The Money and the Power. The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America

I’m reading The Money and the Power, a history of Vegas. The corruption and influence of organized crime is much worse than I thought. Business, crime, and government intermesh. And not just in Vegas either.

JFK as a senator in ’57 went to Cuba casinos and asked Meyer Lansky to get him women. As president, he went to Vegas, stayed in bungalows paid for by mobsters who supplied him woman. And lest you think this was all somehow innocent, Harry Truman said his father, Joe Kennedy, “was as a big a crook as we have anywhere in this country.” Joe got his start in bootlegging and at one point a young Lansky organized a raid on a Kennedy smuggling effort, stealing the booze and killing eleven.

Lansky always stayed in the background and wasn’t flashy. But the skim in Vegas went mostly to him, which he then re-distributed. Many don’t know about him. However, he was the model for Hyman Roth in The Godfather. The book says he was blackmailing J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, with photos of Hoover having homosexual sex. This certainly explains Hoover’s curious insistence for years that organized crime didn’t exist.

The genuinely unsettling stuff is how the US government often used organized crime to get things done, whether it was breaking dock strikes during WW II or trying to assassinate Castro.

So, JFK gets elected with massive help from organized crime who gave enormous sums of money as well as help in stealing the election by vote rigging, fraud, bribes, etc. (Yes, Nixon did the same thing, and we’ll never know who would have won a clean election.) But clearly, Vegas expected something in return for playing a major role in putting Kennedy in the White House. This is where it gets really weird. Joe Kennedy insisted that Bobby Kennedy become Attorney General. Insisted. Yet Bobby immediately went after Jimmy Hoffa, Vegas, and others with a vengeance. Some say, maybe Bobby didn’t know about the stolen election or his dad’s criminal past. That’s not plausible. He was JFK’s campaign manager. And how could he not know about his dad?

The book strongly implies that Bobby, at least at first, was only going after certain organized crime figures, but not his dad’s allies. Things get further complicated by the incessant murder plots against Castro. The US government used organized crime to organize and attempt the assassination. This may have backfired when one of them began informing to Cuba on what CIA was doing in return for being able to run drugs through that country.

But then Bobby Kennedy started going after all of them. That couldn’t be permitted. After JFK’s murder and shortly before his own, he said “I found out something I never knew. I found out my world was not the real world.”

It’s a myth that organized crime in Vegas was Mafia. The real truth is Vegas was funded with drug money from all over. Jews, Irish and lots of others besides Italians owned it. (However, Jewish mobsters played a major role in running guns to Zionists in Palestine in the 1940’s.)

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