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

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 26th in Series

Tips from an Old Timer 

If I said I could tell you how to win at any casino game, I’d be lying. And if I actually knew how to win, I’d be doing that instead of writing this book. What I can do after 60 years of gambling is to offer a few tips on how to get the best value for your money. Of course, there’s always the possibility that you know more than I do. If so, I’d like to hear from you. Maybe we can make some money together.

First, you need to look out for cheaters. There are more of them around than you might think. So, if I’m going to gamble, I go to a licensed casino, and I don’t mean the Internet. Once you’re there, you should play the game you have the most knowledge of.
At blackjack, always play with a bankroll you’re comfortable with and have a plan for what to do when you’re winning and losing. I’ve seen more people double their money when they’re losing. If you’re losing, that’s the worst thing you should do. Instead, head to another table or head out the door. There’s always another day. Pit bosses love it when folks throw good money after bad. With the odds in favor of the house, the longer you play, the better your chances of losing. When you’re winning is the time to double up. It’s in your best interest at least to acquaint yourself with Basic Blackjack Strategy which is available in most bookstores, Online and even at some casinos. There’s more to playing good blackjack than meets the eye. Learn how to increase your chances of winning by reading one or more of the many books on the market that spell it all out.
Don’t camp out at the crap table after a good roll. That’s when you should maybe take a hike to the sports book where you can catch almost any sporting event on TV. If you make bets in your mind, then all you lose is your mind. If one of the dice flies off the crap table I off all my bets. I’ve seen the dice 7out over and over after the dice have skipped off the table. It’s so easy for a dice mechanic to replace the good dice with doctored dice using sleight-of-hand.
When playing poker, wait for a good starting hand, unless you have your own strategy. If you catch trips (3 of a kind) on the flop and lose, go home. In Hi/Lo, if you don’t start with the nuts (ace/deuce), fagetaboutit, as the Sopranos would say. And if you’re playing Omaha and catch 4 of a kind, throw them in the muck.
Regarding roulette, the worst bet is black or red. You have a 50/50 chance of winning or losing. How good is that? Look for a roulette wheel that has only one zero which, with one less number, offers better odds than two zeros. You might have to go to England or France to find a single zero roulette wheel, though. Other than that, you’re on your own.
In Keno and slots you probably know more than I do.

Even though I mentioned cheating earlier, I want to emphasize a few things. You can thank the licensed casinos for plugging most of the cheating holes with their state-of-the-art surveillance techniques. Cameras are now so sophisticated, that some can even see through synthetic fabrics. So pay careful attention when selecting your underwear on a gambling day. Notice the casino rules such as not touching your chips once you’ve bet. Most rules are really necessary for the protection of the casino and honest players. You’ll occasionally find cheaters trying to switch cards or cap a bet, but that’s extremely rare these days and their actions don’t affect you.
In poker, collusion teams signal their hole cards to one another. Sometimes they do this by the way they place their chips or cards. You would rarely encounter such action in the higher limit games.
In 1979 I worked with Eric Drake to make all Las Vegas poker room rules the same. Today these rules are nearly universal:
·         Only one player per hand. (No help from anyone.)
·         Check and raise is permitted. (Some casinos disallow this.)
·         Four raise limit with three or more players; no limit of raises with just two players.
·         All games are table stakes. (Table stakes means you must leave money on the table when winning; if losing, you get action for any money on the table until you leave the game.)
·         A called hand may be seen by anyone at the table.
·         String bets are not allowed. (A string bet is when you throw a bet into the pot and reach back for more chips to raise; you must call the raise; you can only make one motion when betting chips.)
·         Cards hitting the muck are dead cards. (The discard pile is called the muck; you can’t retrieve your cards once they’re mucked; also, cards that are too few or too many when the dealer misdeals are dead.)
·         Seating changes must be approved by the floorman.
·         Maximum rake is 10%. (Rake is the money, expressed as a percentage of the pot, that the house charges players to play and is taken out of the pot during each round. Most casinos stop taking a rake after 10%.)
·         English is the only language spoken at U.S. poker tables.
·         Indecent language will not be tolerated.
·         No smoking allowed in the poker room. (A relatively recent rule.)
·         Management is not responsible for chips left on the table.
·         The floorman’s decision is final.

I hope this clears up many questions. Remember, the dealers are there to help you. Don't forget to sign up at the podium for a poker table that spreads the game of your choice as soon as you enter. You might have to wait for a while if there's a long list. As a rule, your spot will be held for an hour.
Someone once said, the difference between praying in church and praying in a casino is that in a casino, you mean it. Good luck.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Slick & Tony Montana on YouTube video

Just found this video posted on YouTube when Slick and Tony Montana were selling our book Thief at Borders Books, McCarran Airport during their regular Monday gig:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sicilian Police Arrest Mob Fugitive

Always of interest to Mob Speak is the Sicilian Mob and ongoing arrests of its top fugitives. This in from the Associated Press: 
Top Mafia fugitive nabbed in Sicily
Associated Press, Oct. 23, 2010
Police in Sicily have arrested one of Italy's 30 most dangerous Mafia fugitives.

Gerlandino Messina had been on the run for 11 years before being nabbed Saturday by Carabinieri in Favara, near Agrigento, his power base in Sicily.

In a statement, Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the arrest was the latest evidence of the government's "unprecedented success" in cracking down on organized crime.

The ANSA news agency said the 38-year-old Messina had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for mafia association and a series of murders.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the arrest showed Italy was getting closer to nabbing the head of the Sicilian Mafia. Only 16 men remain on Italy's list of 30 top fugitives following a series of arrests.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Capone's possessions still command hefty sums

The story below appeared earlier today in the British newspaper 

Daily Express Reporter:



Story Image

October 20,2010

By Daily Express Reporter

The prohibition era gangster complains that his cell is “damp and a lack of air sometimes keeps me up during the nights.” 
The letter was sent to the US Federal Prisons Director in July 1936, four years after Capone was jailed for tax evasion. 
He wrote: “My life is in constant danger, I have in fact received over six threats in the last three months.” 
Capone remained in the island prison in San Francisco Bay for a further three years before being moved prior to his release in 1939. He died in 1947 from a heart attack. The letter is being sold next month in Los Angeles alongside one of his gold rings.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Irish Traveler on Death Row

Photo at right: An Irish Traveler scam artist arrested in Georgia.

Sometimes a true crime project I'm working on just doesn't pan out. Such was the case a few years ago when I met a criminologist whose cousin, Marty, awaited his fate on Death Row. I felt particularly bad that this deal fell through. Not only did it hit all my "passion" buttons, but it had the markings of a sensational book and possible movie.

Marty's life reads like something straight out of a tabloid such as: "Man marries 2-headed Green Martian." But with Marty, there's no need to fabricate. Prior to being found guilty of murder, this guy scammed his way across the country for many years. Marty consorted with a notorious clan of Irish Travelers whose wild schemes continue to bilk their unsuspecting victims to this day. Watch out for a guy knocking on your door wanting to seal your driveway or put a new roof on cheap for "cash up front."

Below is the title page of my book proposal which I never sent...a kind of lengthy pitch letter to hook a publisher:

True crime book proposal:

Why I Took the Murder Rap

for my Brother

Letters from DEATH ROW

“The dynamite in the cess pool went off and blowed me under the truck, split the house in two...shit and toilet paper everywhere. Farmer’s wife stumbled out, her apron turned around on her. Her hair looked like a nest of rats had been fucking in it.”

Marty Johnson, Death Row inmate, scamming the public as an Irish Traveler

“A lot of white religious nuts here. They convince themselves they’re going to heaven. They get mad if you won’t talk to them. I just tell them they should write Dear Abby because I don’t get paid for giving advice...just another day in paradise.”

Marty Johnson re life on Death Row


If that wets your appetite, an upcoming post goes into more details on Marty Johnson, a guy who took the murder rap for his brother.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Mob in Sin City

The following piece was posted on the website New Criminologist. It's part of Mob Speak's series on the mob/Mafia.

Organised Crime Reportage

An Introduction to Crime in Las Vegas: Mobs in Sin City

This Introduction to Crime in Las Vegas was originally posted at

Las Vegas

While every city faces its own battle against crime, over the past eighty years Las Vegas has seen its fair share of mobsters, crime syndicates and small-time crooks. Ever since gambling was legalised in Las Vegas back in 1931, citizens have shared their cafes, parks and casinos with members of organised crime families based in cities such as Chicago and New York. In the 1930’s, Reno’s casinos were run by two associates of Al “Scarface” Capone; Bill Graham and Jim McKay, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in the 1940’s that Las Vegas gained its “Sin City” reputation.

Since then, mobsters have come and gone and Las Vegas hasn’t been able to shake off its links with organised crime. In our series of articles on crime in Las Vegas, we’ve spoken to key experts within the true crime field. Beginning with the Outfit era in the gambling capital, we spoke to Dennis N Griffin about his biography of Frank Cullotta and what it was like meeting the man behind some of Las Vegas’ most violent years, and Steve Miller about present-day corruption in Sin City, including his views on convicted racketeer Rick Rizzolo. To read either of these interviews, simply click on the following;Dennis N. Griffin Interview: Meeting Las Vegas' Most Dangerous Minds or Steve Miller Interview: Crime and Corruption in Present day Las Vegas. Otherwise, read on for an overview of mob life in Las Vegas.

Bugsy Siegel

Bugsy Siegel’s career in Las Vegas began in 1946 when he partnered with William Wilkerson, a Hollywood based entrepreneur who suffered from a gambling addiction. Soon, Siegel realised he wanted more control over the project he’d planned with Wilkerson and after delays and a ballooning budget, The Flamingo casino was finally opened in Las Vegas. However, while many have suggested Siegel ran the casino “straight”, by offering fair odds for players, the casino ended up in the red and Siegel’s mob bosses grew tired of his promises. In June, 1947, Siegel was shot dead in his own home by a hit man. The case remains unsolved, but many quite rightly believed the mob were involved in Siegel’s death. Siegel’s short-lived reign in Las Vegas set the blueprint for other career criminals, ranging from Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal who ran the Stardust Resort and Casino and survived a car-bombing in 1982, to a new-wave of what Steve Miller calls the “Asian mob’s” involvement in “human trafficking and massage parlour brothels”.

The insatiable need to discover more about criminals such as Siegel and Rosenthal has led critics to suggest Las Vegas has “glamorised” violence. In 2011, Las Vegas’ very own mob museum will launch, which will play host to a range of exhibitions that “accurately depict organized crime and law enforcement as each confronted the other”. Backed by Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer who has represented the likes of Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and Frank Cullotta, the museum has been described as little more than exhibition-space for Goodman’s former clients. Whatever the future holds for Las Vegas, one thing remains certain: The city will always be tainted with the blood, sweat and tears of mobsters and their victims. Whether this is celebrated or condemned though remains a choice which only Vegas’ citizens can make.

To find out more about Las Vegas’ turbulent relationship with organised crime, make sure to read our interviews with Dennis N. Griffin and Steve Miller.