The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America 1947-2000

The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America 1947-2000

      by Sally Denton and Roger Morris

      published by: Alfred A. Knopf

      392 pages


Review by Lee Klein


Welcome to a magic-tragic carpet ride where all the stories of what made the desert oasis of Las Vegas the overblown Oz it is today come together as one.The story of Las Vegas and the story of it's making according to authors Roger Morris and Sally Denton is the story of America. This is the book that credits the entire cast: the cowboys, the mob, the miners, the Shepard's, the military industrial complex, the entertainers, the teamsters, the Mormon bankers, and the journalists-In fact almost everybody except Hunter S. Thompson and Dave Hickey.


Meanwhile, this volume's key point is that this electric city of themed gambling palaces and vice for every pocketbook, this shining beacon of a conspiracy, of mob syndicate, intelligence and government forces was a criminal enterprise undertaken for the benefit of all. The book starts out by mapping a foundational history which links the political ambitions gained and lost elections, lives and deaths both political and mortal of a series of politicos whose ties to Vegas were as much as umbilical. Then for the rest of the show we watch the corrupt doings of a cast of characters straight out of Oliver Stone, Mario Puzo, and Mel Brooks as they plot, aspire, murder, and merge while the mother fucker blows up big time into the pleasure center of the known universe.


At first I wanted to assail Morris as a disaffected Nixonite or Johnsonian (under both of whom he worked at the National Security agency until resigning over the invasion of Cambodia during the RMN administration). However this works, labeling of the 1960 election "stolen" turns out to be both warranted and well founded. Therein the author's arguments are balanced out not only by the fact that he accuses the Nixon forces of cheating as well but going into a full account about how a plan to break open Hank Greenspun the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal's safe (to get information on what he had on a corrupt connection between Nixon forces and Howard Hughes) was possibly the genesis for the Watergate break-in itself.


Of course Las Vegas existed as a small time mining center, railroad stop, gambling outpost, and whoring haven when Bugsy Siegel first arrived there in 1946. Our guides however chart how the cities great rise was engineered not by Siegel but by his boyhood friend from the Lower East Side of Manhattan and murder inc., Meyer Lansky.


Throughout the casinos of downtown Meyer was the man behind it all. This low profile no publicity gangster had some one in almost every joint skimming for him. Therein the deal was for every one dollar that was reported as actual revenues there was another three parts skimmed. Of theses three parts skimmed two went to Meyer and one to the gangsters or front men running the joint for Meyer. Meanwhile, Meyer headed up a vast syndicate as different factions from throughout the United States bullied their way in on this turf or that. From his Miami home Lansky kept score and distributed the proceeds from the Vegas take (as well as that from Havana and Southeast Asia) to the parties concerned.


Further, we discover how Meyer often brought in different criminals from other regions like Benny Binion of Dallas to run his various joints (such as in this case the aptly named Binion's Horseshoe). In doing so the authors show various mobsters like Sam Giancana, Mo Dalitz, Gus Greenbaum, Tony Condero, and countless others as they move in and out of power at different joints on the strip and downtown such as the Stardust, the Sands, the Sahara, the Riviera, and the Tropicana.


It was not until Tennessee senator Estes Kefauver's traveling committee hearings on organized crime (when the state of Nevada held a Continental United States monopoly on gambling) that the question of syndicate involvement of Vegas was even broached. The authors here argue that Kefauver unjustly blamed the criminal affairs on the Mafia {thus inferring an Italian predominance}. However, Denton and Morris assert in truth the syndicate was a multi-ethnic conglomerate that was more like the makeup of America itself, with every body involved under the mutual banner head of greed. Indeed the ethos of the syndicate at that time was that there was enough for everybody; there was no reason to rub anybody out. There was room for the Patriarcas of Boston, the Cleveland mob, the Detroit mob, Carlos Marcello of New Orleans, and Santo Trafficante of Miami. It wasn't until later that the unsaid peace was broken.


The end of this pax la costra nostra is depicted in the beginning of the chapter "High Rollers" and with a series of assassinations in a staccato sequence which is eerily evocative of Martin Scorcese's film version of Mario Puzo's Casino. Was the Robert DeNiro character Johnny Roselli? You can hear the car bombs going off, the rapid rain of machine gun fire, and Mick Jagger on lead vocals belting out "Gimme Shelter" straight from the movie's soundtrack. Kefauver had to turn to FBN (the DEA forerunner agency the Federal Bureau of Narcotics) chief Harry Anslinger (who helped only marginally so as to not unveil his moles and double agents) as Meyer Lansky was left alone by the FBI. This scenario came into place as Lansky had the goods on J. Edgar Hoover (that is proof that he was a transvestite and a homosexual). So then when Kefauver needed this no good help from the feds so to later did the young attorney general Bobby Kennedy.


In the chapters "Party in Carson City" and "The Enemy too Far Within," Joe Sr., Jack, and Bobby Kennedy serve as the agents of historical transition for this work. At this point the inheritors of the criminal fortunes become those who prosecute their own allies while putting on the clothes of legitimacy. I.e. it is time for Prince Hal to get dressed and go to dinner. The Kennedy tangent also does a superb job of bringing us back to that unique American epoch of iconic super connectedness when larger than life mid twentieth century stellar bodies ran like highways and byways; in, out, around, above, under, over, and through each other. This was a period where the innocence of the decadence was still such that rat packer Dean martin could offhandedly remark " I am the only entertainer who has ten percent of four gangsters" .


The book begins sort of hokey-pokily with plenty of three dollar vocabulary words including the use of the word furtive to describe characters and their practices (so often that the authors practically put the word itself out of business ). It takes a few long junkets into the Kennedy assassination and the Bay of Pigsthen attempts to fly us back to town on the redeye. However once this volume gets going under a green flag it takes charge of the speedway; then goes for the checkered in a sprint.


So the next time I walk down Las Vegas boulevard instead of thinking I am in Husyman's Paris or Versace's Bellagio ; I might here the names Lansky, Dalitz, Greenbaum. Sinatra, Kennedy , and Roselli. Then the place may seem both like outer space and a more definable zone. How has this book been received just look at its' 's sales figures in the Las Vegas area and greater Nevada. The residents therein are reading it as a guide to both define their city and themselves.


Lee Klein 2001