After reading Jay Rankin’s new memoir Under The Neon Sky I decided that it would be interesting to host a round table discussion on the subject of Sex and Drugs in the Las Vegas area. My main question was does Vegas deserve the reputation that it has? Is it any worse than any other large city, oof is this reputation one that is perpetuated by the expectations of people visiting?
To answer this question it is necessary to look not just at Las Vegas today, but also the Vegas of yesterday. To help me make sense of all of the information I assembled what can only be classed as a top notch group of people.
Jay Rankin lived in Vegas for over a decade, and for six years worked in the hospitality industry, specifically, he was a night time doorman at the MGM Grand.He was in a unique position of seeing behind the glitz and glamor that the visitor experiences.
Denny Griffin is an author and also long time Vegas resident. His specialty are books about Vegas and organized crime. He confessed to me a few months ago that three of his five best friends were ex mobsters! Among his books are Cullotta, which is a biography of Frank Cullotta, this book is unique in that it actually solved a 27 year old cold case, a double homicide that took place just outside Chicago. He also has The Battle For Las Vegas which looks at the war between Law Enforcement and the mob. This is an important book as it very much sets the stage in explaining the evolution of the city.
My final expert was one of Denny’s best friends, Andrew DiDonato an Associate of the Gambino crime family who turned federal witness and up until recently was in the Witness Protection Program. One of his jobs was to establish a drug route originating in Mexico to San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, and then on to New York. Methods of shipment varied from Semi Trailers, to UPS. These people were nothing if not creative.
It was an interesting discussion, and one that in some ways surprised me. On several occasions comparisons were made between the Mob ruled Vegas and the Corporate Vegas of today. The panel were unanimous in declaring that Vegas under the mob was a better city. From the visitors perspective their stay was much more pleasant. The economy revolved around gambling, and hotel accommodations and food were just classed as ‘the cost of doing business’, they were essentially a give away. Todays Vegas is very different, gone are the cheap rooms and all you can eat for $5 buffets, everything is now a profit center.
They also went on to explain that the Mob had rules and ethics. Sure there was violence and murders but they were not indescribable. Great care was taken to ensure that innocent people were not caught up in the activity. That at first glance sounds like a strange observation to make, but there was an explanation. Much of todays drug trade involves street gangs, they are indiscriminate in their use of violence.
Under the mob the city was a relatively crime free environment, to bring undue attention to the city was a very bad move on the part of a criminal. To incur the wrath of the Mob was to lead to a short and unfulfilled career.
Does the mob still have an interest in Vegas? According to the panel, yes. It is on the edges, but it is still there.
You can listen to the entire program here.