The Law Vs. The Mob

One of the big surprises to me as a reviewer is the sometimes convoluted routes that lead me to a book, and to an author. One day I was reading a Press Release about a ‘cold case’ involving an unsolved murder, that might just have been solved by the publishing of a book. A biography of a mobster, who was not the murderer mentions the events and does name the murderer. Intrigued, I contacted the son of the murdered man, and he agreed to appear on one of my radio segments. Better still, he also persuaded the co-author of the book Dennis (Denny) Griffin to come on air as well.

The radio show was so interesting I knew that I had to get my hands on a copy of the book. Talking to Denny afterwards he offered to ship me a copy of the book ‘Cullotta’ but suggested that I might wish to read an earlier book The Battle For Las Vegas first, as it sets the scene. As the saying goes.. ‘The Die Was Cast’.

Most people think of Sin City as a delightfully naughty place to spend a few days, a decadent retreat in the searing Nevada desert. Vegas does however have a much darker side. We have all heard the stories of the mob running the city, yet few people really understand the history. I like to consider myself reasonably well read, but had no idea of the facts.

The Battle For Las Vegas starts off with a short history of the city, essentially it was was nothing more than an oasis in the desert, however the combination of the building of the Hoover Dam, the 1931 legalization of gambling, and the liberalization of Nevada divorce laws changed everything.  Vegas blossomed, one by one the casinos became landmarks, and with so much cash being on hand it looked like a lucrative hunting ground for the Chicago Mob.

Cash may be made of paper, but unlike other financial instruments it leaves no paper trail in its wake. It is a ghost. Skimming from casinos was the favorite practice, just take the money before it enters the books. Loan sharking was not far behind. Desperate gamblers will pay almost anything for their fix.

Interestingly enough, many of the residents had no problems with the mob running the town, it made for a safe environment to live. Crime was low, it was controlled, it was regulated! What more could you ask?

Not everyone was happy though, while many of those involved in law enforcement accepted the largess of the criminal benefactors, there were a few that wished to change the prevailing style of Las Vegas.

It is at this point that I will interject my ignorance, and I am sure that many people will share my ideas. All this happened in the 30’s and 40’s right? Wrong, try up into the 1980’s!

Few would argue that one of the most feared mobsters in the Vegas scene was Tony Spilotro. Spilotro was an enforcer, and cared little for anything but the well being of his business interests. Of course this situation finally reached a situation that not even the law enforcement agencies could ignore. But it took a great deal of new blood and determination to clean the act up.

After reading The Battle For Las Vegas you will never look at another Vegas classic casino the same way. The Flamingo, Circus Circus, and the Hacienda all have stories behind them, as do many other landmark destinations.

Denny has done a great job of bringing this story to life. He lives in Las Vegas, and as he told me recently, “You know what, when I think about it, 3 of my 5 best friends are ex mobsters”. What is not to love about that?

I liked this book a lot, great read, well constructed, and informative. You can order your copy from Denny’s web site, and tell him Simon sent you.

Simon Barrett

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