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February 1, 2015

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j. patrick coolican:

Was life really better when the Mob ruled Las Vegas?


UNLV Special Collections

Moe Sedway plays Farabank (Old Tiger) at the Golden Nugget Casino. Sedway was a known associate and lieutenant for mobster Meyer Lansky.

Click to enlarge photo

J. Patrick Coolican

Las Vegas Mob

Moe Sedway plays Farabank (Old Tiger) at the Golden Nugget Casino. Sedway was a known associate and lieutenant for mobster Meyer Lansky. Launch slideshow »

Mob Museum Preview

A exterior view of the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas Monday, Feb. 13, 2012. The museum, in a renovated former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office, will have its grand opening Tuesday. The building was completed in 1933 and is listed on the Nevada and National Registers of Historic Places. It is also one of 14 sites in the nation that hosted the 1950-51 U.S. Senate Special Committees to investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, also known as the Kefauver hearings. Launch slideshow »

Mob Museum Opens

Members of the San Diego Police Museum Association participate in the grand opening of the Mob Museum in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Things were better when the Mob ran this town. We hear this often enough to make it almost a cliché, and with last week’s opening of the Mob Museum, er, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, it seems like an argument worth examining.

Here are the commonly heard supporting statements:

The old guys were part of the community

“They wanted to be engaged in the community because they came to a place that allowed them to operate legally, and they appreciated that,” Mike Sloan, gaming lawyer and ultimate old-timer, told me.

Now, many of our casino executives live elsewhere or spend half their time globe-trotting. By contrast, the old-time operators lived here, and you might run into them at the country club, coffee shop, church or synagogue. America has always had a fascination with outlaws, and Las Vegas residents got to live among them. “They certainly were more colorful people,” Sloan said, employing his rich skill with a euphemism.

And, they gave back. Moe Dalitz and partners famously built, with a Teamsters loan, Sunrise Hospital. Nevada historian Michael Green also noted Dalitz gave UNLV money for the first furniture in the first building. Sloan recalled stories of casino operators generously paying hospital bills for the sick children of employees. (I should note, of course, that many casino operators in old Vegas were not Mob-connected, and those that were unfairly tarnished the entire city.)

Better schools, less crime, less traffic

Perhaps true, but not because the Mob was invested in good government. Educational challenges, crime and traffic are the result — at least in part — of growth, not Mob-free corporate ownership of hotels. Of course, you could argue that once corporations were allowed to own casinos, they would bring massive capital to bear, which would lead to bigger resorts and therefore rapid population growth. But really, growth vs. no growth is a different argument.

Also, think of the extreme irony of claiming there was less crime when the Mob ran the town. “They were out doing burglaries!” Green quipped, referring to the “Hole in the Wall Gang.”

As I learned at the museum, which opened Valentine’s Day on Stewart Avenue downtown, the skim at the Stardust was $7 million per year; at the Flamingo, it was $36 million from 1960 to 1967; at the Tropicana it was $150,000 per month. That money was stolen from the community and sent to criminal gangs back East.

(Given the events of the past few years, I can appreciate that, for many people, banks vs. organized crime is a close call.)

Cheaper food, better shows, and you could make a good living

As Sloan notes, cocktail waitresses, bartenders and maître d’s made great money in Mob days, in part because the IRS wasn’t as rigorous about collecting taxes on tips. The casinos didn’t have to report when someone won a big jackpot, and let’s remember that there was no competition from Atlantic City or anywhere else.

As for the food? If you look hard, you can still find a $7 prime rib dinner, though I’m not sure why you would. Our food these days is more expensive, but it’s also far better.

Finally, yes, I would love to see Frank Sinatra. And I would take Sinatra over any show currently in Vegas. But so what? I would take Frank Sinatra over any performer at any time in the history of the planet. Unfortunately, he’s dead, so it’s a little unfair to say we had it better when Sinatra was here. Of course we did. The human race had it better when he was alive.

But our entertainment lineup here is rich and getting more diverse.

Green summed it all up: “In some ways it was better. In some ways it was worse. But there’s too much mythology” about the past.

In any case, the question is academic. As Oscar Goodman said at the museum this week when asked who won the war between law enforcement and the Mob, “Who won? There ain’t no Mob.”

Indeed, all we have now is the Mob Museum, a remarkably restored neo-classical building with impressive historical artifacts inside that detail Las Vegas’ gangster past.

But if it’s in a museum, that usually means it’s dead.

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  1. this is how I see it and why I don't visit Las Vegas anymore....when Sinatra was there and the "mob" was there...people called you by your "name" they call you by your credit card number....give me your credit card and then when you sign it they kick you in the butt....they don't know you ....they don't care about you.... all they want is money...its is so is a filthy ...loud.. no class place anymore...everything was better when the "mob" was was more its all about big corporations who only care about their bottom line....the hotels are too big ...too impersonal...its lost its taste.....

  2. The relationships we used to have with the casinos are still there - if one makes the effort to foster them. I know when my favorite staff are on shift and seek them out. It's that simple.

  3. "As Oscar Goodman said at the museum this week when asked who won the war between law enforcement and the Mob, "Who won? There ain't no Mob."

    Coolican -- another good one! And as you pointed out so well here, whether or not it's better now that government has replaced the Mob, the jury's still out.

    And I'd take the likes of Son House over Sinatra any day. Because Vegas ruined Elvis.

    "If built in great numbers, motels will be used for nothing but illegal purposes." -- J. Edgar Hoover

  4. I first came to Vegas in the 50's with my parents. We stayed at the Flamingo. I was an only child, Mom and Dad played craps, there was always someone from the hotel available to take care of me while Mom and Dad did their things. It was a better place back then, but it was also a better time in general back then.

  5. "...what is the robbing of a bank against the founding of a bank. What is a jimmy in the hand against a handful of stocks and debentures...

    Mack the Knife, The Threepenny Opera

  6. Was the town run better under the mob? In many way, yes! One has to look at the old mob, the mob that built Las Vegas. Not the strip strike mob, and the days of Tony Spilitro and all who surrounded him. (They were the worse of the worst, they took Las Vegas to the lowest of lows, scraping the bottom).

    One can say, you knew where you stand with the old mob. What to do, what not to do. There were serious negatives also, like the racism. Especially with the mob's quiet embraced of Sammy Davis Jr. for one. Frank Sinatra knew the importances of Sammy (Sammy's talent) publicly and by many visiting Americans. One cannot forget how the mob directly stopped all business from going to the Moulin Rouge. Overall, the old mob provided a safe environment for tourist, unlike the Spilitro era. Low cost food and shows. Good lounge entertainment. Plenty of jobs. A cooperative Union Hall---before the strike. However, there were many issues, to many to mention. Things are different today. This is a corporate run town now, the gaming, the food, the entertainment, the hotels. A different mob. They are still here, as long as there is a Las Vegas.

  7. Was life better when the Mob ruled Las Vegas? Yes. Is life bad now that the Mob doesn't rule Las Vegas? No. It is just different, but not in a bad way.

    I am sure there was a time when Starbucks was just a little cool coffee shop that was family owned and operated where everyone knew your name.

  8. My understanding is that the mob and organized crime are synonymous. Now I believe "crime" is the operative word here and anyone who thinks things were better when organized crime was in control obviously has a very myopic view of the city. Their views can't possibly be objective and they may be in dire need of an ethics course. I'm not an expert but this seems to be a classic case of historical revisionism. I say to you Mr. Coolican, ask some of the victims or their families throughout the country if organized crime is better than the rule of law. No personal offense intended but I think this story borders on propaganda if not completely so.

  9. If I had my druthers, I'd gladly welcome back those mob times. Because they went after the casinos, and not the average working class people here in Las Vegas.

    They seem a helluva better alternative than this over twelve year run of predatory Tea/Republican Governors we have experienced in Nevada, who do the exact opposite. They take out all the ills of society out on us, and not the so called "job creators." Yeah. "Job creators." Sure. Right. What a stupid phrase that has turned out to be. Never worked before and still don't work now..

    Hell, a zombie apocalypse would look better than another year of Governor Sandoval cutting education more and more and using that money not to balance a budget, but give it as tax breaks to gaming and mining corporate interests.

    The new mob is Jones Vargas. Because Governor Sandoval clearly signals he STILL works for them, not Nevada.

    But then again, some things never change. Look at the new mob. Same as the old mob. Same results. The only thing that's different now is they are street legal, authorized in writing to slowly strangle us all to death, and sponge every nickle they can out of our pockets. But at the same time, point fingers at us and blame us for letting them do it.

    Corporations aren't people. In Nevada, they're the new mob. And the politicians in power right now believe they MUST be fed continuously. All at the expense of us.

  10. "I say to you Mr. Coolican, ask some of the victims or their families throughout the country if organized crime is better than the rule of law."

    dukeofdeath -- the problem with your reasoning is we don't have the rule of law now, we have a police state rapidly replacing our freedoms with licensing and criminal penalties. It's just as arbitrary, capricious and vicious. Only it has no one to rein it in but us.

    "If I had my druthers, I'd gladly welcome back those mob times. Because they went after the casinos, and not the average working class people here in Las Vegas."

    Colin -- excellent point! Just sit in on any local traffic or eviction court to prove that.

    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from your government and I'm here to help.'" -- the late President Ronald Reagan

  11. Yes it was.

    You had to be here but it was paradise up until the 80s. Definitely compared to the mess the half a...ed Feds and other do gooders have created here.

  12. Leave it to Colin to take a simple premise and turn it into a political rant.

    If the mob were running things, we wouldn't have all these damned panhandlers all over the Strip. Anything that was bad for business was gone.

  13. Las Vegas 1947 - 1980: Paradise
    Las Vegas 1980 - 2012: Disneyland in the desert.
    The Mob (what Mob?) kept our town clean. No panhandlers, street porn magazine distributors, prostitution was closely regulated, 15 year old kids weren't carrying autoloads, no drunk tourists in shorts, flip flops & T-shirts, the Casinos had class, and what's the difference in paying a 10% vig to Vinny the loan shark and 400% to the "Payday loan places?

  14. "the problem with your reasoning is we don't have the rule of law now, we have a police state rapidly replacing our freedoms with licensing and criminal penalties. It's just as arbitrary, capricious and vicious."

    Dear Mr/Ms KillerB,
    NEVADA REVISED STATUTES, when followed properly, and they are followed by the majority of government and law enforcement, voids your "rule of law" argument. The rest of your statement above is your opinion(which I respect). Even if the majority of the people in this community agreed with you, it would still be an opinion because no one has presented any meaningful, sustainable scientific or statistical evidence to support your theory. Just because we have less than competent people managing our city and state is no excuse to compare them to the Mob.

  15. A sad truth is that organized crime was honest in a funny sort of way. They told you what they were after to your face. Now, we have the slime in politics and big business that tell you what you want to hear to your face, and turn around and figuratively cut your throat behind your back. I'll take the former way of dealing with people any time.
    When I grew up in old Brooklyn, we had 3 groups to keep the peace: the Irish cops, the Italian mafia (Murder, Inc), and the Jewish vigilantes. Know what? There was almost zero street crime, old folks and regular people could walk around perfectly safe, and kids respected authority, went to school to learn (not cause trouble), and even though it was a poor slum neighborhood, no one bothered to lock their doors because, any street crime, and the next day or so, a body would turn up in some alley and the 3 groups mentioned would simply smile at each other.

  16. What's the big difference between the mob running a skim, and inflated bonuses for executives with their tax shelters? Almost the same amount of taxes gets paid. If you're going to use the excuse of "money taken out of the community", then you need to slap that accusation against every franchise business or corporation that pays stock dividins in Las Vegas as well. Because THAT is "taking money out of the community" as well.

    Who cares where the money goes along as everyone else had a good life.

    @ dukeofdeath:

    What about the victims of law enforcement as well? The mob may be only a shell of itself now, but cops are still beating people unmercifully without cause all across the nation. If you think that modern law and government enforcement is better, prove it with an example. Why is crime out of control? Why are there no more drawn borders of slums where street criminals are confined and instead are now allowed to rent Section 8 housing anywhere in the city? The truth is that the government has sold us ALL out in order to profit for itself and it's associated cronies. Mob rule while unethical at least gives us a fighting chance.

  17. Are you's freakin' kiddin' me???

    Glorifying the Mob...because you had a nicer 'Casino experience'?

    Get outta here!!!

    Enjoyed reading the old timers' comments, regardless.
    (Waxing nostalgic, without the bad aftertaste!)

  18. It would be woefully mistaken to see the hegemony of the corporate-government handshake as a superior alternative to the mob. It's a replacing of one criminal syndicate with a different criminal syndicate.

  19. I used to enjoy Vegas during some of the mob controlled years, Now I don't know if it was the mob or not but I would get a good fair game of GAMBLING not ENTERTAINMENT. Not so much now it's more of corporate greed or corporate controlled Gaming control board. That seems to zap your chances even faster and the dealers sit there and pull your chips in over and over and as soon as you win one hand they expect a tip yeah that's why I don't play those games now, Poker only for me.

  20. "Just because we have less than competent people managing our city and state is no excuse to compare them to the Mob."

    dukeofdeath -- I think we're in a potato-pohtahtoo thing here. We agree in principle, just colored by our own experiences, etc. My point is the Rule of Law begins with the proper administration of justice, and that starts with whether or not an NRS passes Constitutional muster. The rest is more along the lines of when someone is gunned down wrongfully, it really doesn't matter whether the shooter wears a badge or not. People who should be alive are just as dead. And that's not the worst suffering government causes.

    "It's a replacing of one criminal syndicate with a different criminal syndicate."

    ssenjo -- you probably said it best if anyone here today

    "Indifference to personal liberty is but the precursor of the State's hostility to it." -- United States v. Penn, 647 F.2d 876 (9th Circuit, 1980), Judge Kennedy dissenting

  21. Read some of the comments and not glorifying the mob. But it is a fact that Sheriff Lamb and the "safe" mob ran a quiet town. Other mobsters not in good graces were often quietly run out of town by the Sheriff. Casino the movie is close to life Vegas for the 80s and that is when it started downhill.

    See, I was messing around in the street with my friend one morning with our cars. He hit me (my fault totally) and left the scene. I had been told by my pop to sit and call the cops regardless so that is what I did.

    A Vegas township tan and white Ford POS rolls up and the officer grins and asks me: "So what happened." Being a shocked and dopey kid I mumbled something that ended with...."drag racing"..The cop said: "Well, don't tell your dad that you'll get in trouble" and he told me EXACTLY how to fill out a form. My friend returned and they told him how to fill out the form. When we were done it looked like something else than our carelessness had caused the whole thing. The city cops told us to slow down and left and so did we with no tickets.

    A simpler time and I was never afraid of the cops EVER. On the other hand a repeat out of town burglar might end up in the desert pushing up flowers when they caught him. A card sharp caught by a casino generally was either given a job to catch other sharps or had no further worries EVER.

    Going to the Thunderbird to eat a sea food lunch at the oyster bar in a suit and highly shined shoes was my childhood Sunday treat. A young cocktail waitress coming by to call me honeybun and giving me a very nice hug was a treat for a kid like me. My folks left me there in the care of the bar and went to play table games in their Sunday best. No one came around to send me to Juvy.

    PS I miss Hank Greenspun. (one of the folks who helped get Isreal her first American made air force planes BTW)

  22. Somebody was crying about the "poor victims of the Mob". Long time Vegas icon, Debbie Reynolds, said it best. When asked "why do you live here (in Vegas) - people get killed here. Debbie replied, "Yeah, but only those who need killing". Locals were safe back then. Sheriff Lamb and the Mob kept it that way. BTW, my Mother's ashes are scattered in Benny's (Bugsy's) Rose Garden at the Flamingo.

  23. The Italian Restaurants had authentic food and they were were better managed. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Pizzas didn't exist.

  24. Patrick, can you give a list of the "old vegas casino operators" that were wholly disconnected to "the Mob" or "organized crime" in any way. You make that disclaimer as though it is fact, though I think the vast majority of casino owners through the sixties (and some into the 70s and early 80s) were either alleged to, or actually proven to be connected to notorious out-of-state interests. With the most noteworthy exception of Kerkorian who got into the actual casino game (versus landlording) late, you may be hard pressed. Even the supposed anti-mob crusader Howard Hughes (late 60s) - still had the whole Wilbur Clark crew working the properties and the political payouts at his Silver Slipper (even BeBe Rebozo collected there) were legend. Its an interesting question, but since no one pays TOO much attention to our past (with the exception of the always sprite Michael Green) - our answers are doomed to be approximations at best.

  25. To my fellow bloggers;
    Working the streets as a police officer since 1978 I would have to admit the streets were cleaner and safer than they are now. I couldn't even imagine the behind the scenes criminal MOB activity that went on though, but the actual streets were safer and we had better laws and city and county ordinances at the time for the police to keep it clean. The community pretty much supported the police force also. There were only about 12 criminal street gangs in existence in the late 70's, now there are over 400 criminal street gangs and growing. I guess it is all in how you want to look at it. Just an old veteran cop reflecting,

    Gordon Martines

  26. People here seem to have a general misunderstanding of statistics when it comes to the Las Vegas Police. In every organization you're going to have people that are just a little less than average. If you combine that with inadequate training then the people are going to make more mistakes. If a lethal instrument is involved, then the probability of a situation resulting in death will be high. BTW, this also applies to violent criminals. Though people have been killed by Las Vegas police officers, no empirical evidence has been presented that any of the killings were premeditated or done on purpose. Each officer was performing his/her duty or believed they were doing so. Even if they were trained properly a misjudgment/mistake could still occur. It's so easy for criminals to obtain guns in Nevada. This place is not Mayberry.

    Somebody, anybody tell me how that compares to untrained, uneducated, unregulated, uncivilized, organized criminals randomly enforcing their unwritten laws across the landscape. For those of you who still prefer organized crime to the government, I suggest you move to Mexico where organized crime has become the de facto government and see how you like it.

  27. "Though people have been killed by Las Vegas police officers, no empirical evidence has been presented that any of the killings were premeditated or done on purpose. Each officer was performing his/her duty or believed they were doing so. . . . .Somebody, anybody tell me how that compares to untrained, uneducated, unregulated, uncivilized, organized criminals randomly enforcing their unwritten laws across the landscape."

    dukeofdeath -- I'll pick this bone with you.

    Badges = public authority. What you and so many others keep missing is those badges come with a price -- each officer's oath is an individual promise to each of us he will support, defend and protect the Constitutions, which includes the Bill of Rights/Declaration of Rights. That includes the promise none of us will be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

    Proposing that any one of them can get the benefit of the doubt for using any kind of force in our names is a proposition I will condemn every time. There's no difference then between thugs, badges or not.

    "If the exercise of constitutional rights will thwart the effectiveness of a system of law enforcement, then there is something very wrong with that system." -- Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 490 (1964)

  28. vox clamantis in deserto.

    Police are also protected by the constitution. If in the performance of their duties, they feel that their life or someone else's life is in danger they have the right to protect themselves and the public from harm under the rule of law. Of course accidents are going to happen and some officers will lie out of selfishness, ignorance and fear. But that's true in any occupation. My point is that even though I have personally been mistreated and insulted by LVMPD, when I remove emotion, I realize that only a small percentage are jerks. The rest are doing the best hey can.

    Mr/Ms KillerB,
    I ask you to invoke your logic and not emotion. Do you really think that the entire police force has an agenda to deprive citizens of their rights under the Constitution of the United States of America? Are you saying officers wake up and go to work intending to do that?

    If I were you KB, I would argue that police are to enforce the laws enacted by the government. 99% haven't read the Constitution. A lot of those laws are sub-optimal. And whose fault is that?

    We, the people of Nevada, as well as the rest of the country. have gotten what we deserve. We believe everything we see on TV, we believe in invisible entities that monitor our thoughts daily. We believe that we'll be rewarded or sent to a fiery place after we die and worst of all we believe the words of politicians. The good news is that we can change things by being more informed and responsible voters. The mob is more like a dictatorship. Extreme taxation without representation. They would just execute the Tea Party.

    Anyone who thinks the mob/organized crime is better, there are many other countries that would be happy to have your support.

  29. The old mob understood Vegas was demilitarized to assure that gaming and the skim continued unmolested.

    It is not that the mob was good; it is that the mob understood that any disturbance of the populace here cut profits. They also understood how ruthless the Lamb's and the Mormon leadership could be and relied on them to keep the peace.

    That went away when Oscar's clients got here and had a need to make money in ways not related to gaming.

    An old cop (long retired detective) who I went to church with and had worked for Lamb once told me that "many deaths" never made the papers here as "those folks just took a walk and never came back."