Feature Articles

August 2001

The Sands

By John William Tuohy

     In 1952, Jimmy Alo started flying out to Las Vegas on a regular basis to oversee construction of his latest investment, the Sands Casino, which opened in the first part of the year.

     Jimmy had to go because Meyer Lansky, his partner in the project, was under constant surveillance by one law enforcement arm or another, and would bring down too much heat if he toured the famous Strip that he virtually built and owned.

     Meyer had chosen "Doc" Stacher to run the place with Babe Baron who looked after the Chicago mob's interests.

     The others owners in the Sands included Joe Fusco, Longy Zwillman, Tony Accardo, Sam Giancana, and the Chicago outfit, as well as Abe Teitelbaum, a dark mob figure who had once been one of Al Capone's many lawyers. Gerardo Catena, a boss out in New Jersey owned another piece and so did Frank Sinatra.

     It was generally agreed by most organized crime experts that Sinatra was probably fronting ownership for the Chicago outfit's leadership. But Sinatra wouldn't come into the deal, officially anyway, until 1954, the year he won his Academy Award for his role in the film, From Here to Eternity.

     Sinatra and Jimmy Blue Eyes went way back, in fact in 1952, Jimmy Blue Eyes became part of Hollywood legend when Frank Sinatra, at a low point in his career, needed a role in a war film to bring life back to his sagging career.

     Then, in 1954, after he won his Academy Award and construction on the Sands was completed, Sinatra applied for a casino gambling license from the state of Nevada. It was big news in Hollywood where it was widely rumored that the crooner was dead broke.

     A hearing was held in Reno and it was learned that Sinatra had already bought 2% of the Sands with $54,000, which one of the hearing administrators objected to since he felt that the singer should have used the money to pay off the $109,000 federal tax bill that he owed.

     A Justice department investigation would later show that one stockholder in the casino was persuaded to sell Sinatra two of his five shares for $70,000 and that the additional 7 points that the singer later owned in the hotel were given to him by Jimmy Blue Eyes as a gift.

     Jimmy Blue Eyes would spend most of the last half of 1952 and early 1953 in Las Vegas, settling one dispute after another, including the Dragna problem.

     By 1960, The Sands had become the very definition of a mobbed up casino so it was almost fitting that it became the place where Frank Sinatra introduced Presidential candidate John Kennedy to Judy Campbell, a women with no recognizable employment who would eventually "date," as she called it, Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and his West Coast lackey, Johnny Roselli.

     This was how Campbell came to be invited to watch Sinatra and his Rat Pack perform at the Sands Casino in Vegas on February 7, 1960.

     During the performance, Kennedy sat with Judy Campbell, who said that she had no idea who the Presidential candidate was, and that they got along so well that after the show, Campbell joined Kennedy at his press conference in the casino lobby, and later had lunch with him in Sinatra's hotel suite.

     The FBI already had the place under surveillance in early 1960 and noted that "It is a known fact that the Sands Hotel is owned by Hoodlums and while the Senator (Kennedy), Sinatra and (Peter) Lawford were there, show girls from all over the town were running in and out of the Senator's suite."

     Show girls was a euphemism for the high dollar prostitutes that worked the casino on a regular basis and were paid by the house to service the rooms.

     During that particular party, Kennedy's brother-in-law Peter Lawford took singer Sammy Davis aside and whispered, "If you want to see what a million in cash looks like, go into the next room. There's a brown leather satchel in the closet filled with a million. It's a gift from the hotel owners to Jack."

     On one trip out to Vegas, Jimmy Alo was greeted at the airport by Jack Entratter, the one time doorman-bouncer at the Stork Club in Manhattan before moving over to the Copacabana before Alo offered him a job out in Vegas overlooking the Sands Casino with a 12 point interest in the place, or at least on the books.

     It was Entratter who Sinatra had called after Harry Cohn turned him down for the role of Maggio. Entratter was a close, personal friend of Harry Cohn, they were regular fishing partners on weekends, but even the phone calls from Entratter didn't budge Cohn to hand the part to Sinatra.

     Then, according to Johnny Roselli, Entratter went directly to Frank Costello on Sinatra's behalf.

     In reality, Entratter only owned two points in the Sands, the other ten points were held by him, in his name for persons who preferred to remain in the shadows or like Alo, had criminal records and ownership in the casino might endanger the casino license.

     Nor was Entratter actually the Sands manager, everyone knew that Doc Stacher was the real power at the casino, meaning that Entratter's only real use at the Sands was to ensure that the hidden owners got their money out of the place.

     Once at the Sands, Entratter took Alo up to his new suite, which he had built for himself to his own specifications at a cost of one million dollars. With a huge cigar rammed into his fat face, Entratter, followed by a swarm of casino executives, gloated over every detail of the apartment to Alo.

     Alo was already out of sorts by what was going on at the casino with Sinatra, who was, by now, an executive Vice President in the Sands Corporation and pulling down $100,000 a week when he performed there, and Frank performed there a lot.

     Sinatra had a three-bedroom suit on the ground floor, he was afraid of heights, a private swimming pool to go along with his private sauna and steam bath. The casino footed the bill when Frank had specialty meats flown in from Manhattan, and the boys looked the other way when Sinatra cursed and screamed at the hire help because the color of the phone in his room was blue instead of orange.

     The boys had given Frank $3,000 a night to gamble with at the casino, but he often went through that in less than a half hour, drew a marker and never paid it back.

     Alo grew more and more angry at the vulgar display and finally he exploded. "You son of a bitch! I should'a left you as a head waiter! You come over here and spend millions of dollars. You smoke big cigars. You dress in two thousand dollars suits. And you're nothing more than a lackey. I should send you all back where you belong!"

     Alo had enough, enough of Vegas, enough of Sinatra, enough of the new brand of slick-backed, ego-ridden hoods who couldn't keep their faces off the front page or the nightly news.

     It was time to cash in their chips. "Let's take the money," Jimmy Blue Eyes told Meyer Lansky, "and have a quiet life."

     In 1967, Lansky and Alo realized a profit of just over $1 million dollars each when their man Jack Entratter, working under the guidance of Moe Dalitz, dumped the Sands Casino to Howard Hughes for $14.6 million.

     No one will ever know how much they made off the sale of their Vegas holdings. But as Chicago front man in Vegas told his Los Angeles counterpart, Jimmy The Weasel Fratianno, "Meyer Lansky and his group have skimmed more money than anybody in the world. Just in Vegas alone over the past ten years from the Flamingo, the Sands, the Thunderbird, the Riviera, they skimmed three hundred million easy. And that's not counting the millions taken from joints in New York, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas. Or all those years in Cuba, and now the Bahamas and England."

     Replacing the Italian gangsters and their Jewish front men were well-heeled entrepreneurs with Ivy league MBA's who reinvented and restructured the Vegas built by hoods with names like Bugsy and Tony the Hat.

     Under the watch of these blue suited wonder kids, Vegas became a corporate town and that's when the real money was made, tens of millions of dollars were gained from the value of prime Las Vegas real estate and the new luxury mega hotels that were slapped up on the Strip over the next decade, funded in large part by the junk bond, merger and acquisition frenzy of the 1980's.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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