I have recently reviewed Jay Rankin’s new book Under The Neon Sky. It is a wonderful peek beneath the skirts of what many call Sin City. I invited Jay to be part of a radio broadcast. I am not sure that he was quite ready for the ‘meal’ I had planned, the other guests were Andrew DiDonato, an ex Gambino family mobster, and Denny Griffin, a well respected crime writer, author and expert on Las Vegas and its history. The three of them became fast friends inside of the first five minutes. They all understood Vegas, they saw both the good and the bad in the city. I guess what did surprise me was that they were all in agreement that the Mob ruled city was much better than todays sanitized corporate version. Intrigued, I asked Jay to expand on the differences. I do hope that you enjoy this guest article – Simon Barrett

Las Vegas: Then And Now

By Jay Rankin

When I was younger, I frequented Vegas because my father lived there. In the seventies and eighties, Las Vegas was much, much smaller. From a plane it looked like a very small circular patch of lights in the middle of the black desert. There was more dirt on the Strip than hotels.

The hotels were much smaller and lower than today. But the real difference wasn’t the size or glitz, it was the way Vegas was run, and how guests were treated.

In those days, no one really cared which ‘family’ ran which hotel casino. All the public really cared about was how they were treated and how much fun they had.

So here’s my take of Vegas: Then & Now.

THEN:

The bell captains, pit bosses, and mangers inside the casino carried a lot of ‘juice’ not just in the hotel but the town as well. They could get you the guest, almost anything you needed or wanted…for a price. The price might be a token of appreciation given by the guest or, the person with juice might simply want to keep you as a customer by doing you a,’ favor’. If a guest wanted a better seat in a showroom, he simply handed the Matre’d a token and it was taken care of.

The Italians used the word, ‘class’ a lot. It was a very powerful word. It was used to show respect and a way of treating people. It was also used in describing someone as being a slob by having, ‘no class’.

In those days players were approached, usually by someone named Tony who let you know that your drinks, your meal, or possibly your entire stay was ‘on us’ meaning, the hotel was picking up the tab as long as you maintained your, ‘play’.

I had an uncle who was a pretty big player at the Sand’s hotel back in the seventies. He usually picked up the phone and within an hour, the hotel’s private small jet was waiting to bring him into town, day or night 24/7. In his room was a cartoon of his cigarettes, his favorite Scotch, four bathrobes with his initials on them. Even the book of matches had his initials. And in the middle of the high-roller suites dining table, was a very large bowl half filled with ice. The other half was packed with shrimp, crab and lobster. He had a 24 hour butler and was given the key to the city which meant he could eat at any restaurant; see any show, all on the hotel.

In those days the casinos were smaller but it wasn’t just the square footage, it was the way the casinos were laid out. They were very player friendly, inviting. There was always a lounge with jazz or a soulful singer accompanied by bass and piano. There was also a feeling of security. Crime inside a hotel was practically unheard of in those days. It was too risky for anyone to attempt a crime against a hotel without feeling it was only a matter of time before things would be set straight, without the help of the police.

I could go on and on but the bottom line was that once Tony knew your name, he didn’t forget you. I guess you could say that there were few other places that would treat you like you were someone special, someone with class.
Hotel revenue had come from gambling for the most part. Things like food, rooms, drinks and entertainment were staged as giveaways as the cost of doing business.

And then something very eventful happened, the Italian’s allowed big corporation’s to buy in to Las Vegas…

NOW:

In Vegas, there were two ways the corporation’s were owned; either by an individual, or by shareholders. Even the unions became more influenced by corporations.

Quickly, just about everything change:

In the old days, hotels were re-modeled. With corporations, they were imploded and re- constructed as, ‘resort destination hotel, casinos.’ This was a re-invention of Las Vegas. Suddenly, everything became a target for revenue: food, including buffets, rooms, shows and even space for leasing shopping malls. Also targeted for revenue were groups of people; 20’s, 30’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Certainly the countries; China, for Chinese New Year, Mexico and Cinco d Miyo. Boxing crowds, rodeo, concert event crowds. All of a sudden the quarterly returns and stock prices took over revenue and skimming the ‘families’ used to make. No longer were the Tony’s of Vegas running the show. It was now about Wall Street. The ‘tracking’ of players by using hosts and managers is now replaced by ‘players club Cards’.

If a guest wants to be tracked and then rated for special comps then he or she will need to use the electronic player’s club card. Players are even handed ‘readouts’ of how much and how long they need to play in order to receive which comp. Some player club cards will even give you ‘cash back rewards’.

It’s not that Las Vegas is no longer about gambling, sex, partying…it still is but in a different environment. Like I said in my book, “the atmosphere is different but the air is the same.”

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