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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

When the Kinder and Gentler Mob Ran Vegas
It was a time when we really did leave our doors unlocked

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
January 7, 2013

LAS VEGAS - For the second year in a row, the Las Vegas - Clark County Library District will sponsor an event to help expose the infamous past of our city, its Mob roots.

We're gonna talk about the Good Ol' Days, a time in Vegas' history when the skim was the main crime, and small time hoods who preyed on tourists or locals often ended up in shallow graves just over the state line.

Drug sales, GHB, trick rolls, human sex slave trafficking, pay day loan stores, escort agencies, massage parlors, streetwalkers and pimps, and rip off strip clubs were not tolerated when the original Mob ran Vegas. Those guys made sure your visit was completely safe and enjoyable with a lot of attention paid to our town's quasi-wholesome family reputation. Of course tourists could still get almost anything they desired, but only under the watchful eyes of casino bosses and trusted security chiefs.

And for locals, it was a time when we really did leave our doors unlocked. An era that lasted through the 1970's.

These were the years when Clark County had less than 200,000 residents, no FBI or IRS offices, and the law was handed out by cops working under then-Sheriff Ralph Lamb and City Police Chief John Moran who practiced something we called "Cowboy Justice."

(Editor's note: The original Mob guys are spinning in their graves! Today, street thugs, home invaders, gangs, rip off artists, pimps, GHB peddlers, massage parlors, escort bureaus, pickpockets, etc. have replaced the old Vegas Mob. Many are from Asia, Mexico, and Eastern Europe.)

During the years called the "Lamb Dynasty" beginning in 1961, members of Ralph's family held high public offices statewide, and for the next 18 years, Las Vegas was the safest city in the nation.

The people who ran the casinos lived here. They raised their families here. They built schools, charities, churches, and synagogues. To many, this was their "last resort," and they treated the town and its citizens with great respect. Most of the original Mob supported the Lambs.

Though I was only a teenager when Sheriff Lamb first took office, his brand of justice didn't pass me by. I was a pain in the ass. A legend in my own mind.  I was a kid driving around town in a new Corvette, had my own nightclub, radio and TV show, speedboat, a pocket full of silver dollars, several gorgeous girlfriends, and led a charmed life. I thought I could do anything, but got into trouble several times before I turned 18. After I was forced to grow up by Sheriff Lamb and his friend Big Mike O'Callahan, the Sheriff and I became friends, and many years later, he and his successor John Moran encouraged me to run for the City Council.

I grew up alongside the kids of the original Vegas Mob. They were my friends, schoolmates, customers, and regulars at the dances and TV show produced by my partner Keith Austin and I.  Their parents would regularly rent the Teenbeat Club and hire top recording artists along with our bands for their kid's extravagant Birthday Parties, Bar and Bas Mitzvahs, Sweet 16 Celebrations, or just because they wanted to show off. At those private and often secretive celebrations, I met some of our town's most legendary Mob figures as they celebrated their teenage daughters and sons.

In my review of Cathy Scott's book Murder of a Mafia Daughter, I had this to say about the book's subject Susan Berman, one of my classmates at Las Vegas High: "Ms. Scott's book brings back vivid memories of the spoiled kids of our town's originating citizens. Susan Berman, may she rest in peace, was one of those kids who was raised in the lap of luxury only experienced by the sons and daughters of the Vegas Mafia. Often times the hoods would use their kids as status symbols, providing the best schools, clothes, cars, etc. to impress their hoodlum friends. Susan is described in Murder of a Mafia Daughter as a perfect example of the heretofore ruling class of Vegas, a group who was cash rich and lacked the class to go with their cash. The book captivates all readers whether they grew up in Sin City, or not. What an inside look into the dark side of our town, and Susan Berman, an unfortunate victim of an unsolved murder. A victim because she wanted to maintain the life style she grew up enjoying, but could no longer afford after the untimely death of her Mob father."

Using my local media contacts, I formed a youth organization called the Hope Corps that produced social events for people with intellectual disabilities. Soon, I was appointed to the first board of directors of what then was known as the CCARC, or Clark County Association for Retarded Children (now Opportunity Village.)  Based on my volunteer work there, I met more of the people who ran the town. Not the politicians, but those who pulled the strings like Dave Berman, Susan's father.

I soon learned that "hotel owners" could be very generous with their casino's cash and facilities, especially if they got good publicity in return.

In the amazingly accurate movie Casino, the hotel most often mentioned was called the Tangiers. In real life, it was the old Stardust, one of the most prolific supporters of CCARC.

The people who ran the Stardust were front man Alan Glick (Philip Green) played in the movie by Kevin Pollak,  Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal (Sam "Ace" Rothstein) played by Robert DiNiro, and hotel/casino manager Al Sachs (Billy Sherbert) played by Don Rickles.

In supporting roles, Clark County Commissioner Darwin Lamb (Pat Webb) was played by L. Q. Jones, the "belligerent cowboy" was played by long time INSIDE VEGAS reader Craig Vincent, and Dick Smothers brilliantly played the part of then-Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid.

Up until the early 1970's,  Tony "The Ant" Spilotro (Nicky Santoro) played by Joe Pesci in the movie, put on a good front by quietly running the gift shop at Circus Circus, but behind the scenes was becoming more and more involved with the operations of the Stardust and Fremont Hotel casinos while secretly breaking every Las Vegas rule about street crime. Spilotro and his crew began drawing the attention of Sheriff Lamb.

When Frank Rosenthal defied his East Coast bosses and started his own TV show, Mike Christ, currently known as " photographer Mike Christ," was the show's producer. Based on his antics, Rosenthal also drew Lamb's attention as depicted in Casino when the Sheriff's brother the County Commissioner paid him a visit to ask that his incompetent nephew be re-hired as slot manager.

While in my early twenties, I was the sales manager for my dad's Las Vegas souvenir manufacturing business. My work brought me into contact with Tony Spilotro and his wife when I visited their gift shop to replenish inventory. Tony didn't like me. I think I was too tall, and he had a complex about his height, though I got along well with Mrs. Spilotro.

However, the managers at the Stardust, another of my dad's clients, did like me and I soon made friends with Al Sachs and his partner Herb Tobman. I told them about the fledgling CCARC, and they offered their hotel's showroom and convention hall for fundraisers. Thanks to Sachs and Tobman, many of the stars playing on the Strip performed for free at our events held at the Stardust. The Stardust connection helped put CCARC on the map and begin its rise to Las Vegas' favorite charity.

In 1972, I was appointed Vice President of the charity and coined the more marketable name Opportunity Village (OV) which still serves the organization well.

Other Strip hotels followed the lead of the Stardust, and soon OV was the darling of the casino owners and their secret bosses. I began making inroads at the Desert Inn, Dunes, Golden Nugget, Caesars Palace, Frontier, Flamingo, and Hilton. Then I was elected President of OV.

During this time, I learned that many of the casino bosses wanted to clear their names, at least in Nevada. To do so, they would make huge monetary contributions to OV which were rewarded with highly publicized honors and awards bestowed on them at lavish banquets held in Strip and Downtown resorts. I was asked to host many of those events and give out the awards.

One generous casino boss was Moe Dalitz, long suspected of being Meyer Lansky's front man at the Desert Inn and El Rancho. In  the early 1970's, Dalitz made a large contribution to OV. A banquet was held in his honor. The movie Casino came close to replicating this event when the character "Ace" Rothstein received his "Man of the Year" award at Hartland Mansion on South 6th Street while receiving accolades from actors playing Sin City-type-luminaries.

In real life, it was my responsibility to present the OV "Man of the Year" award to Moe Dalitz in the Desert Inn showroom (Only in Vegas!). As I gave Dalitz the plaque, I couldn't help but notice that the majority of persons cheering for him looked like they were from a Central Casting call for gangster types and their molls.

In subsequent years, I presented the "Man of the Year Award" to Steve Wynn and Al Bramlet.  Then I was given the award.  I've kept it hidden in my attic ever since.  My Dad always told me, "You're judged by the company you keep."

About that time in Vegas history, criminal defense attorney Oscar Goodman began his rise to local prominence (Goodman was elected Mayor of Las Vegas in 1999). Goodman made his initial fortune defending street level criminals including Tony Spilotro and Frank Cullotta (the Hole in the Wall Gang) who were miraculously let off every time they appeared with Oscar in the court of Goodman's former law partner-turned-judge Harry Clairborne. Cullotta once said that the gang planned their heists in Goodman's law office conference room.

A new street crime era had begun in Las Vegas.

In 1979, Sheriff Lamb retired from office and the Cowboy Justice era came to an end. That's when we began locking our doors.

These are just some of the stories expected to be told during Mob Month at the Clark County Library.

(Video tapes of Mob Month events will be available soon @

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here: Steve Miller's Las Vegas E-Briefs

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