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

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  • Media Reviews posted periodically
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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mob writer taking a small break

Rather than Mob Speak's loyal fans wondering why I haven't posted for a while, I'm warning you ahead of time. Please check back frequently and bear with me.

Mob Writer

Friday, January 29, 2010

Larry Smith...This one is for YOU! (Part 3, final)

Well, I didn’t throw in my dealer’s apron after the nightmare audition to beat all nightmare auditions. In fact, I practiced at ACES Casino Dealer’s School until I came very close to wearing out the felt on the BJ layout. Armed with the half-baked confidence of a newbie, I auditioned at Santa Ana Star Casino, a little place about half an hour’s drive north of Albuquerque. (Above) Somehow I managed to squeak through without a mishap. Maybe it was because this time I left my fake fingernails at home.

The good news: I was hired. The bad news: They threw me on graveyard shift. Oh shit! I thought. I can barely deal during the day. Imagine a table full of alert, eager players greeting me at 2:00 a.m.! That’s right. My shift started at 2:00 and finished at 10:00 a.m. During my first gig at Ohkay Casino, I’d get maybe a couple of laid-back cattlemen or a sweet little old lady gambling away the mortgage payment. But here…Suddenly it was “show time” in the middle of the night and I’d better be ready.

It was my first night on the job (or should I say morning.) I was as nervous as a virgin in a cathouse. In the BJ pit my new boss motioned to me. “Tap out Randy over on table 8. It’s a $100 limit.”

Thank goodness, I sighed, seeing there was only one male customer sitting at the table. I shuffled the 6 decks, got the guy whose name was Gary to cut them and placed the decks carefully in the shoe. Casually I asked, “You from around here?”

The guy took a long drag on his cigarette and carefully placed it in his ashtray. His pale, expressionless eyes gave away nothing. “The truth is,” he said. “I just got out of the state pen today.”

My heart skipped a beat, but I didn’t drop any cards. “Welcome to the outside,” I said, like a total idiot. Great. My first customer just got out of the joint…As if I’m not jittery enough.

The ex-con shot me a crooked half smile. “Come on, make my day.” He split $100 in green chips between 2 betting circles. I won that hand…and the next…and the next. Was the air conditioning broke, I wondered? I could feel the sweat rolling down my back and sticking to my new dealer’s shirt. I tried not to make eye contact. Surveillance is probably watching this guy (I hoped.)

Mr. Volatile, growing more agitated with each hand, threw down five $100 bills wanting change. For the c-notes I gave him $500 worth of green chips. “Dropping $500,” I announced as I shoved the bills down the slot with the paddle. Thankfully, the pit boss grunted his acknowledgement directly behind me. Good, I thought. If this Gary goes ballistic, maybe I can duck behind my boss.

Now no one is going to believe what happened next, not even my friends. After I won yet another hand, Gary lunged forward. “I just know you’re fucking cheating me somehow.”

I wasn’t sure if his object was me or the chips, so I covered the tray with my body. The next thing I knew, two security guys stepped up, each grabbing an arm, and escorted the trouble maker off the premises. Immediately, another dealer tapped me out. Shaking a bit, I spread the deck and clapped my hands for the cameras. In the pit, my boss said, “You know, seeing as how this is your first night, you kept pretty cool.”

He must have missed the sweat soaking every inch of my shirt. Looking back on the whole thing, I thought what if the nut-case had a weapon. No one pats you down when you enter a casino to see if you’re least not at a little Indian casino out in the New Mexico sticks.

Eventually, I increased the number of hands I dealt per hour, the standard by which all dealers are judged. I even stopped showing my hole card. But the job would only last about 6 months.

Around this time an article about my writing Thief appeared in the local newspaper and someone posted it in the dealer’s break room. The photo showed me sitting in front of a BJ layout pitching cards at the camera. Great. Now my co-workers mumbled things like: Who the hell does she think she is? I tore down the article, but the sarcastic comments continued.

Well, one day I received my work schedule for the following week. Turned out the girl who made the schedules slipped me the wrong one either by accident or on purpose. That meant I was a no show 2 nights in a row, which meant automatic firing no matter what the reason.

I stepped into the office of the casino manager for my mandatory exit interview. You’d think I was caught stealing, the way he chewed me out. “You are without doubt the lousiest dealer I’ve ever seen. In fact I’m using the surveillance videos of you dealing to show our dealers what not to do.” He saw how dejected I looked and added, “Don’t feel too bad, honey. You can probably get a job schlepping drinks.”

“Don’t bet on it,” I said and stormed out.

I licked my wounds all the way to my good old friend, Larry Smith’s place and relayed the whole awful mess. He looked at me kind of funny, gave me a hug and said, “I don’t want to burst your bubble, kid, but maybe you’re not cut out to be a dealer.”

That’s an understatement, I thought.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 10th in Series

McCarran Airport

On December 20, 1948, McCarran Airport was named after former Nevada senator, Pat McCarran, who played a major role in developing aviation nationwide. In 1963 McCarran Airport moved from Las Vegas Blvd. to its current location on Paradise Road. I remember back then all you had to do was park your car on the side of the road and wait for a plane to land. You exchanged waves with the person you were meeting as they exited the plane. Above Feft: McCarran Field around 1965. Above Right: Slots in McCarran baggage pickup area.

Who’d believe that twenty-five years later I’d be sitting at the Borders Book store at McCarran International Airport terminal watching hundreds of people walk by as I sign my first book, Thief?

Today the airport grounds cover 2,800 acres and include four runways. In 2008 McCarran ranked 15th in the world for passenger traffic, with 44,074,707 passengers passing through the terminal. It ranked 6th in the world for aircraft movements with 578,949 takeoffs and landing. The top five largest scheduled airlines at McCarran in number of passengers are Southwest, U.S. Airways, United, Delta and American.

McCarran Airport has more than 1,300 slot machines, so a customer can go broke before he even hits the Strip. Through the years, many have done just that.

In case anyone is interested in the timeline history of McCarran Airport, check out the website Fast Facts:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 9th in Series

Las Vegas Currency

Until about 1976, Las Vegas had its own currency as if it were a separate country. The currency was casino chips, negotiable at any Las Vegas casino. A black chip had a street value of $100, green chips $25 and red chips $5. The $1 chips varied in color from casino to casino, and could be any color except for black, green and red. Almost every cab driver or retail store accepted casino chips as standard currency.

Most of the chips were manufactured by Paul-Son, a gaming supply company, located on Industrial Road just west of the Strip. In 1963, Paul S. Endy, Jr., who lived in Monterey Park, CA, planned to take his family to Utah so he could work on a ranch. On the way through Las Vegas, by chance Endy spotted a bankruptcy notice for a dice manufacturer. He borrowed $40,000 from his father and bought the dice company. Paul-Son Dice and Card Company struggled in its early years. Paul Endy and his family made do with a 16-foot trailer and showered with a garden hose. Years later he took on Curley Ashworth as a partner. They never looked back.

Like many successful businesses, others see a good idea and want to cash in on it. One of Paul-Son’s employees began counterfeiting casino chips at home. At his peak, he was cranking out a $1,000 per day in chip profits. That fact combined with casino employees stealing chips, put an end to Las Vegas currency.

Today many casinos accept the chips from other casinos and even a few others will accept chips as currency for small items. Chip collecting is highly popular and the chips folks take home for souvenirs make the casinos a lot of money. It all started less than a hundred years ago in a town no one heard of.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mob Writer Interview on New Criminologist

Yours truly was interviewed a few days ago on the website: New Criminologist:

An Interview with Cherie Rohn, True Crime Author
Up Against The Book Shelf
An Interview with Cherie Rohn, True Crime Author
By Ron Chepesiuk

Cherie Rohn has always lived by the credo that “nothing is dull."

Consequently, in her search for the next great experience she has constantly re-invented herself. During the past three decades, she has worked at a dizzying array of jobs that have included; blackjack dealer, radio DJ, nightclub singer, scuba instructor, mapmaker and most recently, true crime writer.

In 2006, Rohn authored the book Thief: The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist. Rohn described her book as the zany tale of “an interesting screw up, adrenaline junkie and con artist who goes through life like a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute.”

One reviewer wrote that Rohn’s work is a “colorful book about a thief you just gotta love.”

Rohn is also the author of the popular blog Mob Speak, which provides a wide variety of mob-related stuff she updates regularly. Rohn is currently collaborating with Rick Porrello, whose book, The Irishman, is due out as a movie this year. It stars Christopher Walken and Val Kilmer.

From her base in Fort Myers, Florida, Rohn discussed her true crime writing career and her views on the genre.
NC: How did you get into writing and come to write your first book, Thief?

CR: The truth is I hadn’t written at all until I met William “Slick” Hanner, my blackjack teacher, at a casino dealer’s school in Albuquerque, NM. The independent TV station where I worked as Santa Fe TV station manager was sold to the local Fox affiliate. The new owners gave me and all the other employees the axe, which meant I needed to find a decent-paying job.

Around this time, Indian casinos were springing up like tumbleweeds around New Mexico. Three of them were in the Albuquerque area where I lived. About twenty blackjack dealers confided to me that they made excellent tips. I decided to take the plunge. Well, I knew more about the mating habits of Beluga whales than I did about dealing cards, so I enrolled in a local blackjack school to learn the ropes.

At ACES Casino Dealer’s School, I met Slick who schlepped around 20 hand-scrawled pages of his life story hoping to snag some sucker to write and get it published. It's still somewhat of a mystery as to what grabbed me about Slick's story. I guess it seemed like a fascinating time capsule from another era, just oozing with atmosphere about the mob, prostitution and gambling.

NC: What was working with Slick like?

CR: In terms of morals, Slick’s life was the diametric opposite of my own, but I tried to write the book without making any value judgments. I don't know, maybe my anthropological background helped. I’d rather let the reader form their own opinions about this guy, I thought. I actually "channeled" Slick during the writing. I got to know him better than his own mother did.

Since he only gave me basics, I had to supplement his "bare bones" accounts with plenty of research. I also fleshed out details via interviews with Slick and his cronies who were still around. (Most of Slick’s friends died from unnatural causes.) The story evolved bit by painstaking bit. It was like applying layers to a lacquer bowl, each layer adding another dimension to the story. Nine agonizing years later, I finished and THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist, hit the market.

NC: So what's the attraction of writing for the true crime genre?

CR: I can’t say it’s so much of an attraction as a niche that I’ve stumbled upon and carved out for myself. Once you become known as a true crime writer, it seems like every ex-mob guy has a story to tell. One paranoid guy, convinced I was working as a Federal agent on account of my knowledge, believed I was getting ready to bust him. It took a lot to convince him it was all in his head.

NC: How do you tell if the story is worth writing about?

CR: I’ve had some fairly well-known individuals inquire whether I’d write their bio. All but a few didn’t make the cut. I measure each prospect against the following criteria. Do they have a really dynamite story? Do they have the ability to tell their story with help? Are they trustworthy? Do they have the money to pay for my writing services as I write, not after it’s published?
Plenty of guys have the first 3 items, but not number 4. After I wrote Slick’s book while holding down fulltime jobs, I vowed from then on I’d only write for cash, except for rare circumstances.

NC: Are there any true crime writers that have an influence on you or that you admire?

CR: Yeah…I’ve probably read Nick Pileggi’s book Casino (upon which the movie by the same name was based) 5 or 6 complete times. I continually find myself reaching for it as a writing resource. Your own well-researched books continue to supply me with crucial material for my writing. All American Mafioso: The Johnny Roselli Story which was co-authored by my literary agent, Ed Becker, opened my eyes to the depth of Mafia/CIA involvement in plotting Castro’s death.

There are many others whose works I admire, but I’d have to say that Rick Porrello has had the greatest influence on my writing. After I read his The Rise & Fall of the Cleveland Mafia and To Kill the Irishman (due out on the big screen in 2010), I knew I wanted Rick to write the intro to THIEF!

NC: What were some of the challenges you faced in writing the book (e.g. working with a collaborator?)

CR: The biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to stop myself from killing Slick or him from killing me. Everything else was a piece of cake. Seriously…working on Slick’s true story was like extracting somebody’s wisdom tooth. It was, without doubt, the toughest thing I’d ever done. Here was a street-wise guy who hadn’t sat still for 9 minutes, let alone 9 years. We had constant fights about whether it was time to send out the manuscript. Being a brand new writer with no credits under my belt left me little bargaining room. I simply went by my gut feelings. I figured when I couldn’t make it any better, then it was done. I have to hand it to Slick, though. Within his means, he was very generous. And ultimately he came to trust my judgment. Of course he didn’t have much of a chance to do otherwise. Once I got going, I was like a bloodhound on a mission. Unstoppable.

To illustrate what it was like to collaborate with Slick…I was around 5 years into the writing when Slick insisted I send out the manuscript to potential literary agents. Well, I sent off a query letter, a one-page pitch letter, to about 20 agents. One actually asked to see the manuscript which I promptly sent out. Slick was convinced we’d be millionaires within the year. As it turned out, about 5 months later the agent sent back the manuscript with the following handwritten note scribbled on the bottom of page one: “Nice idea, but writing not up to industry standards.” So I put the “cake” back in the oven to cook longer.

I realized from all my research that the story had to be so compelling, an agent or publisher couldn’t pass it up. (The competition is unbelievably stiff with approximately 450 titles released every day.) The first agent who read the manuscript sent it to a publisher, Lyle Stuart of Barricade Books, who called me to offer us a contract. He said, “This is some of the best writing I’ve seen in years.” When I regained consciousness, I finally realized my instincts had paid off.

NC: Would you collaborate on another true crime book if the opportunity arose?

CR: Yes. In fact, I’m collaborating right now with Rick Porrello, multi-published true crime author, film producer, Cleveland police chief, and owner of one of the most popular and useful true crime websites in existence

Years ago Rick got ahold of a journal kept by a serial rapist. Now we’re in the process of writing a book based on this twisted Jekyll/Hyde character. Rick happens to be a collaborator’s dream because of his sense of fairness and lack of ego. I count myself incredibly lucky that he chose to work with me on this project.

But there are others with less admirable traits. I won’t mention any names. However, several years ago I was writing a book with a guy about his cousin who’s on death row. To this day I regret that we weren’t able to continue that project. Even though the guy on death row led the life of a habitual con man as an Irish Traveler, I firmly believe he’s innocent of the murder for which he’s serving time and will ultimately receive the death penalty. It’s the most captivating story I’ve ever come across. His story haunts my dreams.

The economy threw a wrench into another book collaboration. Through a writers-for-hire website, a blackjack card counter located me and I began writing about his unique approach to the art of counting BJ cards. No doubt about it…this guy had a clever angle on the controversial activity of BJ card counting which, by the way, is totally legal. As he states, “Card counting is nothing more than using the very same information that is available to all of the players at a table, but processing it more intelligently. Why should card counters be persecuted for using their brains?”

He was making considerable money using his BJ counting skills until some of his investor resources dried up. Unfortunately, we had to shelve the project for now. Fact is that few people, outside of authors, understand the real problems inherent in collaborating on a book such as who will do what, contents, rights and that deal killer: money. Every contract has loopholes, no matter how well-written. Ultimately, the whole thing boils down to personality and trust.

That said, I’m always looking for a new collaboration…something that blows me away with its potential.

NC: You write a popular blog about true crime. How did that come about?

CR: In 2006, prior to THIEF’s release, I launched a website for the book ( I decided a blog highlighting book events would complement the website. But I didn’t want to make the blog’s contents too narrow, so I included topics of potential interest to THIEF readers such as the mob, prostitution and gambling. Las Vegas stories figure prominently on the site. I called the blog “Mob Speak” which is the way mob guys talk (

NC: What kind of topics do you cover in your blog?

CR: Currently, I’m running a series called “Slick’s Las Vegas, Then & Now,” based on a manuscript of the same name now in press. Slick wrote his recollections of the way Las Vegas used to be in its heyday when the mob ruled Las Vegas. Slick is one of the few guys left from that era. Most of his contemporaries are either dead or they’ve lost their marbles. Co-authors include world-renown surveillance expert, George Joseph, and me.

In another role, Mob Speak plugs interesting new mob books such as Ron Chepesiuk’s Gangsters of Miami. It also features interviews with true crime writers plus a few mob figures who found me through ThiefTrueStory or Mob Speak. A sampling of the blog’s featured guests are: a retired madam from Sheri’s Ranch (a bordello in Nevada); Rick Porrello, with an emphasis on his earlier life as a drummer for Sammy Davis, Jr. and a regular on the Tonight Show; articulate ex-mobster Sonny Girard; Carlos “Big Daddy” Adley and his wife Ava Berman, entrepreneurs who are co-leasing and remodeling Binion’s Hotel & Casino in downtown Las Vegas.

Many visitors ask me how I got into the specialized area of true crime writing. So I’m posting a 3-part series called “Larry Smith: This One is for YOU” about how I became a blackjack and roulette dealer and poker room floor supervisor. Larry ran ACES Casino Dealer’s School which is where I met Slick, one of my teachers. Since I have absolutely no natural aptitude for cards, my candid experiences as a break-in dealer are both hilarious and humbling. I challenge readers to make up anything half as funny. By the way, I’m always scouting for new material to keep Mob Speak’s hungry fans happy.

NC: What kind of response have you gotten from Mob Speak?

CR: I believe that old adage: you get out of something exactly what you put into it. Mob Speak was slow to take off, only snagging about 25-50 daily readers during the first year. I attribute that to my own failure to provide frequent postings. By the second year, I began posting much more regularly and put more of an effort into offering quality. Readers favorable comments and a spike in visitors have proven that regularity and quality pay off.

Mob Speak now attracts around 200+ visitors a day. I think that’s fairly good for such a specialized topic. But I’m looking for ways to expand my visitor base. Only problem…I’m in the Stone Age when it comes to technology, so I just keep it simple.

NC: Has your blog done anything for your writing career?

CR: Prospective clients find me via four ways: through a writer-for-hire website to which I subscribe, word of mouth, our website ThiefTrueStory and Mob Speak. So the blog has directly led to writing jobs.

Indirectly, I believe Mob Speak has added to my credibility in the true crime genre. While researching my blog entries, I’ve gleaned gobs of info that’s expanded my knowledge and which I’ve incorporated into my writing. Like everything else, the field of true crime writing is changing dramatically with the increasing use of the Internet for research. Enter a couple of key words and boom.

Visitors say the damndest things. If writers don’t listen to their visitors, they risk losing them and becoming out of touch. Doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything. Readers challenge my beliefs and keep me in tune with what’s going on. I think it makes me a better writer.

NC: What about your future as a true crime writer. Where do you see your career heading?

CR: Ambition comes in many forms. My goal has always been to concentrate on quality rather than quantity (maybe because I write at a snail’s pace.) If I complete 3-4 important projects, I’ll be very happy…but who knows? Two are in the works.

Like many other authors, it’s a dream of mine to see one of my books on the big screen. And I always write with an eye toward screenplay adaptation. Reliable sources tell me that even if a book is optioned for a movie, which means they pay you for the privilege of pitching your book to a producer, the odds of its making it to the big screen are at least 10 to 1 against that happening. And if you get lucky and somebody puts together a package that’s finally produced, it ain’t a sure thing till it’s “in the can” with worldwide distribution. If it can happen to my good friend Rick Porrello, perhaps it can happen to me.

Not that it fits the true crime mold (at least not yet), but I started jotting down notes from own colorful life. It will read kind of like Moll Flanders does the South Pacific, Europe and the New World…a real global smorgasbord. The only problem is that I have to wait until a bunch of innocent people die before I can publish it. Otherwise, they’d drop dead from humiliation. No kidding. One title I’m mulling over is Confessions of a Love Junkie. Actually, I know a guy for hire who might help move things along…

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mafia Museum: A U.S. Stimulus Project?

The New Criminologist recently posted the following story on its informative website. Mob Speak kindly thanks publisher Steve Morris for permission to reprint the article in its entirety.

Can Mafia museum be a U.S. stimulus project?
Steven Freiss

LAS VEGAS: After taking a hail of bipartisan bullets in recent days over the suggestion that a federal stimulus package should help pay for a proposed $50 million museum here on the history of organized crime, the project's godfathers are returning fire, complaining that politicians in Washington are scapegoating the museum and the city.

The planned Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, aka "the Mob Museum" on its own Web site, is to include interactive exhibits where visitors can snap their mug shots, stand in police lineups and wiretap one another. Such a center, Mayor Oscar Goodman said in an interview Thursday, is "absolutely falling within the four corners of what President-elect Obama is trying to achieve."

"This is a project where all the plans are in place and we can start it within 30 days," said Goodman, a former criminal defense lawyer who represented several Mafia figures in the 1970s and 1980s.

Citing studies showing that 250,000 tourists a year would visit the attraction and noting that tourism is to Las Vegas what car sales are (or were) to Detroit, the mayor continued: "I don't know why Mitch McConnell would take on this project. It's a great project."

Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, cites Obama in pro-museum launch. (photo above left)

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the minority leader, attacked the museum this week as a kind of localized earmark project that does not belong in legislation Congress passes to jump-start the flailing economy.

Jon Summers, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and the majority leader, said McConnell's statements were "moot because Senator Reid has been clear that there will be no earmarks" in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, as President-elect Barack Obama calls the program. The money, Summers said, is likely to go to federal agencies for disbursement based on criteria not yet decided.

Due to open in 2010, the museum would occupy the entire 42,000 square feet, or 3,900 square meters, of a three-story neoclassical building that was the first federal courthouse in Clark County and one of the sites of the 1950 hearings into organized crime led by Senator Estes Kefauver, Democrat of Tennessee.

The creative director of the planned museum, Dennis Barrie, who also curated the International Spy Museum in Washington and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, said the structure was the second-oldest in Las Vegas and needed a $26 million restoration, which has begun. So far, $15 million has been raised, including about $3.6 million in federal grants and a nearly equal amount in state and local money, since 2001. A full-throttle fund-raising effort is to begin this year.

The federal government deeded the building to the city for $1 in 2000 and required that it be put to a cultural use.

"I'm sure it's good fodder for politicians," Barrie said, "but the interesting thing about the mob museum is that it's a real look at the history of organized crime in America that goes back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the mob came out of the various ghettos and how it influenced America. A lot of people, what they know about the topic is what they learned from Hollywood."

That said, Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone would get their due in a room about the Mafia's influence on popular culture, and visitors would be exposed to unvarnished tales of the exploits of law-enforcement and mob figures, said Ellen Knowlton, a retired special agent in charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is the museum's chairwoman.

"We're trying to make sure this project is as accurate as possible," she said, "so there are people involved who have had organized crime in their life or family. I don't want to go beyond that to say who is participating. But it's interesting that a number of people want their family's side of the story told accurately."

Iconic fictional mob figures such as Tony Soprano will also find space among their real-life organized crime counterparts. (photo avove right)

Even within Las Vegas, though, the project is controversial. The mayor acknowledged that some Italian-Americans were so alarmed when he first broached the idea in 2002 that he backed off quickly.

The FBI supports the museum and has agreed to lend records and other artifacts to be exhibited. But among those opposed is a former federal prosecutor, Donald Campbell, who had a hand in breaking the mob's hold on Las Vegas in the 1980s.

"I don't think we should ever romanticize a criminal activity," Campbell said.

A spokesman for McConnell, Don Stewart, said the senator was not attacking the idea of the museum so much as Goodman's inclusion of it on the list of projects he would jump-start with stimulus money.

"The parameters for this bill need to be: Does it create jobs? Is it a waste of the taxpayers' dollars? Is it something that will help us long-term, not just a temporary thing?" Stewart said.

Supporters say the museum will do just what the bill intends.

"This project exactly meets the criteria," said Alan Feldman, a museum board member and senior vice president of the casino giant MGM Mirage, the state's largest private employer. "It is a construction project. It's a legacy project; it's a project that stimulates the economy by putting a wonderful tourist attraction downtown."

Either way, Goodman, the mayor, is clearly enjoying the national attention that the museum financing plan has prompted.

"This is $1 million worth of publicity for us," he said. "I love it. Just spell my name right."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Larry Smith...This One is for YOU! (Part 2)

On Dec. 29, 2009, I posted the first part of my initiation into the world of blackjack dealing. I'd just been janked off a live BJ table during an audition after my fake nail flew off and hit a customer between the eyes. Mortified, I steeled myself to what horrors awaited me on the roulette table...

What are You Doing with that Roulette Wheel?: "All right," the pit boss groaned, eying me like I was something from another planet. "Since you said you can deal roulette, let's see if you can do better on the wheel." I could tell he wasn't any too pleased and I'd better get it right this time or else. I really tried to beg off, but he wasn't listening.

Even less confident (if that's possible) than dealing blackjack, I tapped out the roulette dealer. By this time word must have spread around the table games area, because I noticed a small throng gathering around the roulette wheel, anticipating what would happen next.

Smiling weakly, I said, "Place your bets ladies and gentlemen," to the solitary guy with a stack of chips in front of him. I spun the wheel. Miraculously, it stayed in the roulette tray as it travelled around. So far so good, I thought. "No more bets," I said in a clear voice, waving my hand over the layout. Great. I made the simple payout and repeated the procedure. Only this time I spun the wheel in the opposite direction, alternating every hand, just like my British roulette teachers had taught me at the Ohkay Casino.

The pit boss swooped to my side behind the table like a vulture going in for the kill. "What the f___ do you think your doing with that roulette wheel?" He spat the words into my ear. I gulped and told him that's what my British teachers taught me to do. He said, not too kindly, "I don't give a f___ if you learned to deal from Martians. In this casino you only spin it one way." He stormed to the other side of the table, arms folded, to watch my next move.

Avoiding direct eye contact, I spun the ball the direction I was told...except, in my nervous state, it flew out of the tray and (I'm not making this up) hit him squarly in the crotch.

So much for my impromptu audition.

Should I throw in my dealers' apron? (To be continued.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 8th in Series

Prostitution: Illegal in Sin City

Some Las Vegas visitors may find it hard to believe that prostitution in Las Vegas is illegal. That’s right. In the city’s early days, prostitutes were overlooked as a mere nuisance. As late as the 1970s, when taxi cabs stopped for a red light on the Strip, girls reached in the windows while distracting a guy and stole his wallet. If a man took a lady of the night to his hotel room, he was often “trick rolled.” That is, the man was given a Mickey Finn or Visine in his drink, either of which made a very strong laxative. While the man used the bathroom, the prostitute would steal his wallet and other valuables and leave.
The police finally said enough is enough. But it was the state legislature, pressured by the casinos who wanted zero competition, that passed a law making prostitution illegal in any Nevada city with a population larger than 10,000. There were plenty of towns with fewer than 10,000 people. Nye County, west of Clark County where Las Vegas is located, has to this day several legal bordellos.

Two of the more famous ones, Sheri’s Ranch and the Chicken Ranch, are in Pahrump, about 1½ hours drive west of the Strip. As independent contractors, the girls pay their own taxes. They also must be checked weekly by a medical doctor in order to keep their work permits valid. The locals in Pahrump have no complaints as there is no trouble coming from the bordellos that take care of their own problems. I was a limo driver for the two bordellos and learned a lot about how they operate. Just ask and I’ll be happy to tell what a reversed half and half is on the bordello menu.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Will the Las Vegas Mob Museum Glorify Evil?

The following story appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal some months ago. My LV sources say it's gonna happen. "We'll see," says columnist and author John L. Smith.

Aug. 09, 2009 Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

JOHN L. SMITH: For mayor, Mob Museum's potential is as obvious as a bullet in the head

You know, some days I don't know whether to drop dead or jump in the lake.

Mayor Oscar Goodman says I can do both if I fail to appreciate the bent-nose beauty of his Mob Museum, which officially goes by the name the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. (Around here the mob always receives top billing.)

When it comes to the gentle critics of his museum plan, the mayor's a tough guy, see. He don't appreciate dirty press rats, see. If Goodman had his way, he'd line 'em up against the newly acquired St. Valentine's Day Massacre wall and put it to good use, see.

The jarring symbolism of a Mob Museum is too much for some members of local and federal law enforcement I've spoken with. But few will utter a critical word publicly, at least in part because it's been embraced by such mainstream community players as former FBI Special Agent in Charge Ellen Knowlton and retired U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan.

Last year, reactions to the mayor's museum idea ran to disbelief. The refrain was, "He can't be serious." Former federal prosecutors and current top brass from the gun-and-badge fraternity privately bet neither the business community nor the average taxpayer would go for the plan.

They were wrong.

As time passed, no angry mob of citizens or Italian-American support groups stormed City Hall to demand an end to the mob-themed museum. More people laughed than complained.

Today, the critics' astonishment has given way to a wincing resignation. The fact Goodman has received such sparse opposition speaks not only to his political popularity, but also to the realization the museum might pump a little vitality into a suffering downtown.

For Goodman, the business potential of the Mob Museum has been as obvious as a bullet in the head. From the start he has rejected attempts by staff to soften his rhetoric. For some strange reason, they thought conjuring images of murderers, extortionists, pimps and drug dealers would be a bad thing.

Tuesday's official start of renovations at the historic federal courthouse featured Goodman and former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan wearing fedoras and sporting a baseball bat and crowbar like a maniacal Martin and Lewis. (Bryan wouldn't be the first Nevada senator accused of having mob ties, but he appeared to be role-playing.)

On background, a number of law enforcement officials say they don't think much of the museum's potential to caricaturize ruthless killers and thugs.

As ever, Goodman has the right to remain silent -- but not the ability.

"You know what I say to my critics?" Goodman barked Thursday. "They can drop dead. What else can I say? I'm not going to make any excuses for it. When I see this kind of publicity, and the world's looking at Las Vegas, and this is going to be a moneymaking venture, and it's going to bring 600,000 people into a downtown that needs it, and create jobs and opportunities, I'm not apologizing to anybody. They can jump in the lake. Maybe drop dead is too nice."

Isn't 600,000 annual visitors just a little optimistic?

Who crunched that estimate, the people at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve?

Unlike some naysayers, I've never been offended by the idea that tax dollars might be used to create the museum. Through the years I've watched endless millions pour into government edifices of questionable use and repute. Next to the shoddily constructed Alan Bible building, the Buster Keaton-inspired Regional Justice Center, or the glorious monuments to the power of the state known as the Clark County Government Center and the Lloyd George U.S. District Courthouse, the Mob Museum seems downright quaint. And its creation guarantees the preservation of one of downtown's undeniably historic buildings.

What's my beef with the museum?

Its creation threatens to send a false and dangerous message that organized crime is a relic of our notorious past and not an undercurrent in present Southern Nevada society.

So, will the Mob Museum glorify evil?

Will it practice ethnic stereotyping?

Will it send the message that organized crime exists only in the past tense?

We'll see.

With that, the gentle critic is led to the museum's final exhibit, where he is gagged, bound, and stuffed into the trunk of a waiting Lincoln Continental.

You know, just for old time's sake.

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

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 7th in Series

Nevada’s Black Book
and The Eye-in-the-Sky

First of all, the Black Book isn’t black, it's silver. It’s not really a book, but rather a list of persons prohibited from entering a licensed Nevada gaming establishment under penalty of arrest. In 1967, it became part of the Nevada Gaming Control Act. Once in the book, the only way to be removed is through death. (Photo: Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, deceased, is listed in Nevada's Black Book.)

The Black Book should not be confused with the Griffin Book which is a who’s who of casino cheaters founded by Bob Griffin, a Las Vegas police officer. Casinos around the world subscribe to the Griffin Book and other detection services provided by Griffin. The Griffin Book has several hundred pages of mug shots of known casino cheaters that are updated monthly throughout the gaming industry. Each entry lists any aliases used as well as a brief description of cheating method and any known associates. The sources vary from Las Vegas and other police departments to other casinos to stool pigeons. (Photo: George Joseph, foremost international surveillance expert.)

Casino surveillance, or the eye-in-the-sky, utilizes the most sophisticated state-of-the-art systems available. If you think you can outsmart the eye-in-the-sky, think again. Not only can their PTZ cameras zero in on the year a dime was printed lying on the casino floor, they can track a customer walking out the door and down the street for at least a block.

As for the company you keep, I remember a sign I spotted in Carlos Marcello’s office. He was the “Little Man” who became crime boss of New Orleans and well beyond. The sign read: “If you want to keep a secret with 3 people, kill 2 of them.”

More info on the Black Book appears in the Website

What is Nevada's BLACK BOOK and who is in it?

Nevada's Black Book (not actually black but silver) is an attempt to keep organized crime out of casinos. Officials add the names of known crime figures to the book, and then any book member commits a crime simply by setting foot in a casino. The casino also commits a crime if it fails to report gambling in its facility by a Black Book member.

The book is only 36 pages long but lists some of the most notorious names in gambling crime since its creation in 1960. It was born out of the fear that if Nevada couldn't keep organized crime out of gambling then Congress would eliminate the industry completely through high taxes.

Eleven names were drawn up in the original list, consisting of individuals defined as having a "notorious and unsavory reputation which would adversely affect public confidence and trust that the gaming industry is free from criminal or corruptive elements."

Under state gaming law, anyone can be placed in the Black Book if he/she has a felony conviction, committed a crime involving moral turpitude or violated gaming laws in another state; failed to disclose an interest in a gaming establishment; willfully evaded paying taxes or fees; or has a "notorious or unsavory" reputation established through state or federal government investigations.

Originally, the process of placing someone on the list was an administrative function without due process, but nominees are now allowed to attend a public hearing to dispute their inclusion. Once listed in the Black Book, if members are caught entering a restricted gaming establishment they face a gross misdemeanor charge. Exemptions include airports, bars and stores with 15 slot machines or less and no gaming tables. As well, casino operators who refuse to report gambling activity by a Black Book member can face fines and licensing problems.

The legality of the Black Book has been challenged numerous times and survived both state and federal courts.

Current "Black Book" members and the year they entered the list:

1. Marshall Caifano, Chicago mob leader 1960
2. Louis Dragna, Mob leader, convicted racketeer 1960
3. Alvin Kaohu, Hawaiian organized crime member 1975
4. Wilford Pulawa, Hawaiian organized crime boss 1975
5. John Vaccaro, Slot cheater 1986
6. Sandra Vaccaro, Slot cheater 1987
7. Chris Petti, Mob associate, convicted bookmaker and card cheater 1987
8. Michael Rizzitello, Mob associate, convicted kidnapper 1988
9. William Land, Card cheater 1988
10. James Tamer, Mob skimmer, bank robber 1988
11. Frank Masterana, Convicted bookmaker 1988
12. Frank Rosenthal, Mob associate 1988
13. Harold Lyons, Slot cheater 1989
14. Joseph Cusumano, Mob associate, convicted racketeer 1990
15. Douglas Barr, Slot cheater 1990
16. Timothy Childs, Slot cheater 1991
17. Francis Citro, Mob collector, convicted racketeer 1991
18. Richard Perry, Convicted sports fixer 1992
19. Anthony St. Laurent, Reputed mob associate, convicted racketeer, bookmaker 1993
20. Dominic Spinale, Convicted illegal bookmaker 1994
21. Brent Eli Morris
22. Douglas William Barr, Convicted slot cheat 1994
23. William Dominick Cammisano Jr., Reputed mob figure, convicted felon 1997
24. Ronald Harris, Former Gaming Control Board computer expert who rigged slot machines 1997
25. Anthony "Tony Ripe" Civella, Reputed Kansas City, Mo., mob figure 1997
26. Jerry Dale Criner, Convicted slot cheat 1997
27. Louis John Olejack, Convicted card cheat 1997
28. John Joseph Conti, Reputed mob associate 1997
29. Stephen Cino, Reputed mob associate 1997
30. Charles Panarella, Reputed mob associate 1997
31. Michael DiBari, Slot cheater 1998
32. Peter Joseph "P.J." Ribaste, Reputed mob associate 1999
33. Fred Pascente, a former Chicago police detective who served time for his connection to an Illinois mail fraud ring. (1999)
34. Michael Joseph Balsamo, a six-time convicted slot cheat, who is in the North Las Vegas jail in connection with a nationwide slot cheating scheme. (1999)
35. Peter Jay Lenz -- Convicted on bookmaking charges three times and on federal charges of making false statements on a passport application.
A notorious roster of Nevada's past

Some of Las Vegas' most notorious characters have appeared in the book. While law enforcement authorities have said many more names should be on the list, a look at past members of the Black Book provide a glimpse of Nevada's battle to keep organized crime out of casinos.
List of past Members

1. John Louis Battaglia. Entered 1960. Removed 1975.
2. Carl Civella. Entered 1960.
3. Nicholas Civella. Entered 1960. Removed 1983.
4. Michael Coppola. Entered 1960. Removed 1975.
5. Robert L. Garcia. Entered 1960. Removed 1986.
6. Sam Giancana. Entered 1960. Removed 1975.
7. Motel Grzebienacy. Entered 1960. Removed 1975.
8. Murray Llewellyn Humphreys. Entered 1960. Removed 1975.
9. Joseph Sica. Entered 1960. Removed 1998.
10. Felix Alderisio. Entered 1965. Removed 1965.
11. William Alderman. Entered 1965. Removed 1965.
12. Ruby Kolod. Entered 1965. Removed 1965.
13. Anthony Joseph Spilotro. Entered 1978. Removed 1986.
14. Gaspare Anedetto Speciale. Entered 1989. Removed 1992.
15. Carl Wesley Thomas. Entered 1990. Removed 1994.
16. Albert Corbo. Entered 1994. Removed 1998

Nominated but not entered:

1. Anthony Giordano. Nominated 1975. Withdrawn 1976.
2. Michael Santo Polizzi. Nominated 1975. Withdrawn 1976.
3. Anthony Joseph Zerilli. Nominated 1975. Withdrawn 1976.
4. Carl Angelo DeLuna. Nominated 1979. Withdrawn 1989.
5. Joseph Agosto. Nominated 1979. Withdrawn 1984.
6. Samel Filippo Manarite. Nominated 1993. Withdrawn 1993.
7. Herbie Blitzstein. Nominated 1996. Blitzstein was killed in a gangland-style execution before hearings were conducted on his nomination. See the Las Vegas Review-Journal's coverage of Blitzstein's slaying and the indictment of suspects in the slaying.
For more Black Book insider info check out the following Website: