Corpus Christi Caller-Times from Corpus Christi, Texas on August 12, 1956 · Page 81
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Corpus Christi Caller-Times from Corpus Christi, Texas · Page 81

Corpus Christi, Texas
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 12, 1956
Page 81
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LAS VEGAS Bv JOHN GUNTHER photoirapbi by Orfflond Gilll Gaudy neon signs beckon lo the visitor. John, Gunther, world-famous for his books "Innide U. S. A.", "Inside Europe", "Inside Asia". "Inside Latin America" and "Inside Africa", found his assignment to lift the lid off Las Vegas, the gambling capital of America, "the most fascinating 'inside' story I've ever cohered."--THE EDITORS M ost of the politics, racketeering and skulduggery in Las Vegas, the fancy little resort town built on wheels and dice, hang on the "gaming" (not "gambling") licenses given out by the state of Nevada. Without these licenses Las Vegas' great hotels and casinos could not exist. A prime sight of this bouncing El Dorado is a club called the Horseshoe on Fremont Street. Here $1,000,000 in cash is kept neatly on permanent display, in the form of 100 crisp $10,000 bills pasted in a frame just inside the door. This Costs the management almost $45,000 a year in interest and more in insurance, but is worth it in publicity. Undeniably, the million dollars in cold cash is impressive. But the small buff rectangle of paper that constitutes the gaming license in every casino, which usually hangs inside the cashier's cage, is much more valuable, if the casino is doing well. So that, though there's never been a gambling murder in Nevada, the struggle to get a license can be intense--almost literally a matter of life and death. As a matter of fact, for Tony Cornero, a hoodlum with a face like a death mask, it was a matter of death! Tony was a character. He liked to make the crazy, fantastic claim that he "made" Earl Warren, now Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court. He figured it out this way: When he was illegally operating gambling boats in Santa Monica bay, California, to which customers came by water taxis, Warren, then Attorney General of California, cracked down. The resultant publicity arid excitement, according to Cornero's neat theory, was what brought Warren to fame for the first time. Tony moved into Nevada with only $6,500 in his jeans. He proceeded to raise $6,500,000 to build the Stardust Hotel, with 2,800 stockholders. He applied for a gaming license and Governor Charles H. Russell, knowing his background, said: "As long as I'm governor, Cornero will never get a license." Cornero's reply was: "I'll get a license, or be carried out feet first." Two remarkable things then happened. First, he did get a license, largely through the influence of many friends in high places, on condition he lease the Stardust, not run it himself. Promptly he put his own men in as lessees. Second, he was carried out of Las Vegas feet first! He died of a heart attack while shooting craps at the Desert Inn, just before the Stardust was to open. Cornero was a thug, but he had guts. While struggling for a license he put ads in the newspapers comparing his own record with those of some Nevada officials. He Cared only for big gambling, grumbling over housewives losing their money in slot machines. "Gambling is only for people who can afford it," he would say. Today the Stardust sits like a deserted sepul- chre, its 1,502 empty rooms mocking the memory of those who built it. It never opened. Las Vegas, as almost everybody knows, is a double entity. Downtown, in the city proper, gambling--except for slot machines, which are everywhere--is restricted to a couple of blocks on Fremont Street, which beckon to the visitor with gaudy neon signs. The joints here have plenty of money and do a landslide business, but they are not in the same class as the sumptuous casino- hotels on The Strip. The Strip, five minutes outside the city limits, is a four-and-a-half-milc section of U. S. 91, the highway that connects Las Vegas with Los Angeles. The hotels here, on each side of the road, are what give Vegas its unique quality and make it, as the local boosters proudly assert, the "entertainment capital of the world." Gambling in Nevada is licensed and controlled by the State Tax Commission, consisting of the Governor and six members. One of these must be a livestock man, another a mining man (livestock and mining are, along with gambling, Nevada's biggest industries) and another a banker. The Governor appoints the other commissioners, except one who holds his job ex-officio, which means that the Governor is, in effect, czar of gambling in Nevada. A nybody applying for a license to open a casino or resort hotel is, in theory at least, thoroughly investigated. He is fingerprinted and his bank accounts and earnings are checked. And a gambling joint can lose its license for failing to conduct its public relations with "dignity and good taste," or for catering to, or employing, persons who may bring "discredit" to the gaming industry. A license may be refused on the basis of a person's "habits and antecedents"--a pretty broad phrase--and the authorities do their best to keep out of Las Vegas anybody who has a blatant police record or who is a member of a syndicate. But it is difficult to find out what "hidden money" may be behind the big hotels. Politics enters licensing, because Gambler X, as an example, may try to exert influence to keep his rival, Gambler Y, from being licensed. The way to get things done is to "know the right people." Sometimes pressure to get a license for somebody comes from perfectly legitimate sources-contractors, building supply people, labor unions, real estate men, and the like, who stand to gain by the building of a new casino. If you are building a hotel, it must be two- thirds completed (or thereabouts) before you can even apply for a license. This is to ensure that promoters do not sell stock in the venture on speculation. But, obviously, nobody but a crazy man is going to invest $5,000,000 or more in a new luxury hotel unless he is at least fairly sure that the license will be forthcoming. Smart gamblers don't like to take a chance --on things like that. efore I describe the Strip hotels, how they operate and who runs them, here are the main points about Nevada gambling in general. First: Not only is gambling legal in Nevada; it is on the level. There may be a few fleabitten villages with crooked wheels or lopsided dice, but the big Reno and Vegas hostelries and joints are strictly honest. They have to be. The hotels may be full of shady money, but the games are straight. The innocent visitor may lose his shirt, or even his undershirt, but he won't be rooked. Second: Gambling is a big business, a veritable industry. Gross income from gambling in Nevada reached $104,000,000 in 1955, of which about $60,000,000 came from Las Vegas. Considering that Nevada is the smallest state in the union in population and a state not overly rich in most respects, this is a very substantial sum indeed. Gambling has been taxed in Nevada since 1949, and the tax ranges from three to five and one-half per cent of the gross, depending on the size of business. There also are license fees and taxes on individual tables, slot machines and other devices. City and county authorities collect taxes, too, so that the tax bill of a big casino comes to a lot of money. One striking point is that no really accurate inspection of the cash take, on which the most important tax depends, is possible. The big casinos run 24 hours a day, in three shifts, without interruption, and the money is hauled off and counted after each shift. Then it goes to the casino vaults, and is eventually sent to Los Angeles or elsewhere, by armored car. Obviously, the state cannot afford to have inspectors to watch (Continued on following page) THE AMERICAN WEEKL'f Aulutt 12. 19M 9

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