Profiles in Corruption
According to the authors, Las Vegas is 'America's criminal city-state.'
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By:  Peter Dale Scott

  "'The Money and the Power' is essential reading for all those who want to understand the hidden history of how we've been governed.  Through this riveting narrative of Las Vegas, not only do we see how it became a center for national campaign financing and international money-laundering, mocking law enforcement, we also gain a whole new perspective on our nation in the last half-century, and the melding of upper- and underworld finance that increasingly dominates the world.  A breathtaking book."   By: Nicholas Peleggi

    "Riveting and provacative.  It's all here.  An unforgettable portrait of the world's most fascinating city and its characters.  Your view of Las Vegas and America will never be the same."

    By: Anthony Summers

    "An outstanding book, at once majestic and terrible in its symmertry.  Denton and Morris have cracked a key part of the genetic code of the modern United States, with the resolve that led scientists to unravel DNA.  There is a skein that links mobsters and multiple presidents, Mormons and money men, the darker machinations of the CIA and the old FBI, hard drugs and apple pie -- and it winds out from the back to Las Vegas.  'The Money and the Power' sounds a warning call for the millennium."

    By:  Jim Hougan

    "What a good book this is.  From the pioneering Mormons to the racketeering Mob, this book is a terrific read, an investigative biography and secret history of America's most surreal and wired city.  With characters like Bugsy Siegel and Benny Binion, 'The Money and the Power' is proof-positive that Las Vegas is not only stranger than fiction -- it's scarier."


    Peter Dale Scott: "Cocaine Politics" and "Iran-Contra Connection"

    Nicholas Pileggi: "Casino" and "Wiseguy"

    Anthony Summers: "The Arrogance of Power: The Secret world of Richard Nixon"

    Jim Hougan:  "Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA"  


Strip Mining
'The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 1947-2000' by Sally Denton and Roger Morris

Reviewed by Chris Rasmussen
Sunday, April 8, 2001; Page BW03

The Making of Las Vegas And Its Hold on America, 1947-2000
By Sally Denton and Roger Morris
Knopf. 479 pp. $26.95

The Las Vegas Strip is not only the most famous street on Earth but the most visible sign of human habitation from outer space, a beacon of civilization nearly five miles long. Yet, as Sally Denton and Roger Morris observe, Vegas's gleaming facades conceal a history relentlessly dark. Worse, this island of hedonism and corruption in the middle of the Mojave desert is no longer a remote outpost but has extended its values and influence across the United States.

Denton and Morris's Las Vegas is no mere tourist destination. Instead, it is America's "shadow capital," the nexus where the lines of the American power grid -- politicians, organized crime, labor and corporate capital -- combine to rule the nation. Only in Las Vegas, they contend, is the intimate connection between upperworld and underworld, the seen and unseen, revealed. The Money and the Power offers not merely a history of Las Vegas's astonishing boom over the past half-century but also a view of recent American history from the jaded vantage of the Strip.

Denton and Morris have a keen eye for scandal: She is author of a revealing exposé of drug trafficking, while he has chronicled the boundless ambition and duplicity that propelled Richard Nixon and the Clintons to political power. Their new book is a history not of the city of Las Vegas or its phenomenally successful tourist industry but of the corrupt political and business dealings of the city's elite. Although the history of Vegas's dark underside is not altogether new, it has seldom been so abundantly researched and compellingly told.

The mob launched the city's boom in the 1940s, building casinos to launder its multi-million dollar take from narcotics and corruption throughout the nation. Nevadans, residents of a desperately poor state of already dubious moral repute for its legal gambling and lax divorce laws, tacitly condoned political corruption and rule by the mob in exchange for an infusion of cash and jobs. Over the past 50 years, an oligarchy of thugs and megalomaniacs has hoarded the wealth and political clout that rule Las Vegas -- they have, and are, that preeminent currency in the Vegas economy: "the Juice." Vegas's peculiar line of succession is filled with mobsters and casino moguls: Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian. Today the keepers of the Juice preside over corporations instead of the syndicate, and have draped a veil of legitimacy over the "gaming industry." They not only control the city, and the state of Nevada, but wield considerable power across the nation. Gambling's power can scarcely be overstated: Americans gamble more money than they spend on all other forms of entertainment combined.

As Las Vegas grew from a tiny desert town into a hugely popular tourist destination, the city's extraordinary wealth made it irresistible to politicians and other would-be power brokers. Organized labor, especially when Jimmy Hoffa ruled the Teamsters, invested heavily in Vegas as the city boomed. Aspiring politicians eagerly tapped casino heads for campaign funds. John Kennedy loved Vegas (he was attracted by more than political contributions). Ronald Reagan bombed in Vegas when he emceed a variety revue at the end of his sagging film career, but, in the 1980s, President Reagan's endorsement of the free market legitimized Vegas's rapacious ethos, enabling casinos to join the ranks of reputable businesses. The syndicate, long underground, at last ventured into the upperworld, and Las Vegas, formerly scorned as a tawdry exception among American cities, emerged as the embodiment of no-holds-barred capitalism and self-indulgence.

Not content to trace the convergence of money and power in Vegas, Denton and Morris pinpoint Vegas as the epicenter of recent American history as well. After establishing the Kennedys' considerable ties to Vegas, for instance, they credit the city with JFK's rise and fall. Did Las Vegas mobsters, angered by Robert Kennedy's determination to investigate organized crime, play a role in JFK's assassination? "It hardly mattered in the end who killed JFK," because "in the end, Las Vegas had won." This Vegas-centric perspective of America, no less than the provincialism of the Manhattanite or Beltway insider, considerably overstates the city's influence.

The Strip's headiness can be disorienting. Its gleaming but ersatz facades may be less consequential than the unseen history of Las Vegas, a history that the city's media and power brokers have consistently tried to suppress. The authors' sleuthing in the shady world behind Vegas's golden veneer uncovers disturbing ties between underworld and upperworld, organized crime and corporations, mobsters and presidents. As they observe, Las Vegas, a crossroads for gangsters, politicians, financiers, swindlers and spies, proves a unique place for "connecting the unconnectable." Characterizing the city as the nation's "shadow capital," however, and making it the point of origin for disasters ranging from the Kennedy assassination to Watergate, only mirrors the hyperbole that is Vegas's vernacular. Sin City's notoriety is well-earned, as this disturbing tale of corruption reminds us, but Las Vegas is not the gateway that links this world to Hades. •

Chris Rasmussen teaches American history at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company