Morris Barney Dalitz

Desert Inn founder Wilbur Clark was one of the great publicists for Las Vegas, and operator Moe Dalitz proved to be one of its greatest builders.

Morris Barney Dalitz was born on December 24, 1899, in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised in Michigan, where his father operated a growing laundry business. When prohibition begin in 1919, bootleggers needed delivery mechanisms, and Dalitz's access to laundry trucks helped him enter that business.

One of the favorite places of entry for liquor as it came from Canada to the bootleggers in the United States was the point where Mayfield Road near Cleveland ended at the shores of Lake Erie. Dalitz became the leader of a group called the "Mayfield Road Gang" operating between Cleveland, Detroit, and Ann Arbor. Dalitz continued from the earliest days of his bootlegging to convert his profits into legitimate businesses: more laundry businesses, the Detroit Steel Company, and even a railroad. He also became a principal owner for several illegal casinos in Cleveland and northern Kentucky. His Detroit investments brought him into contact with Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa, whose pension fund later would make substantial loans to numerous Nevada investors and businesses, including Dalitz's.

Dalitz shifted to Las Vegas in the late 1940s to take over construction of the Desert Inn from Wilbur Clark, who ran out of funds. With partners Sam Tucker, Morris Kleinman, and Allard Roen, among others, he opened the hotel in 1950. They later operated the casino in the Desert Showboat Motor Hotel, opened in 1954 and later known as the Showboat; and ran the Stardust after builder Tony Cornero's death. Dalitz owned the downtown Sundance, now Fitzgeralds.

With local businessmen Irwin Molasky and Mervin Adelson, later the founders of Lorimar productions, Dalitz built several golf courses, shopping malls, housing tracts, Sunrise Hospital, and the Rancho La Costa spa in southern California. But while he invested in legitimate businesses, Dalitz continued to face rumors and pressure from law enforcement officials. When Senator Estes Kefauver's committee investigating organized crime questioned his bootlegging, Dalitz said, "If you people wouldn't have drunk it, I wouldn't have bootlegged it."

Dalitz was active in the community. He helped set up the Nevada Resort Association, still the industry's leading lobbying group in Nevada. Dalitz helped the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to obtain land, buildings, and furnishings, and left it the funds for a research center—one of more than a dozen organizations to receive substantial donations in his will after he died on August 31, 1989.

Further Reading

The First 100: Portraits of the Men and Women Who Shaped Las Vegas. Ed. A.D. Hopkins and K.J. Evans. Las Vegas, NV: Huntington Press, 1999.
The Players: The Men Who Made Las Vegas. Ed. Jack Sheehan. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1997.

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