Thursday, December 14, 2017

David Clary's "Gangsters to Governors"

David Clary is a news editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Gangsters to Governors: The New Bosses of Gambling in America, and reported the following:
The page is part of the chapter where I lay out how organized crime interests seized control of casinos in postwar Las Vegas. When Nevada became the first state in modern America to legalize most forms of gambling in 1931, official oversight was exceptionally weak. Nevada itself had no enforcement role and gambling licenses were handed out on the local level, a fatal flaw that would be exposed years later when mobsters like Bugsy Siegel received approval to run casinos in Las Vegas.

One of these sordid characters was Benny Binion, a Texas native who pulled himself out of poverty by running an illegal numbers racket and high-stakes craps games in Dallas that attracted the likes of oil tycoons H.L. Hunt, Howard Hughes, and Clint Murchison Sr. Binion's cowboy charm belied a steely edge. Binion's rap sheet included two murder charges in the 1930s. A reform-minded administration forced Binion to pull up stakes and move to Las Vegas where he could ply his trade in peace.

On Page 99, I tell the story of Binion's first trip to Las Vegas and his effort to secure a gambling license for his first casino there in 1947. Binion appeared before the Nevada Tax Commission, which then was responsible for handing out licenses and collecting fees. I read an oral history of one of the commissioners at the meeting and he reported that Binion bragged about his lawless exploits in Texas and confirmed that his history of violence was true. Binion's graphic accounts of how he killed the two men "had the Tax Commission in stitches" and the panel granted the license.

This page is representative of one of the themes of the book: How weak regulation led to organized crime's control of gambling in Las Vegas. Binion went on to become a fixture in Las Vegas and founded the World Series of Poker, which brought him and his casino vast amounts of publicity. When Binion died on Christmas Day 1989, a friend aptly summed up his wild life: "He was either the gentlest bad guy or the baddest good guy you'd ever seen."
Visit David Clary's website.

My Book, The Movie: Gangsters to Governors.

--Marshal Zeringue