First-time visitors to Las Vegas might be confused to hear references to the Mob Museum and the Mob Attraction. Make no mistake, they are not the same thing. The Mob Museum is located in Downtown Las Vegas, a short walk off Fremont Street, and the Mob Attraction is located inside the Tropicana Hotel and Casino on the Strip. Both have timelines of organized crime in the US and Las Vegas, and both feature artifacts from well-known organized crime figures. So you might wonder why does Las Vegas need two attractions focused on the mob?
Good question. I don’t know. Both ideas were developed around the same time and the developers had different visions for the visitor experience. If I were you, I’d choose the one that best fits your personality, since they have very different vibes.
The Mob Attraction (click on the link to read my review) feels more like entertainment with a side of education. It features interactive elements like having visitors play the role of a mob initiate, actors playing mobsters and law enforcement agents, and some great holographic imagery featuring famous actors who have played equally famous mobsters on TV and film. The Mob Museum feels more truly like a museum, a more serious, grown-up look at the history of organized crime.
The Mob Museum is easy to get to from Fremont Street. Simply find the 3rd Street stage and walk in the opposite direction. (I got the most convoluted directions from a hotel employee, and wound up walking way out of my way, so don’t depend on Downtown workers to know where this museum is.) The entrance faces 3rd street, though is technically on Stewart Avenue. It’s in an historic building that used to be a courthouse (an appropriate setting, as you’ll see during the tour).
Even though I’d done the Mob Attraction at the Tropicana a couple of years ago, I still found the Mob Museum worthwhile as well. In fact, I spent two and a half hours there and might have stayed longer if I weren’t starving. It seemed to me that the Tropicana actually had more artifacts in its exhibit (especially large artifacts like cars and entire living rooms). But I really appreciated the in-depth educational element at this museum.
The tour begins on the third floor and works its way down by floor. You cannot get lost. There are staff all over the place pointing out which direction to go in. If the elevators are slow (and sometimes they are), feel free to take the stairs.
Here, you will learn in-depth information about the birth and spread of organized crime in the US and Las Vegas with timelines, photos, and artifacts. There is no glorification of the mob here. I was pleased to see as much attention paid to prominent law enforcement figures in the fight against organized crime as there was to members of organized crime itself.
For those who seek a few more thrills and hands-on experience, you can fire a Tommy gun and practice FBI weapons training here, as well as listening to real FBI surveillance recordings using wiretapping equipment. There is also an interactive quiz to test visitors’ knowledge about organized crime, and a touch-screen map of the world displaying where organized crime is active and what sorts of crimes are prevalent in which countries. It’s very sobering to see how widespread human trafficking is, for instance.
But where the museum excels is educating. I learned quite a bit about organized crime at the Tropicana’s Mob Attraction two years ago, but I learned even more here. I had no idea who Estes Kefauver was until I visited this museum. No clue. I mean, come on, it was before my time!
This U.S. Senator from Tennessee (who ran for President twice) played a huge role in investigating organized crime and bringing the mob’s activities to the light of day. The Kefauver Committee hearings on organized crime were held in 14 cities around the US and broadcast on television. Before this, everyday average Americans knew very little about mob activities in this country.
Here’s where I learned that the building the museum is housed in is as much an artifact as the artifacts inside it. It was here that the Nevada hearings of the Kefauver Committee on organized crime were held (in the courtroom) on November 15, 1950.There is a multimedia presentation on those hearings that you can experience right there in the courtroom during your visit to the museum.
Beyond that, I was especially please to see that they profiled some women in law enforcement who had fought the mob, such as Eunice Carter, a District Attorney who was both the first African American and the first woman to serve on Thomas Dewey’s staff. She was instrumental in piecing together evidence in Lucky Luciano’s prostitution ring that aided in his prosecution.
Be forewarned there is one area of the attraction that has a warning on it for graphic violence. It involved photos and descriptions of the torture and deaths of certain individuals at the hands of various members of organized crime families. I watch violent TV shows and movies, so I didn’t think twice about going in. I lasted about 5 minutes in there before I had to leave because I just couldn’t stomach it. Once you’ve read about someone getting their head squeezed in a vice until their eyeballs pop out, it’s really hard to erase that image from your mind. (And now I’ve just done it to you. Sorry.) So if you’re squeamish, you should skip that section.
In summary, this newish museum is well worth the price of admission and time spent if you have a genuine interest in learning more about organized crime or if you have an interest in the history of Las Vegas. Because there’s no escaping the fact that organized crime played a huge role in the history of this city.
What you need to know:
Location: 300 Stewart Avenue, facing 3rd Street, Downtown Las Vegas. There is limited (paid) parking at the museum, or you could park at one of the casinos on Fremont Street and walk over.
Hours: Daily 9am-9pm (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas).
Admission: See the Mob Museum website for price of tickets.
Other: Photography is allowed. Don’t bring food or beverages into the exhibit area.