Skimming Their Way to the Bank
After the demise of Bugsy Siegel, less flamboyant but more efficient mobsters flooded Las Vegas. The less publicity hungry Lansky took over the Flamingo and had it running smoothly and profitably within a year. He also was the brains behind the Thunderbird casino. Other gangsters filled out the mob roster of hidden ownership of Las Vegas's biggest casinos. The Cleveland mob owned the Desert Inn. The Chicago Outfit had an interest in the Stardust resort. The Detroit Mafia had a piece of the Frontier. Sinatra's compatriot Sam Giancana had interests in the Sahara and the Riviera, along with the Fischetti brothers. The Fischettis — Joe, Rocco, and Charlie — were cousins of Al Capone and ran huge gambling operations for the Chicago Outfit. Known for their political influence as well as their talent for running successful nightclubs, the Fischettis were also close friends of Frank Sinatra.
The Last Shout
The Mafia reasserted itself in the post–Howard Hughes days, but the 1970s and 1980s saw the mob under attack from both the feds and the Wall Street crowd. FBI probes and indictments sent many a mobster packing, and legitimate businessmen and corporations filled the void. The main investigations were aimed at breaking the mob's control of skimming. (Basically the gangsters were stealing money before it was officially counted by the staff at the casino.)
The Teamsters Pension Fund, as administered by the notorious Jimmy Hoffa, loaned millions to the Mafia to build their casinos up and down the Las Vegas Strip. The hardworking Teamsters, however, shared in none of the booty.
When the oodles of cash and coins were collected and taken to the “counting rooms” of the big casinos, a certain percentage was “skimmed” off the top and sent as tribute to the big crime families. This was cold cash free and clear, not subject to the grasping talons of the Internal Revenue Service. In a cash business where the money was flowing, the profits made via skimming were astronomical.
It was a simple racket, and one that didn't require any violence or threats. The Mafia simply walked out of the casino with bags of cash. The lucrative operation was shared among Mafia families from Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee.
Tony the Ant
Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit's representative in Las Vegas and one of the most powerful Vegas crime figures in the 1970s. The Ant grew up in Chicago and fell into petty crime as a juvenile. He caught the attention of some Outfit soldiers and they brought him in as an associate. Through the 1960s Spilotro grew from a leg-breaker and strong-arm man to leading his own crew of robbers and bookmakers. In the early 1970s he was sent out to Vegas. He made a name for himself, teaming with the late Lefty Rosenthal, a noted bookmaker and casino owner, and running up the city's crime stats with his crew. But as Tony the Ant's stature grew and he became more of a law enforcement target, he was beginning to be viewed as a liability by his superiors. On June 14, 1986, Spilotro and his brother were beaten to death in a suburban Chicago basement then dumped in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield.
The Mafia always had a problem with loudmouths and big shots who drew attention. Both of these mob types brought the heat, as usual. The FBI started an investigation into the skimming, and through a combination of wiretaps and turncoats, the mob's hold on Sin City quickly started to slip away. The Tropicana, the Stardust, Desert Inn, Circus-Circus, Caesar's Palace, the Fremont, the Aladdin, the Sands, the Riviera, and the Sundance all fell out of mob hands, and the Dunes and the Marina were demolished in the inexorable juggernaut of respectability. The Golden Age of Vegas had come to an end. Chieftains of the Kansas City, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Chicago mobs felt the long arm of the law unceremoniously shove them into an eight-by-ten cell.
“Tony the Ant” often ran foul of Las Vegas police and the FBI. Criminal defense attorney Oscar Goodman represented him. Oscar was elected mayor of Las Vegas in 1999. As of this writing he is still in office.
Today, Las Vegas resembles more of a giant theme park for adults than the naughty “Sin City” of its heyday. Millions of people still flock there every year and drop billions of their hard-earned bucks on the gaming tables and in the slot machines. The Strip has started to gain back some of its hip and cool allure. Celebrities are flocking there again, and gangsters from Russia and Japan are making the casinos their personal playgrounds. The Rat Pack may be gone, but their cultural impact on Vegas will not be forgotten. Although the mob was taken out at the knees by the skimming cases, where there's money, the Mafia always finds a way to sneak back in.