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Monday, May 28, 2012

Was life really better when the Mob ruled Las Vegas?

By J. Patrick Coolican (contact)

Click to enlarge photo
J. Patrick Coolican

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.

From the Las Vegas Sun (click here).


Anonymous said...

My grandma tells me all the time (she is 80) that she would feel safer is the mob was here to walk the street. That is simply because their moto was "we only kill ourselves". It also has to be kept in mind that the way Las Vegas was back in thosedays was almost completely different. With a bigger population, there is going to be more crime (and considering the fact that the stuff that people do today they would not have dared to do back when the mob was here). Reading about Sunrise Hospital, it reminds me of the Hells Angels. They are always viewed as this roungh and tunble bikers gang. Although they do go to and host fundraisers for children and people with alzeimer's.

Nicole Baxter COM 101-4080

Anonymous said...

"in 1947, the mob gave a woman money to start her own business because she could not afford it on her own. It was called Hilda's in North Town. You could get soup, an entree, and desert all for $1. And they also made the best gorditas. it was tripled layered and had chili and green onions on top. When I first ate them it was $1. The last time I had it, it was $7.50. Nobody makes gorditas like Hilda." - Geraldine Baxter

Nicole Baxter COM 101-4080

Anonymous said...

I came to Las Vegas to visit relatives in the late 70s, the mob was still here, there was less crime, less homeless and they took care of their own. Corporate casinos came in and more goes into their pocket (just my opinion). You can walk down the strip, you could walk downtown. The mob is out, look what happened to downtown. I guess there are always pros and cons, but talking to old timers that lived here since the 1960s, they really loved Las Vegas in "those good ole days."

Anita Falconetti
Comm 101-4049

Art Lynch said...

I use to eat at Hilda's...Papa Gars...The Red Shack...and I moved here in 1984. Large chains came in, neighborhoods changed and the state has been Californicated.

Anonymous said...

YES IT WAS!! my grandma told me so. she said everything was much more organized. And my mom heard that guys car explode (like in the movie casino) beacuse she worked one block away from where it happened. crazy.

Anonymous said...

I honestly dont know if it would be better or not if the mob was still here, but i think maybe if the mob was still here thing might be better but we will never know because time always change so even if the mob was still here that doesnt mean that it will stop the time from changing which is most likely why the mob is no longer here.

Julian Henriquez

Anonymous said...

The mob fascinates me. I will confess, I grew up in Boston and as a child I wanted to marry into the mob. I still think that there are still some mobsters out there, they are just not as publicly out there like back in the day.

Angela Mains
Com 101 HN 4080

Anonymous said...

I dont know much about mob times, but from what I have read here, I would like to of seen it. Seems like it was better then than now. And getting all that food for only $1? Wow, of course money was worth more then. So compared that value of $1 back then could compare to our $7.50 now. I still wish I could back in time and check out vegas during mob times.

Joseph Contreras HN 4049 COM 101

Anonymous said...

Being born and raised in Las Vegas I hear all kinds of stories from my family about Vegas when it was run by the mob. I think the biggest thing that people miss is that they felt taken care of by the mob; whether it was as an employee or a customer. For a lot of people thats what's missing in Vegas today.

Jesse Steele
Com 101-4080

Anonymous said...

Im not from here so to be honest i had no idea this actually happened. But it does make me wonder about how things were and its tempting to think or to hope lived through it to see how it was like

Stephanie Cardiel Com 4044