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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:

Friendship with "criminal elements"  jeopardizesnew Golden Nugget gaming license and funding
Wall Street downgraded its outlook on $155 million in secured notes from "stable" to "negative" following harsh action by the Nevada Gaming Control Board

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
January 26, 2004
                     Tim Poster, left, and Thomas Breitling                                                     Rick Rizzolo
                      (REVIEW-JOURNAL FILE PHOTO)                                           (PHOTO by MIKE CHRIST)

"I am also very knowledgeable regarding some of the criminal elements here and those with unsuitable or shady type backgrounds, so I'm very familiar with this Mr. Rick Rizzolo... People such as you, very successful, very young, are considered marks. People in organized crime try to set you up, to get some of your funds. And I think that's what they were trying to do with you." - Nevada Gaming Control Board member Bobby Siller   (KVBC TV News, 01/08/04)

"I want there to be a conclusion of the FBI's investigation of Rick Rizzolo (before Poster and Breitling's limitation ends)." - Nevada Gaming Control Board member Scott Scherer   (Las Vegas Review Journal, 01/21/04)

LAS VEGAS - Two young, purportedly naive entrepreneurs and their partner, tennis legend Andre Agassi, last week came within an inch of being denied a gaming license to take over the Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin Golden Nuggets.

Tim Poster and Thomas Breitling were given a lecture that lasted for more than 2-1/2 hours about their friendship with embattled topless bar owner Rick Rizzolo. They were told to steer clear of the mobbed-up bar owner or face losing their new Nevada gaming licenses.

Using the term "the individual" to refer to Rizzolo, Poster said he used poor judgment by continuing the relationship with "the individual," and that "the social relationship has ended."

"Why did you pick Rick Rizzolo for this social relationship?" Control Board member Bobby Siller asked while a crew from Fox network taped the entire meeting for an upcoming reality show about the takeover of the downtown casino by Poster and Breitling.

"He and I had some mutual friends, we frequented the same restaurants and we knew mutual people," Poster answered. "It wasn't a conscious decision. It was something that just developed." Then he admitted borrowing money from Rizzolo. "Whenever I borrowed money from Mr. Rizzolo, it was always for the purpose of gambling. We had been out gambling together and a variety of circumstances might have arisen in which either I did not have a credit line at the particular casino we were at, or I would have exhausted mine and I used his ($1 million) credit line to use money to gamble with."

Based on this information, the Gaming Control Board limited Poster Financial to a one year conditional license, something rarely done because of its possible negative effect on funding. The limitation would require Poster and Breitling to appear before regulators one year from now to prove they're worthy of keeping their license for a longer period.

The limitation immediately sent up a red flag on Wall Street. $155 million in secured notes were downgraded to "negative" from "stable," notes the prospective owners of the Golden Nugget agreed to sell to partially fund their $215 million acquisition. Even with Wall Street finding a risk based on Poster Financial executives having an unsavory relationship with a person with ties to organized crime, Poster and Breitling promised to go through with the purchase.

Two weeks later, the Nevada Gaming Commission increased the limitation to four years at the request of the buyers' lawyers who believe that the extension of the limitation will alleviate most Wall Street concerns and the concerns of the Nevada Gaming Control Board members who said Poster didn't go far enough to sever his relationship with Rizzolo.

Commission Chairman Pete Bernhard offered Poster and Breitling a chance to explain why they need to be concerned about their friendships and associations with persons such as Rick Rizzolo.

Poster and Breitling told regulators they have since terminated their relationship with Rizzolo and have never been involved in any business deals with him or his associates.

"I fully appreciate the consequences of my actions and decisions," Poster said. "A gaming license is a privilege and not a right. I believe a gaming licensee needs to avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

Bernhard accepted their explanations and the Golden Nuggets officially changed hands the evening following the hearing.

Potential "marks" Thomas Breitling and Tim Poster

Rizzolo has been accused of running a business that is a front for Chicago organized crime figures. His bar has also been the scene of dozens of violent episodes that have attracted the attention of the FBI. His chronic gambling has also attracted IRS scrutiny.

Nonetheless, he has a cadre of fans in high places.

"We were looking to put something together for the children, the underprivileged, that have been in this community for a long time. We did a Thanksgiving dinner for 'em. We've done Christmas dinners for 'em. We've raised money for 'em. We granted presents for 'em. And one of the major contributors and powerhouses, among all the pillars of the community that have been involved with this, and many, many that are very strong and would probably take offense to some of the things that might be said here -- is one of 'em is Mr. Rizzolo...And he has given thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars to this community for the children," stated former LV Councilman Mike McDonald on August 16, 2000 after living rent free for two years in a golf course villa owned by a close associate of Rizzolo.

The associate, Nevada Black Book member Joey Cusumano, is the former law client and current buddy of Sin City Mayor Oscar Goodman. Goodman has often been accused of doing Rizzolo favors.

"Mr. Rizzolo has a good name in the community," stated Judge Nancy M. Saitta on May 17, 2001 after accepting a $5,000 campaign contribution from the bar owner for an election in which she was running unopposed. On January 6, 2003, Judge Saitta presided over a flawed trial that relieved Rizzolo's employees from responsibility in the 1995 beating death of a bar patron.

Since the above endearing comments surfaced, Rizzolo succeeded in catching the attention of the local Sheriff who had less flattering things to say. On August 6, 2003, Clark County Sheriff Bill Young said that a fellow police officer was "Consorting with persons of ill repute," referring to Rizzolo. He demoted the 27 year veteran officer who retired shortly thereafter.

Tony Sgro, Rizzolo's longtime lawyer, said the gaming board's action was "a joke, absurd. It shows the lengths to which the government will reach, applying pressure socially to his (Rizzolo's) friends." He compared Siller's remarks to tactics used by Nazis in World War Two. He says it reflects frustration by federal agents who've been unable to find any wrong doing by his client.

Rizzolo is about to face a civil Attempted Murder lawsuit that was filed against him personally -- a suit resulting from a 2001 beating by his employees that rendered a Kansas tourist a quadriplegic. The trial is set to begin in the Fall of 2004. Meanwhile, the Federal Grand Jury is currently taking testimony in the organized crime probe of Rizzolo's business.

In his admonishment to Poster and Breitling, Gaming Control Board member Siller, the former Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas office of the FBI, made this statement: "When you have all these ongoing FBI investigations and searches, and trust me, this is my judgment, they will come to some type of conclusion and they won't be pleasant."

Regarding the Gaming Control Board's action, the January 12, 2004 Las Vegas Review Journal EDITORIAL exclaimed, "Such diligence is vital to protecting the reputation of Nevada gaming, demonstrating why the imprimatur of a Nevada license carries such weight, and why other jurisdictions -- if they're wise -- seek to mirror this state's standards."

All Las Vegans wish Messrs. Poster, Breitling and Agassi good luck on their new venture, but the three young gentlemen should always remember that you are always judged by the company you keep.

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