Nevada Newsmakers

Battling Chicago Outfit, 'Lefty' Rosenthal came with danger & death, former Gaming Control Board member Jeff Silver says

News - October 22, 2021

Jeff Silver's nearly four-year stint as a member of Nevada's Gaming Control Board came in the mid 1970s, when The Chicago Outfit secretly ran many Las Vegas casinos. It was time etched in the American consciousness, reflected in the Robert De Niro classic movie, "Casino."

The main character in that iconic movie was Sam "Abe" Rothstein. He portrayed Silver's real-life nemesis, Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal, the iconic Las Vegas anti-hero, who reportedly ran the Stardust, Fremont, Marina and Hacienda casinos for the Chicago Outfit during most of the 1970s.

Silver, recently inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame, is credited for helping clean up Nevada's No. 1 industry and end the Chicago Outfit's heyday.

He said on Nevada Newsmakers that he did not realize the extent of organized crime's influence on Nevada's No. 1 industry when he was first appointed to the GCB in 1975 by then-Gov. Mike O'Callaghan.

"I did have some (understanding ), especially with the governor's comment to me that one of the purposes of my appointment was my prosecutor's background," Silver told host Sam Shad. "He wanted to make sure I did everything necessary to clean up the industry and free it from organized crime's influence.

"But I really didn't know how entrenched things were," he said.

What came next were years of investigations and multiple denials of Rosenthal's applications before the GCB. All the while, he still secretly ran casinos for organized crime.

"A week before I actually took the position, (Mob boss) Sam Giancana was murdered in Chicago and I started paying more attention to the fact that these guys played for keeps and it may not be as simple as anybody portrayed it," Silver said.

Silver also escaped murder after organized crime leaders discussed -- then decided against killing Silver -- because of the potential heat it could bring down on them for assassinating a leading state-government official.

"There was a time when the FBI agents asked me to come down to the bureau's offices and they were concerned about a taped transcript they had gotten in Kansas City and they showed me this transcript," Silver said. "It was about eight or nine pages and in the transcript, they kept referring to this guy, 'Silverman,' on the gaming board and they were thinking about taking me out. And in the last page, they said, 'No, that would create too much heat.'

"And I breathed a sigh of relief and the agents who were standing over me reading this thing were laughing because they knew that in the end, they had abandoned their plans to kill me," Silver said.

Rosenthal was unknown to Silver when he began on the GCB. He casually mentioned his name to a former FBI agent because Rosenthal would soon be before the Board in a seemingly routine gaming-license hearing. With that, his education about Rosenthal and The Chicago Outfit began.

When the former agent heard the name, "Rosenthal," he said to Silver:

"'Oh, you mean 'Lefty,' and I hadn't heard that," Silver said. "And he said, 'Yeah, when I was in the Bureau, I used to chase him around South Florida. He was a bookmaker.

"And then he said, 'By the way, did you ever get any information on him in your reports about his attempts to bribe college athletes?' He was testifying in front of a congressional hearing on college athletes and organized crime infiltration.' I said, 'No I hadn't heard a word about it.'

"And he said, 'Well, I was counsel for the committee and I have the transcripts of those hearings in my garage.' He says, 'I'll send them to you.'"

In a few weeks, Silver received the package.

"There were these bound transcripts and in the transcripts, there was Frank Rosenthal taking the Fifth (Amendment defense of self incrimination) to all these questions about bribing college athletes and activities in organized crime."

When Rosenthal appeared before the CGB, Silver had both barrels loaded with stinging questions for Rosenthal.

"When the time for questioning came, this was in Carson City, in January or February of 1976, the (GCB) chairman turned to me and said, 'Mr. Silver, do you have any questions?' And I proceeded to question Mr. Rosenthal about those transcripts for the next seven or eight hours one day and another three-or-four hours the next."

It was pretty heady stuff for a 29-year-old prosecutor to be sparring with Rosenthal's lawyers. One, Oscar Goodman, would later become a popular and highly-visible mayor of Las Vegas.

The other, Harry Claiborne, would become a U.S. District judge, later imprisoned for tax evasion and impeached, convicted and removed as a federal judge by Congress. At this time, however, they were considered brilliant criminal defense lawyers.

"It was definitely tense facing down the likes of Oscar Goodman and Harry Claiborne, his counsel," Silver said.

Silver had exposed Rosenthal. His gaming application was denied. Yet Rosenthal kept control of the Stardust Hotel's casino by assuming the title of Food and Beverage Manager. He later to moved to the role of "Entertainment Director" as a way to stay a step ahead of the GCB's authority.

"After he was denied as the casino director of the Stardust, he (Rosenthal) moved to the food and beverage director's position, which was a position that was not covered by the gaming regulations at the time," Silver said. "And they actually had to change the regulations in order to capture him in that instance."

The Gaming Control Board's investigation into Rosenthal turned deadly, Silver said.

"There were some allegations going on about some false invoicing and things of that nature where people actually came and visited with me, one of whom was not seen since," Silver said. "They found his car at the McCarran Airport, abandoned, and no one has ever seen this guy alive.

"So they were obviously playing for keeps there," Silver said.

"When he was denied as Food and Beverage Director, then he came back as Entertainment Director because there was a law that was put in place for Frank Sinatra, who was accused of hosting Sam Giancana when he was an owner of the Club Cal-Neva and they were afraid that he would not be able to perform or they would not be able to enter into contracts with him at Caesars Palace," Silver said. "So they put an exception into the law for entertainment directors and that is how Rosenthal got in there for a period of time."

Silver remembers Rosenthal's third GCB run-in, which he says, "Is the scene you see in the movie with Sen. Reid as the chairman.

"The reason he was nabbed there was about dispute at the Stardust Race and Sports Book and Rosenthal came down and answered the questions of the agents regarding why they shouldn't make the payout. And that kind of nailed him in terms of saying he wasn't involved in the other aspects of the operation."

Through his tribulations, Rosenthal remained a celebrity in Las Vegas. He had his own late-night TV show on KLAS-TV-Channel 8 -- a mirror image to 'The 'Ace' Rothstein Show' in 'Casino.'

"I was astonished," Silver said about Rosenthal's foray into late-night TV. "I watched it a number of times. He would take a few shots at me after the first licensing hearing, calling me a panhandler's snake or something like that. He was very, very upset. He had a tremendous ego and for him to be denied this job that paid a lot of money and was prestigious and gave him a lot of authority over other peoples' lives, he was very upset about it."

Later, Silver and the GCB realized how much of a grip Rosenthal had over casino operations in Las Vegas.

"I took a tour of his house in the last couple of years and he had all kinds of electronic equipment in there," Silver said. "He was actually running the casino from his home, hard wired at the time because they didn't have the Internet, hard wired so he could see with cameras what was going on."

Rosenthal, however, made an indelible mark in the history of Las Vegas, inventing the concept of a casino sports book, Silver said..

"He rose to prominence as a result of the fact of his bookmaking acumen," Silver said. "And when the federal government reduced the federal excise tax to a point to where a book inside a casino could make money, he was tabbed by the people in Chicago to open this big book at the Stardust Hotel.

"And it turned out to be the model for all of the race books in these brick-and-mortar casinos," Silver added. "It was really quite avant garde at the time and it turned out to be very successful. But he was the guy who had the ability to run a book like that and then he graduated into other positions of responsibility as the trust level he was given by his handlers in Chicago increased."

In 1982, Rosenthal escaped an murder attempt when a bomb was placed under his gas tank. Soon after, he moved to Laguna Niguel, Calif., and raised children, who became championship swimmers. In 1987, he was listed in Nevada's "Black Book," which came with a lifetime ban from Nevada casinos. In 1990, with Goodman as his lawyer, he won a case to have his named removed from the "Black Book."

However, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1991. He passed in 2008, at 79, a man Sports Illustrated once called, "The greatest living expert on sports gambling."

Read full article




Recent Articles:

Legislature partly to blame for fentanyl scourge, Sheriff Balaam says
News - October 21, 2021

"In the last (legislative) session, we changed some of the laws when it comes to trafficking." Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam

Credit locals' slot play, stimulus checks for Nevada's streak of 6 consecutive months of $1 billion in gaming win, GCB analyst says
News - October 12, 2021

"When you look at the gaming numbers in this historic run that we're on, they are pretty much being driven by slot play. The slot play is 11 percent over 2019 levels. It is setting all sorts of records. So that is what is really driving these numbers." Michael Lawton, Gaming Control Board analyst

Allegiant Stadium, football season could help produce 7th consecutive month of $1 billion in gaming win for Nevada casinos, GCB analyst says
News - October 12, 2021

"The future is really bright for that stadium, what it brings to our state, Las Vegas and The Strip." Michael Lawton, analyst for the Gaming Control Board, speaking about Allegiant Stadium

Child-care crisis forcing mothers out of workforce, slowing economic recovery, Rep. Susie Lee says
News - October 8, 2021

"Nevada is one of 33 states in which it costs more to provide child care for your infant than it does to send a child to a four-year public university." Nevada's 3rd U.S. House District Rep. Susie Lee, D-LV.

Rosen defends abortion rights for American women
News - October 6, 2021

"It comes down to this: Women have the right to have control over their bodies and who makes those choices for them. So that is what we are going to continue to fight for. That is what we will continue to uphold." U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nv

Horsford praises Biden for ending the longest war in U.S. history
News - October 5, 2021

"And in the end, President Biden did the right thing by ending this war and by bringing our soldiers home." Nevada's 4th U.S. House District Rep. Steven Horsford



Las Vegas focuses on new type of tourist, the 'bleisure traveler,' says U.S. Rep. Titus
News - October 1, 2021

"There's a new type of traveler. They are people who can work from anywhere. They go to places that are really great, set up shop in a hotel room, do a little business and then they go out and have a little fun." U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, whose district includes The Las Vegas Strip.

Cortez Masto, dismayed but not defeated, continues fight for immigration reform
News - September 30, 2021

"I'll be the first to admit and I will tell you that we have a broken immigration system and it is Congress' job to fix it. And I've been working here to try to fix it but we need bipartisan support. We've got to stop playing politics with it." U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto

Amodei still considering a run for governor: 'I am not taken with the field so far.'
News - September 29, 2021

"...Nobody has taken all of the air out of the room." U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, on the GOP candidates running for governor in 2022.

LV Raiders, private businesses take lead in getting Nevadans vaccinated, Mulroy says
News - September 8, 2021

"When the Raiders announced that they were going to require vaccinations for someone to come into the stadium to watch a game, that goes a very long way," Pat Mulroy, member of Wynn Resorts board of directors

Sparks adopts 'vertical vision' for development: Build upward, not outward, Mayor says
News - August 31, 2021

"The biggest problem we have is that we don't have anywhere to grow. Frankly, we have an inventory of five years of land. Once that is sold out, we become San Francisco and all this land you see surrounding us might as well be ocean." Ed Lawson, mayor of Sparks

GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee rips Sisolak for his handling of pandemic; Lee adds he caught Covid, recovered & declined vaccination
News - August 27, 2021

"I just have not had the desire to get the shot and I just have not done it yet." North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee



Reno mayor says she's not interested in becoming lieutenant governor
News - August 26, 2021

"I love my city very very much. I am focused on our recovery. I'm definitely not focused on re-elections." Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, up for relection in 2022

Fernley leaders react to interview with Brad Crowell
Commentary - July 23, 2021

'Mr. Shad and Mr. Crowell treated Fernley’s concerns as mere minor inconveniences.  This is especially troubling coming from Mr. Crowell who, as a state official, should be looking out for the best interests of the citizens of Nevada rather than promoting a federal government project that will hurt those citizens.'

Director of NV Division of Conservation & Natural Resources responds to Fernley city leaders
Commentary - July 23, 2021

With respect to the United States Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBOR) proposal to line the Truckee Canal, NDWR understands that there are many challenges and complexities this proposed project creates for the City of Fernley.

Dept. of of Conservation and Natural Resources responds to Fernley's water/canal issues
Commentary - July 23, 2021

In response to the July 28, 2021, letter issued by the City of Fernley, a few key points raised deserve factual clarification.

Thacker Pass lithium mine appears to be better bet than Rhyolite Ridge site, head of NV's Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources says
News - July 23, 2021

"Lithium, from my perspective, is one of the great emerging economic stories for Nevada that will really be a benefit if we can leverage it correctly. We have a unique ability, compared to other states, to have the full economic lifecycle for lithium, from extraction to production in batteries to recycling it back into the supply chain. And we have all three of those components here." Brad Crowell, Director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,

'Johnny' Ascuaga remembered as a visionary, clever gaming pioneer who had some great ideas
Commentary - June 30, 2021

Ascuaga, at his essence, was an idea man. And in his time running one of the great resorts in Nevada, he had plenty.


Next Page Last Page