THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You'll be surprised what casino surveillance sees!

This is one of those rare times I'm recommending a book to our readers. Regardless of whether you're a blackjack player, this book is so entertaining and contains so much fun if not fascinating material about insider casino info, I couldn't put it down.

Actually, I'm using it as a reference for the book I'm writing about BJ card counting. The book's a new take on the completely legal act of counting cards. The subject of my book (an interesting guy whose name I won't reveal) suggested I pick up Cellini's The Card Counter's Guide to Casino Surveillance, published by Huntington Press. Sounds dull, huh? Wrong!

A few neat facts from Cellini's book:
  • No one is ever pronounced dead in a casino; it's an unwritten rule that CPR is performed until the body is off the property

  • Many surveillance personnel go to other casinos to count cards (perfectly legal) on their days off

  • It's impossible for floor people to watch and protect even one game let alone 4 or more games simultanelusly

  • Most slot players believe 98% payback is a good thing, not the negative deal it really is

  • Most casinos have direct Internet links with Central Credit, an agency that can run a credit check on your casino credit history without your approval

Be sure to read the section on the 21 tells of a card counter. Next time you're near the BJ pit, see if you spot any of these giveaways.

I had better stop there so you can pick up a copy. A good bet is to try the Gambler's Book Shop at 630 South 11th St. in Las Vegas. There's not much owner Howard Schwartz doesn't know about gambling-related subjects and much much more. Here's their Web site:

Yours truly,


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sin City Slump or Freefall?

This just in from the Website

Leaders of Vegas’ top industry put on a different face
Casino executives take sober tone as new reality sets in
By Liz Benston
Mon, Apr 13, 2009 (2 a.m.)

MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren said last month he harbors no ill will toward people who think the company will fail.

“I have no illusions that this is going to be easy,” he said during a conference call with analysts last month. “We will take every question, we’ll take every criticism, and we’ll own it all.”
He added: “This is not without risk.”

Murren’s show of humility was balanced by a defense of the company’s track record before the recession and the skill of its management ranks. Still, his tone was startling.

Powerless against the economic forces threatening to drive their companies into bankruptcy court and speculators who have driven down the value of their companies’ stocks and bonds, more executives have replaced boasts with straight talk. Industry leaders’ evolving statements over the past 18 months have marked their realization that this recession has altered the business.

Major gaming companies’ earnings reports were strong heading into 2008, even as the housing market was crumbling. Evidence of a pullback in consumer spending surfaced on the balance sheets of local casino giants Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Cracks in the local gambling economy spread to the Strip in early 2008. But because Las Vegas had rebounded from earlier downturns, many bosses thought the trouble would last just a few months.

In December 2007 Murren’s predecessor, Terry Lanni, became the first casino executive to publicly acknowledge that the banking crisis, seemingly confined to Wall Street, would hurt consumer spending. His prediction of a “difficult” 2008 came at a time when the spreading housing crisis was registering in Las Vegas, but the effect it would have on gaming wasn’t. Analysts were predicting a good year for tourism, in part because slower growth in gaming revenue had been offset by soaring nongaming revenue from attractions such as nightclubs and lounges. Room rates had jumped 10 percent in 2007, though visitor volume had risen 1 percent and convention attendance had dropped 2 percent, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

In fact, a key segment was already pulling back. Tourists who could least afford the luxury boom were visiting less frequently, in part because of the housing slump but also because they had been priced out of Las Vegas, where budget rooms were going for more than $150 a night.

Casinos operators who upgraded properties were OK with losing budget travelers because they were mobbed by wealthy and middle-income Americans with money to burn.
Now, they need all comers.

The humbling circumstances have led to humble statements by industry leaders, including one of its most flamboyant figures.

Steve Wynn bragged of his company’s relative financial stability heading into last year’s economic meltdown, but also warned of trouble ahead. He told investors in the fourth quarter of 2007: “It would be unsophisticated to think that Las Vegas is somehow a magical island unto itself, immune or isolated from the effects of the cities and the communities that serve it with its visitors.”

He has grown cautious in his commentary, telling investors in a February conference call: “I think that trying to give you guys rosy pictures and all that kind of jazz on these conference calls is a real disservice. I think what we ought to do is discuss what has been and be candid about what we think may be.

“If anything, we’ve learned that things have a way of taking negative turns rather quickly in the world today and I think we ought to be very conservative about what we say and more conservative about how we run the company,” Wynn said.
The following are comments posted after the above story:

By manfromuncle1
4/14/09 at 1:37 a.m.

Mr. Murren, good luck finding the customers who are supposed to make 2009 better than 2008. Financially we've been wiped out by job loss, credit card fees, bankruptcies, student loan debts, $30 check overdraft charges, medical bills, etc. etc. Today I saw this really scary article about online payday lenders:,0,5737402.story
We don't have any money to spend in Las Vegas. The financial "services" industry has already taken all of it. They've become better than the casinos at stealing people's money.

By rumrunner
4/14/09 at 9:22 a.m.

The whales are beached! Now they need anybody to come help bail them out? How about ask all the employees you burned to help? Ya know why they wont come to your aid, because you know you d be run out of town on a rail!!! Give me 90 days running a property,and i ll have it in the black by years end!!! And my employees would be happy too!
rumrunnerYou would have my complete and total support!!!

By vegasj
4/14/09 at 7:44 p.m.

Limbaugh said today he hopes Vegas fails so Obama will get more heat. Looks like down we go, thank God their lifting the ban on feeding the homeless. Way to go Rush!!!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Henry Hill - Mob Rat

The following piece appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal today:

Mob rat graced with clear conscience, instinct for self-preservation

Henry Hill sounded like a man ready to make a confession.
He was tired and about to leave his San Fernando Valley home for the hospital, where he was due to have hernia surgery. I decided not to ask him if the injury came from lugging around a heavy conscience.

Although Ray Liotta played Hill's character in the 1989 gangster movie "Goodfellas," on the day we spoke he wasn't feeling much like a mob star.
Hill had been sober 50 days, was still getting nicked in the press for a bench warrant stemming from two 2008 public intoxication arrests, and I got the feeling the retired mob guy counted every minute.

He's 65, but his liver is celebrating its bicentennial. Years of drugs and alcohol and late nights have taken a toll.

But he's a survivor.

That self-preservation instinct is strong in guys who are willing to betray their treacherous friends.

Criminals who choose freedom over life in the penitentiary or death in an alley are survivors first and foremost.

Some people might be surprised to learn he has a conscience at all, but he said he's thankful every day for never killing anyone.

"That's what saved me from going overboard," he said. "I dug a few holes, and was a witness to a lot of murder, but was never put in that position. I was an earner. I earned a lot of money for the boys, and they had enough guys around who were homicidal maniacs. I'm grateful I don't have that on my conscience."

Not that his conscience isn't full enough.

During our conversation, it became clear that developing the ability to survive the dark pitfalls of his life seemed like the thing Hill was most proud of.

The street life didn't kill him, and neither did the mob.

Neither heroin nor liquor kept him down.

He plans to live some more and die sober and free.

"I had a difficult time struggling with drugs and alcohol for a lot of years," Hill said. "It caused me to break certain laws. As far as that (mob) life, I left in 1980. I feel I completely left it and put it way behind me.

"I testified at my trial and 11 other trials and was involved in debriefings, and stuff took a toll on me. I didn't get much therapy. The only therapy I got was from drugs and alcohol. Today I'm clean and sober.

"I'd always had those demons. I lived that subculture, the organized crime life, where whatever you did you thought was correct. I never in a million years thought I'd become a rat, an informant, but with my life on the line I had to make a choice for myself and my family ... or face death. I thank God the government was there. It took a long time for me to be able to forgive myself for what I did."

What he did was turn the Lucchese crime family upside down when he cooperated with the FBI.

His effort against men that had been his closest friends led to a string of convictions, a reputation as a king-sized underworld rat, and a movie directed by Martin Scorsese.

Hill didn't change his criminal ways immediately. There was a major drug arrest, and he later left the witness protection program.

Today, he speaks to groups of troubled youth.

He is a paid movie consultant, has collaborated on several books, and appears regularly in organized crime documentaries. (He'll appear with local author Dennis Griffin at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Barnes & Noble in Henderson.)

Hill even sells his art on eBay. I'm no art critic, but he's no Picasso. I did like his New York skylines and the painting of the rat with the .38, but decided not to ask if the latter was a self-portrait. The pieces sell for around $30.

That was a busboy's tip in his hoodlum heyday.

"If I knew I would have lived this long, I would have saved 2 percent of the money that went through my hands," Hill said, laughing a little. "Or even 1 percent."

Back then he made a score.

Today, he earns a living as Henry Hill, former mobster.

This survivor makes his way in the world one day at a time and takes his salvation where he finds it.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at

Henry Hill will appear at Barnes & Noble along with Slick Hanner and Frank Cullotta, "The Three Mobsters," to answer questions and autograph their books.

Date:Saturday, April 25, 2009
Time: 1:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)
Place: Barnes & Noble
567 North Stephanie
Henderson, NV 89014

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Capone Wrote These Lyrics???

OK...The guy was maybe smart in a lot of ways, but did he have a vocabulary that includes the words "betide" and "charm that reposes"? Did he in fact write these lyrics during his stint in Alcatraz?

Apparently, a song titled "Madonna Mia" is up for sale for $65,000. It was allegedly written by none other than Al Capone and presented to a Vincent Casey who visited Capone in jail. You be the judge:

"In a quaint Italian garden
While the stars were all aglow
Once I hear a lover singing
To the one that he loved so
In that quaint Italian garden
Neath the starry sky above
Every night he'd serenade her
With his tender song of love

Madonna mia
You're the bloom of the roses
You're the charm that repose
In the heart of a song

Madonna mia
With your true love to guide me
Let whatever betide me
I will never go wrong

There's only one moon above
One golden sun
There's only one that I love
You are the one

Madonna mia
This I vow here before you
Till the end I'll adore you
Madonna mia

Once again I see that garden
Many years have hurried by
I can see that sweet Madonna
There's a teardrop in her eye

For her soldier has departed
Left his loved one with a sigh
She said, 'I will wait forever'
As he sang this last goodbye.

Madonna mia..."

If Alphonse Capone did write such lyrics, who was he describing? Was it his wife, Mae? His mother? A girlfriend? The mother of God?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Three Mobsters Hit Las Vagas

The Three Mobsters
The Three Tenors are out. What's in? The Three Mobsters (pictured above bottom: William "Slick" Hanner, top left: Frank Cullotta and right: Henry Hill with actor Ray Liotta) who begin a major drive to promote their riveting books plus the controversial Mob Museum set to open in Las Vegas.

Who's Who
Henry Hill is a former American mobster, Lucchese crime family associate, and FBI informant whose life was immortalized in the book Wiseguy written by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, and the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas in which Hill was played by Ray Liotta.

In 1982, Frank Cullotta and mob enforcer Tony Spilotro (Frank's boss), had a falling out that resulted in Frank rolling and becoming a government witness. His testimony was instrumental in putting a number of mobsters behind bars and causing the Outfit to lose its control over Las Vegas. Although the mob issued a contract on his life, Frank survived his time in prison and the Witness Protection Program.

William "Slick" Hanner also hung with Tony Spilotro in Las Vegas during the years Slick was juiced in as a blackjack dealer at the Stardust. The pair had a deal going when Spilotro was to return from a routine trip to Chicago. But Tony never returned. Instead his body turned up in a shallow Indiana grave. Slick also knew who really killed Marilyn Monroe and the details of her death when folks were still wondering if she committed suicide. "Absolutely not," counters Slick. "It was a mob hit and I know the guy who did it."

First Event
The three infamous authors kick off their extended multi-city tour in Las Vegas
Date: April 25, 2009
Time: 1:00 p.m. (Pacific time)
Place: Barnes & Noble
567 North Stephanie
Henderson, NV 89014

Come out and meet the straight-shooting trio. They love answering questions about the old days when the mob ran Las Vegas and you could still get a decent comp.