Cops ‘n Mobbers: Books Tell the Saga of the Mob ‘n Vegas . March 2012 . Vol 13 . No. 3

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Cops ‘n Mobbers: Books Tell the Saga of the Mob ‘n Vegas

By T. Dana Smith (for Howard Schwartz) - Gambler's Book Shop Las Vegas

 “Vegas was a lot better in the good old days when the Mob ran things!” You’ve heard it a zillion times—but what was it really like when infamous gangsters held sway in Sin City a half-century ago? Along with the Mob Museum, set to open in Downtown Vegas in a few weeks, multiple Mafia-themed books separate myth from reality with timely exposes that tell the gritty story behind the glitzy glory of the Strip.

Few wise guys played a bigger role in Vegas mobdom than Moe Dalitz, whose activities are chronicled in Michael Newton’s Mr. Mob, The Life and Crimes of Moe Dalitz (317 big pgs, $45). “It is impossible to fully understand the modern Mob without first knowing Moe Dalitz, his career, and the publicity campaign that cunningly transformed him from a thug to a revered philanthropist,” Newton says. In fact, some people still believe that Dalitz was a Las Vegas benefactor rather than a schemer who exploited the city to his own malevolent benefit.

I received an introductory course on Dalitz when I read Steve Fischer’s When The Mob Ran Vegas (224 pgs, $19.95), which I reviewed here last year. Newton takes a giant leap forward in his incisive expose of the Vegas wiseguy from his birth in 1899 to Russian immigrants through his high school days in Detroit, where he was a founding father of Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang, and onward to a lifetime of criminal activity. “From Prohibition-era bootlegging to the Reagan years,” Newton wrote, “no other individual was present at so many pivotal events in gangland history.”

A multitude of vintage photos add impact to Newton’s exhaustive coverage of the Dalitz era: Eliot Ness, “who was unable to crack the Dalitz syndicate in Cleveland;” J. Edgar Hoover, “who denied the existence of organized crime for decades;” Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, “who were sailing with Dalitz when his son died in a plane crash;” Frank Sinatra, whom “Dalitz employed when Sinatra’s career was on the skids;” and Dalitz posing with Elvis Presley, Juliet Prowse and Wilbur Clark at the Desert Inn. This one’s an absolute must-read for Vegas and Mob history buffs.

The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law vs The Mob (234 pgs, $14.95) by Dennis N. Griffin, a Vegas resident and author of six mystery thrillers, is a thriller alright—but rather than fiction, it’s the factual account of the Chicago Outfit’s domination of organized crime in Las Vegas in the 1970s-1980s, when “unreported revenue known as the ‘skim’ made its way out of Outfit-controlled casinos in Vegas by the bagful, ending up in the coffers of the Windy City crime bosses.”

Heavily documented with direct quotes from agents and detectives who worked to oust the Outfit from Vegas, the book chronicles the illegal activities of Lefty Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro, plus numerous other criminals. Retired sheriff John McCarthy, who played a key role in police efforts to rid Vegas of mobsters, endorsed the book: “It tells it like it was. Even though I was part of those times, I still have trouble believing it actually happened.” But with Griffin’s sharp details of the battle between the tough guys on both sides of the law, I had no problem believing this engrossing account of one of the most dangerous eras of Vegas history.

These books are available at Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas. You can order them at or phone the store at 1-800-522-1777 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Pacific time. Opened in 1964, GBC is located at 5473 S. Eastern between Tropicana and Russell, just a short drive from the Strip. View the store's complete line of books, CDs, videos and software at the web site.