The mob boss of the Las Vegas syndicate, who built the city into the gambling capital of the U.S., grew up in North Dakota.
Davie Berman learned how to be tough and enterprising at his father’s farm near Ashley when he reasoned that he would need to become the primary breadwinner for the family because his father’s farming venture failed.
Berman ran the Las Vegas gambling enterprises for the mob from 1947 until his death in 1957. Most of the people who knew him at the casinos liked him and thought of Berman as a very successful businessman. After Berman died, it was said that he had “the largest funeral Las Vegas had ever seen.”
Donald “Davie” Berman was born Jan. 16, 1903, to David and Clara Berman in Odessa, Russia. In 1905, David Berman was threatened with conscription into the Russian army and fled to America. After working at a laundry in Manhattan, he learned that a special fund had been set up to help young Jews get land grants in North Dakota. He sent for his wife and three young children.
In the winter of 1907, the family arrived at Ashley. for? It looks like Siberia.” On Dec. 26, 1907, the Bermans took possession of their 160 acres between Ashley and Wishek. David Berman knew nothing about farming, and it seemed like everything he tried had failed.
Davie Berman excelled in school but was frequently in trouble because of fights. In January 1910, their house burned down, and the Bermans sold their farm for one dollar and moved to Ashley. David Berman got a job at the creamery, but the family continued to live in poverty.
Davie Berman said they should move to Sioux City, Iowa, because he had learned that young boys could sell newspapers. In 1912, the family packed their belongings into a buggy and moved to Iowa where they hoped to make a new beginning.
Davie Berman got a job as a newsboy and, to increase his earnings, slept in the print shop of the Sioux City Journal so that he could get an early start hawking newspapers. He organized the Jewish boys selling papers so that they could keep other boys from selling papers in their territory.
At the time, Sioux City was called Little Chicago because “gangsters from Chicago used to move there when the heat was on at home.” Davie Berman soon noticed that gamblers had a lot of money, and he became friendly with them.
He helped talk people into participating in card games and learned how to cheat with marked cards and loaded dice. By the age of 14, he organized a group of young people to beat up individuals who did not cover their losses at gambling.
With Prohibition, Berman got into bootlegging. He drove his car north on Highway 75, now I-75, to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and loaded up with whiskey. On his return south, Berman would make deliveries in Minnesota and the Dakotas. By the age of 16, “he was the biggest bootlegger in all of Iowa.” He also hired people to make home brew on which he slapped fake labels for resale.
While still a teen, Berman turned to robbing banks. He moved his operation from Sioux City to Chicago and then to New York City. In 1927, Berman was arrested for a post office robbery in Wisconsin. He refused to name any of those involved in plotting the heist and was sentenced to 7 ½ years in Sing Sing Prison.
When he was released from prison, Berman was called to a meeting with gangsters Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Moe Sedway and Lucky Luciano. In appreciation for keeping quiet, Berman was offered $1 million. He turned the offer down and instead said he wanted permission “to run Minneapolis.” His request was granted.
By the mid-1930s, Prohibition was abolished, and Berman focused his attention on bookmaking and other forms of gambling. The top mob boss of Minneapolis, when Berman arrived, was Kid Cann. As his operation grew, Berman eclipsed Cann. When World War II broke out, Berman tried to enlist but was turned down because of his criminal background. He then traveled to Winnipeg and enlisted with the 12th Manitoba Dragoons regiment. At the conclusion of the war, Berman returned to Minneapolis to resume his gambling operation.
In 1945, Hubert Humphrey was elected mayor with a pledge to break up the rackets.
Berman knew where he wanted to move next. In 1940, he had made a trip to Las Vegas and saw that it held great potential for gambling. In 1945, Berman purchased three downtown clubs — the El Cortez, the Las Vegas Club, and the El Dorado (later called the Horseshoe).
He was also working with Bugsy Siegel to build the new, elegant Flamingo. After the Flamingo opened, the mob suspected that Siegel was skimming off the top. On June 20, 1947, Siegel was assassinated at the Beverly Hills home of his mistress, Virginia Hill. The murder was never solved.
The next day, Berman and his associates walked into the Flamingo and took over operation of the club. Later, Berman sold the Flamingo and purchased the Riviera.
On June 18, 1957, while on the operating table at a Las Vegas hospital for a glandular operation, Berman suffered a heart attack and died.
(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at firstname.lastname@example.org.)