Husband-and-wife investigative reporters view Las Vegas as our shadow capital, a sordid symbol of the greed, corruption, and falseness that permeate the country.
Like confident boxers, Denton and Morris begin from the opening bell to eschew the jab in favor of the haymaker. “Drug money founded modern Las Vegas,” they announce, and throughout this tough, troubling volume they are rarely so timid. After an alarming prologue, they deliver dark portraits of players from Vegas’ founding years—Meyer Lansky, Benny Binion, Pat McCarran, “Bugsy” Siegel, Hank Greenspun—and then conclude this rogues’ gallery with an assessment of Estes Kefauver, whose congressional hearings on organized crime fizzled in the 1950s. “He was,” they declare, “tragically shallow, even naïve, about what he would be confronting, and what it would cost.” Denton and Morris then proceed chronologically to outline the history of the city and its criminal creators. Among their most useful observations is that the popular term “Mafia” (and its Italian “family” connotations) obscures the far more insidious combinations of people involved in the gambling, skimming, and drug trafficking that are the foundation of Las Vegas. They believe these illegal activities exist because of a vast but loose criminal conspiracy among casino owners, politicians, law enforcement personnel, journalists, labor leaders, religious leaders (they explore, for example, the heavy Mormon investment in Vegas), and government agencies. They tar virtually every US president since Truman with the black brush of Vegas (including an amusing account of a young Ronald Reagan’s disastrous attempt in 1953 to become a Vegas entertainer), and their prodigious research leads them to see Vegas’ tentacles extending everywhere—even to Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, both of whom accepted contributions from casino king Steve Wynn. Sometimes the guilt-by-association arguments collide with a sense of fairness, and the authors seem never to have met a conspiracy theory they do not embrace.
Despite their always sensational (and sometimes florid) style, the authors manage to land some jarring punches in some very sensitive places. (16 pages b&w photos)