Commentary: UNLV to produce gaming control history book
April 5, 2009
I received some very good news last Monday while participating in a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law school program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the creation of the powerful Nevada Gaming Commission.
A veritable Who’s Who of the first 50 years of Nevada gaming control turned out for the event, sponsored by the Samuel S. Boyd School of Law in cooperation with the University of Nevada Oral History Program (UNOHP).
The good news for Nevada history buffs is that the Boyd Law School, under the guidance of Prof. Bob Faiss, who worked for the first Gaming Commission in the early 1960s, will edit and publish a comprehensive history of gaming control in our state based on some 25 interviews conducted by UNOHP staffers in recent years. Faiss, now one of the world’s leading gaming law attorneys, worked closely with Gov. Grant Sawyer (1959-67), who instituted the “hang tough” policy that created the commission.
“Hang tough” because Sawyer told members of his Gaming Commission and investigative Gaming Control Board to enforce the new laws firmly but fairly, and without fear or favor. No one was above the law including popular singer Frank Sinatra, who lost his gambling license in 1963 for hosting Chicago godfather Sam Giancana at North Lake Tahoe’s Cal-Neva Lodge. Although Sinatra protested loudly and mounted a nationwide PR campaign, he eventually capitulated and the commission revoked his license. I was proud to play a bit part in that drama as the gaming control agencies’ press spokesman but the heavy lifting was done by Sawyer, Commission Chairman Milton Keefer, an ex-FBI agent, and legendary Control Board Chairman Edward A. Olsen, the former Nevada AP correspondent who was my mentor.
The case against Sinatra was based on the so-called “Black Book,” which listed 11 notorious hoodlums, including Giancana, who were banned from Nevada casinos. Another Chicago wiseguy, Johnny Marshall, later challenged the Black Book, claiming that his civil rights were violated when he was barred from Nevada casinos. In one of my all-time favorite legal opinions, a federal appeals court ruled that allowing Marshall to frequent casinos “would present an emergency comparable to that presented by an animal running at large while suspected of being afflicted with foot-and-mouth disease.” Case dismissed.
Nevada ex-Gov. and Sen. Richard Bryan presided over the Gaming Commission anniversary celebration in Vegas. Other featured speakers included Law School Dean John Valery White and current Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard. Among those present was former Carson City Mayor Jim Robertson, who was a gaming commissioner in 1969 and 1970.
– Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, worked for Nevada’s gaming control agencies during the period 1963-66.