in Cuba, too. But Batista had a problem. The games, it seemed, were seen as crooked and no one was playing. Tourism started to falter as gamblers bypassed the Cuban casinos in favor of the more honest Puerto Rican joints. Things began to look bad for the dictator

Batista needed to inject some honesty into his games quickly and he turned to Meyer Lansky. President Batista appointed Lansky his advisor on gambling reform and gave him the authority to clean up the crooked gaming houses like the Sans Souci and the Montmartre Club.

"Fulgencio Batista saw the enhancement of revenues from foreign visitors, and from Americans in particular, as a major source of future income for Cuba – and for himself," Lacey wrote.

meyer & sons.GIF (52420 bytes)
Meyer and sons in Havana 

Lansky went to Havana and immediately began to roust the crooked casino bosses. He kept Santo Trafficante Jr., the son of Tampa’s chief racketeer, but leaned on Sans Souci operator Norman Rothman to start running a clean game. He ordered dealers and croupiers – most of them American – who were crooked to be deported and started the practice of dealing Blackjack from a six-deck shoe, which not only helped the house in terms of percentage, but minimized cheating by the dealer and player.

While Meyer’s reformed Montmartre Club was the in place in Havana, he had long expressed an interest in putting a casino in the elegant Hotel Nacional, which overlooked El Morro, the ancient fortress guarding Havana harbor. Meyer planned to take a wing of the 10-storey hotel and create luxury suites for high stakes players. Batista endorsed Lansky’s idea over the objections of American expatriots like Ernest Hemingway and the elegant hotel opened for business in 1955 with a show by Eartha Kitt. The casino was an immediate success.

That spring, Lansky began working on his own casino, a 21-story, 440-skyscraper called the Riviera. When it opened it would be the largest casino-hotel in the world outside Las Vegas. The Riviera was Lansky’s second attempt at building a hotel from scratch – the first time was the ill-fated Flamingo Hotel in Vegas with his friend and partner Benny Siegel…

1. The Mythical Meyer

2. A Fortune Found

3. Bugs & Meyer Mob

4. Meeting with the Brain

5. Italian and the Jew

6. The Carpet Joints

7. Havana

8. Vegas

9. Israel

10. Lansky's Legacy

11. Bibliography

12. The Author
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