What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right, Crimeziners? Except we all know that is not strictly true. Surely the entire planet knows that the mob—primarily the Chicago “Outfit”, in association with Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters pension fund, turned Las Vegas from a quiet desert town into a pulsing neon Mecca of avarice and debauchery?
Steve Fischer is no career-minded writer—he is however, a life long enthusiast of the Vegas experience and the history that engendered that experience. There are a lot of structural problems with this book—The kind of mistakes that would never cut muster back in the hallowed days of old school Vegas.
But never fear, the tales of money, mayhem, and murder, more than compensate. What this book does have and in sumptuous abundance are a hundred and one anecdotes from the classic era of Vegas. You heard the one about Frank Sinatra getting his teeth knocked out? Or the one about Howard Hughes spending $5.4 million dollars on the Silver Slipper Casino, so he wouldn’t have to watch their sign revolve outside his penthouse window?
Some of the stories will be familiar—the Frank Sinatra Cal-Neva debacle, or the Lefty Rosenthal era at the Stardust—a story that was immortalized in the De Niro/Pesci film Casino. Others, such as the way Mafia outside man Johnny Roselli became the Chicago Outfits man on the west coast, and subsequently strong-armed Colombia Pictures into getting Frank Sinatra his Oscar winning role in From Here to Eternity [& signing unknown actress Marylin Monroe] well, those tales might be rather less familiar, until you suddenly realize much of The Godfather was way closer to the truth than many would still like to admit.
Fischer also name-checks just about every mafia player who ever spent a weekend in Vegas—every one of them more ruthless than the last—it all becomes a head-smashing finger-crushing blur after a while, but we are left in no doubt just how deeply the mafia influence in Vegas permeated. Although, the demise of the Mafia’s Vegas interests could have perhaps been given rather more attention.
For prospective historians of the Vegas scene, When the Mob Ran Vegas is a useful primer, you get a run down of the players; an idea of the genesis of the big name casinos, and a frothy, Vegas-buffet-style portion of misty eyed reminiscences about the old days. You cannot help but wonder, in these days of corporate mega-casinos and entertainment-by-numbers tourist shows—do they still bury bad guys in the desert? Don’t you wish they would? Nostalgia, don’t cha love it Crimeziners?