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Mob hotels

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Many of Havana’s most glorious hotels, especially those in Vedado, were built in the 1950s with a casino attached and the funds for their construction put up by members of the American Mafia, who were busy building an empire in the Cuban capital. With a booming tourist economy, a shortage of top class hotel rooms and American mobsters queuing up to take advantage of lax Cuban gambling laws, Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, in cahoots with the Mob, passed Hotel Law 2074 in 1955. This provided tax exemptions to any hotel providing tourist accommodation and guaranteed government financing and a gaming licence to anyone willing to invest $1 million or more in hotel construction, or $200,000 for the building of a nightclub. An unprecedented boom in hotel and casino construction followed as the Havana Mob expanded its portfolio, which already included the Hotel Nacional, the Sevilla Biltmore and the Hotel Comodoro, establishing landmark hotels like the Habana Hilton, the largest hotel in Havana when it opened in 1958, renamed the Habana Libre after the Revolution; the seafront Hotel Deauville, built in 1957 by Santo Trafficante, the Florida crime boss and long-time investor in Cuba; the luxurious Hotel Riviera, inaugurated in late 1957, having been conceived and funded by Meyer Lansky, the Don of the Havana-based mob; and the Capri, which also opened in 1957 and where the Mob installed the Hollywood tough-guy actor George Raft as a meeter-and-greeter, the personification of the hotel and casino industry in 1950s Havana, with its mixture of celebrity glamour and gangster backing.

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