Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers – “A controversial new book”

Hit Me Cover

May 7, 2013 Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers was published. This book has recently come under fire for the observation that the State of Nevada failed to act on the information that organized crime was involved in various casinos.  Leading the attack on this book are various individuals that served as public officials in gaming regulation during the 1970’s – the period Hit Me focuses on. The allegations of these individuals first came out in a series of articles that ran in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Following the publication of these articles I was invited to defend the book on the Ralston Reports television news show. As a follow up to all of this media attention, I have decided to write a blog post that examines the facts. So in the following article, I will ask the question…

Is Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers controversial in its observation that the state of Nevada failed to act upon investigations that disclosed organized crime and illegal operations in various Nevada casinos?  Let’s consider the facts…

Dennis Gomes was Chief of the Audit Division for the Gaming Control Board from 1971 – 1977. In this position he investigated the Aladdin between 1973 and 1974. During this investigation the Audit Division found numerous infractions. To start an unlicensed individual with strong ties to organized crime was found over-seeing the count – serious grounds for action. Numerous members of organized crime were employed at the Aladdin – also grounds for disciplinary action. The top bosses of various crime families were comped at the Aladdin on numerous occasions – yet again, grounds for disciplinary action. Was any action taken? No, well not until 1979 after the federal government, independent from the state brought its own charges against Aladdin Hotel Corporation… Then the State revoked the gaming license for Aladdin Hotel Corporation. In fact, at the sentencing of the Aladdin defendants, Federal Judge John Feikens stated, “The State of Nevada seems to be reluctant to prosecute offenses committed under its own laws.”

Let’s consider another example, the Tropicana Casino… The Audit Division uncovered a credit scam, where the Tropicana was issuing markers to fake names all of which were never repaid, furthermore many of the names could be tied to known alias’ of ranking organized crime members. Further investigations uncovered hidden ownership and connections with various organized crime families. All grounds for disciplinary action, yet no action was taken by the state and the Audit Divisions investigations were stopped. However, the state eventually revoked the gaming license of the Tropicana in the early 1980’s again only after the Federal government brought charges against the operators in 1981.

Finally there is the famous Argent investigation in which the Audit Division uncovered the largest skim in gaming history in 1976. This is when things get messy. To start, Frank Rosenthal had been walking a fine line with regards to obtaining a gaming license and acting as casino operator for Argent. Rosenthal was a known associate of the Chicago organized crime family and had previous arrests for attempting to fix sports wagers. When Gomes’ investigation of Argent uncovered the largest skim in casino history, it further complicated this situation. Yet very little was done until 1979 when the federal government was actively investigating and charging various organized crimes members for their illicit activity in Nevada. Furthermore, by this point the role of organized crime in Nevada had become a regular part of national news.

What could possibly explain the state’s lack of action in regard to gaming regulation? According to the director of the Organized Crime Strike Force unit in Las Vegas, Geoffrey Anderson, who publicly stated in 1979 that, “It’s risky business for a local prosecutor, investigator, or well-intentioned political figure to initiate a probing investigation of the industry within the state. This is a tremendously powerful industry.” Furthermore, to quote Hall Lancaster of the Wall Street Journal, “It [gaming industry] is so powerful in fact that many believe it is able to hamstring Nevada’s regulatory efforts through the influence of state legislators, many of whom have economic ties to the industry and fear killing the goose that laid this state’s golden egg.”

During this period many agreed that gaming regulation in Nevada was not effective. In a Valley Times’ article from 1979, Gomes stated “Given the manpower and salary constraints placed upon the agency by the Legislature, gaming control in many areas has become a façade. The result is you have the appearance of controls, but not much substance.” And, Gaming Control Board Member, Richard Bunker agreed, “Over the years gaming control has been cosmetic,” he said. Yet others apparently did not think it was all bad, Jack Stratton, stated, “We’ve been effective enough to ward off any intervention by federal people. It’s difficult to regulate the lifeblood of the state.” But, then he added, “I don’t think we’ve ever had enough men to do a capable job of strict control.”

In conclusion, based on the factual timeline of events in regard to gaming regulation in Nevada, the state only acted after the federal government became involved and public perception was at stake. Or in other words, maintaining the status quo was no longer a viable option. Furthermore, various public officials have acknowledged the state’s inability to police its own casino during the 1970’s. This is nothing new, yet certain individuals seem to have forgotten this in their reaction to Hit Me! Finally, all of the confidential investigations that Gomes conducted as Chief of the Audit Division for the Gaming Control Board are now available at UNLV for the first time in history.  The bottom line is, in regards to Dennis Gomes and his experience on the Gaming Control Board, the state of Nevada did very little to prevent criminal activity in its casinos between the years of 1971 – 1979; and any action taken was only done so after the federal government became involved.

To see the Ralston Reports show visit the link below…

https://www.ralstonreports.com/tv/91113-bob-list-george-swarts-danielle-gomes

Mickey Wichinsky

“The infectiousness of crime is like that of the plague.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte

Luckily there is a cure for a criminal infection – it’s known as redemption. Following the publication of Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers, Glenn Wichinsky contacted me in regard to the portrayal of his father, Michael Wichinsky, in the book. Michael “Mickey” Wichinsky had been the focus of one of my father’s, Dennis Gomes, investigations during his time as Chief of the Audit Division for the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

This investigation was conducted in 1971, during which time Mickey owned the Southern Nevada Distributorship for Bally Manufacturing – a slot machine development company. The investigation discovered that Bally Manufacturing and its affiliates had ties to organized crime, in particular ties to Gerardo “Jerry” Catena, a top member of the Genovese crime family. This investigation caused Mickey some legal trouble. Mickey was issued a formal warning from the Gaming Control Board and eventually sold his distributorship.

Unfortunately, all I knew about Mickey was what I learned from that investigation as it pertained to Dennis Gomes’ story, a mere snapshot in Mickey’s 90 years. What I learned from Glenn Wichinsky was that, although his father had worked in an industry controlled by organized crime, Mickey’s story was more than just that – Mickey contributed greatly to the gaming industry as we know it today.

Michael Wichinsky was born in 1922, in a small town in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He was valedictorian of his high school, attended the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and went on to serve in the U.S. Army Corps during World War II. Mickey eventually married and settled back in his hometown of Hurleyville, New York, where Mickey and his wife operated a jukebox and pinball machine route.

In 1957, at his kitchen table, Mickey began developing his own games. His first invention was a multi-card bingo game, developed by Mickey and his wife that allowed a player to play multiple hands of bingo simultaneously. This was the first of a long list of gaming devices that Mickey developed and patented. According to Glenn, following the development of this device, Mickey was introduced to Jackie Gaughan, owner of the El Cortez casino. Gaughan told Mickey that although his game was unique, “it all comes down to the bucket”. This means that all that really matters with a game is how much money it can take in.

Shortly thereafter and newly divorced, Mickey took up a permanent residence in Las Vegas. First as a partner in the Sands Casino where he installed the first Bally slot machines; then as the first Southern Nevada Distributor of Bally Manufacturing.

In this position Mickey developed the hopper unit, which revolutionized slot machines. The hopper became the standard automated device for the payment of jackpots in slot machines across the globe and was only replaced in the past few years with TITO (ticket in/ticket out) technology. However, as previously mentioned, it was also in this position that Mickey ran into legal trouble and was forced to sell his distributorship of Bally Manufacturing to Si Redd, the Northern Nevada Distributor for Bally Manufacturing.

Due to this course of events, Mickey opened his own gaming company – Games of Nevada. In this role, Mickey was able to freely develop gaming devices of his own. Games such as Flip It. And, with the incredible success of this game, Mickey went on to open two additional companies; Game Masters and Advanced Gaming Technologies. Games of Nevada was sold to Mikohn Gaming in the mid 1990’s. Gamemasters and Wichinsky’s commercial building and intellectual property were sold to Cantor Gaming in 2008.

Sadly, Mickey passed away at 90 in February of 2013. However, he continued to develop new games until two months prior to his passing.

“My father loved what he did,” Glenn said. “And, for the contributions he made to the gaming industry, he was affectionately nicknamed “Mickey Machine” by his friends and colleagues.”

Now, you may be wondering why I wrote this article, particularly if you have read Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers – the reason is simple. Mickey Machine is a gaming icon. He simply loved games and he contributed to the gaming industry as we know it today. You may be wondering if I am recanting what I wrote in the book… No, I’m not. However, as I previously said, Chapter 6 of Hit Me! is a snap shot in a much longer story, a story of redemption. Mickey Machine followed his passion, he was inventive, and was able to move beyond the constraints of an industry controlled by organized crime. Besides, my dad always told me that Mickey was an extraordinarily nice guy!

wichinsky_mickey

 

Glenn and Mickey Wichinsky

The Jersey Chronicles – Part 3

Dennis

Spoiler Alert – Read Parts 1 & 2

            Gomes knew that he would never get his superiors to approve a clandestine international raid, so he took matters into his own hands.

            He and his most trusted agents snuck into the Bahamas as tourists. They conducted surveillance for 24 hours and everything matched up perfectly with the information that Mr. S had provided. The following day, Gomes and a few of his agents put their suits on, put their badges in their pockets and raided the office where the documents were being stored.  Gomes and his agents were met with a great deal of opposition but eventually Gomes gained access to the files and found the documents that detailed exactly what New Jersey legislators had been paid, how much they had been paid, and how these payments were made. According to these documents, relatives of certain New Jersey legislators who sponsored the gaming bill, were being paid various amounts under the guise of public relation fees, some of these payments exceeded $10,000 a month.

            Dennis confiscated the evidence, concluded the raid, and left the office.

         Not minutes later, Dennis was stopped in the casino by an imposing figure. A 6’5” black Bahamian plain clothes cop, with a British accent, told Dennis that he was getting arrested for violating Bahamian law when he and his agents entered the country under surreptitious circumstances.

“You have no jurisdiction here. Who do you think you are?” The very tall and imposing man yelled down at him but Gomes remained calm on the outside even though he felt like he was on the verge of passing out on the inside. What’s worse was that Gomes knew that the man was right and by all means he could easily be arrested, but he also knew that he had the evidence that put some of New Jersey’s key leaders under the mob’s control and he was not about to give it up. Dennis puffed out his chest and told the Bahamian policeman that he had armed agents all over the island and if Dennis was not given the opportunity to tell his team to stand down there could be a major international incident. Gomes told this official that he knew that the mob was paying off the Bahamian officials and providing prostitutes to Bahamian customs officials during their trips to Las Vegas and that they would not want to risk the international embarrassment of this information surfacing.

It worked, the cop told Gomes to talk to his agents then meet him at his headquarters.

          That little bit of time was all Gomes needed to escape the island. He went straight to the airport with the evidence and left his agents behind so as not to alarm Bahamian customs. Gomes was sitting on a plane in disbelief less than 30 minutes after his run in with the Bahamian police. He could not believe that he had enough evidence, right under the seat in front of him to sink some of the powerhouses of New Jersey politics.  Gomes could not wait to turn it in.  This was going to be the biggest bust of his life.  Never mind the multi-million dollar Argent Corporation organized crime skimming operation that he had uncovered in Las Vegas. This was much bigger!

Once Gomes was back in New Jersey, he put the evidence in a safety deposit box and waited for his agents to return.

*As a side note, I have some of this documentation as well as the investigative report my dad wrote.

Secrets to Success

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Secrets to Success

Dennis Gomes’ involvement in the gaming industry spans over four decades. He began his gaming career as the youngest-ever Chief of the Audit Division for the Nevada Gaming Control Board and he ended it as the co-owner of Resorts Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ. – grabbing headlines from start to finish.

Dennis Gomes, my dad, was posthumously inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame in October of 2012.

Following my dad’s passing, my cousin, Jon, shared an email that my dad had sent him when Jon was starting his career.

These are his secrets to success in his own words…

“My secrets to success and staying happy in the sometimes dog-eat-dog world are as follows:

1. Always care about the people that work for you and those who work with you. Every decision that you make that affects others, and should be made from a position of love.

2. Never do anything to wrongfully hurt another human being, but if someone attempts to seriously hurt you or your family then respond fairly but with thunder and lightening.

3. Never follow the crowd.  Think outside of the box, don’t accept the status quo and dare to be different.  Don’t do things a certain way just because they have always been done that way and don’t allow yourself to be set into some type of corporate mold.

4. Never forget what is most important in your life.  Family, both your immediate and your extended family, is first and paramount.  Next is self.  After that, in importance are your friends, and last is business and material things.

5. Always make time during the day for exercise.  It will keep you young and stress free.

6. Do something spiritual every day.  It does not necessarily have to be religious.  One of the best things that you can do is to set aside about 15 to 20 minutes every day to meditate and to feel the connection with the life energy that exists all around you.

7. Trust that God’s (Life Force) energy will guide you through life and that whatever happens is part of God’s plan.  By doing this you can let go and not worry about what is coming next because you will know that it is the right thing for you and your family.

8. Work hard, be proactive, seize opportunities and don’t wait as long as I did to become your own boss.

9. Remember that you do not obtain true happiness from other people, materiality, religions or other external things.  It comes from within you and you therefore are responsible for your own happiness.

Those are my secrets and they work.  Sometimes we lose track of them and fall off the wagon but when we realize that we have fallen off, we should not hesitate but should jump right back on and continue with the plan.

With Love,

Uncle Dennis.”

When my cousin shared this email with the family, I did not feel as if I was reading a letter that my dad had intended for Jon. Rather, I know that this is my dad’s way of ensuring that we have a clear list of his “secrets to success” to read and share whenever we feel the need.

My dad was immensely successful in business, but he was also the most incredible father, husband, brother, son, and friend. His family never took second seat to his career. All that my dad did came from a position of love, and he always said, “Love is the most powerful force in the universe.”

Thank you for reading.

P.S. – the picture below was taken when my dad was 63.

Dad jumping spinning backkick

The Jersey Chronicles – Part 2

Dennis, Barbara, Doug, Mary

Spoiler alert: be sure to read part 1 first!

Gomes, his wife Barbara, and his two children Doug and Mary moved from Las Vegas to Trenton in 1977.

While there, they built their dream home, an all brick colonial in Washington’s Crossing, not far from Gomes base at the State Police headquarters. The Gomes family fell in love with New Jersey and Gomes was enjoying his work, establishing his new Special Investigations Unit and helping to formulate the related operational manual for casino licensing investigations. Things were going well and he could not wait to get started on the investigation of New Jersey’s first gaming license applicant, Resorts International.  To help him in this task, Gomes imported a few of his top agents from Nevada.

In the beginning, the Resorts investigation was no different to Gomes than any other investigation he had conducted in his almost 10 years as a law enforcement officer with the Nevada Gaming Control Board. He began by developing a network of snitches – the key to any investigation. He did this in three basic ways. He would either find low level associates and pay them for information, or he would (rarely) find someone with a guilty conscience who would freely offer up information.  The third way that Gomes often used to turn an informant would be to catch them in some type of criminal activity and get them to give up information in return for immunity.

This was how Gomes turned his most valuable snitch in the Resorts International investigation.

We’ll call him Mr. S. – Mr. S was a Resorts International executive and Gomes caught him in a minor vote tampering scheme.

Gomes was quite talented at intimidating borderline criminals into becoming informants. At first, Mr. S was nervous and reluctant to snitch. But as the investigation continued, Mr. S began to enjoy his work with Gomes. In fact he would get excited, almost giddy, when he had a particularly juicy bit of information for Gomes. Through this informant, Gomes quickly learned that Resorts International was a mob operation and Mr. S promised that he would tell Gomes where he would find the proof.

One day Mr. S came in, especially ebullient and gave Gomes some intelligence that he wasn’t prepared for.

According to Mr. S, Resorts International was a mob operation that had paid key New Jersey legislators to pass the gaming bill.  If this information was true, it   would make the whole bill a fraud and put some of the sponsors of the bill in the mob’s pocket. However, according to Mr. S, Gomes would never be able to document and prove any of this because Resorts International kept all of the correspondence and documentation of these transactions at their casino in the Bahamas.  Furthermore, Mr. S. related that Bahamian customs officials were paid off to protect Resort’s interests and if Gomes and his agents traveled there, they would be identified by these same customs people and Resorts would be warned before Gomes could secure the evidence that he needed.

Nevertheless, Gomes had Mr. S describe exactly where these documents were held because he had a plan – granted, a crazy one, but still a plan.

The Jersey Chronicles – Part 1

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Introduction

This year, 2013, marks the 35th year of gaming in New Jersey and in honor of this milestone, I’ve decided to post the Jersey Chronicles – a series of posts that highlight the sordid history of the passing of the New Jersey Gaming Bill.

The Jersey Chronicles – Part 1

On December 7, 2010 Dennis Gomes and Morris Bailly officially took over Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. The news of their purchase was reported in over a dozen newspapers across the nation. However, this transaction was not the first time that Resorts Casino and Dennis Gomes had crossed paths.

Dennis Gomes was known as a gaming guru, a sort of marketing wiz that pushed the limits. At times he had been a little controversial but above all he was a proven gaming executive. As a gaming operator, the national press labeled Gomes as many things, “Mr. Fix-it” and “the Magic Man” to name a few, but thirty years ago he was known as the “casino watchdog”.

“Nevada’s top gaming prober heading for New Jersey”, was a 1977 Los Angeles Times headline and it was referring to Dennis Gomes’ decision to leave his tenured post as Chief of the Audit and Special Investigation for the Nevada Gaming Control Board. This news came just months after Gomes completed his investigation of the Argent Corporation skim, which was the largest casino skim in history. However, in the months following this bust, little or nothing had been done to prosecute this case. As a result, it was no secret that Gomes was dissatisfied with the state’s lackadaisical approach to casino law enforcement. (*These events will be detailed in the upcoming book Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers set to be released May 7, 2013 by Lyons Press.)

Consequently, when news of Gomes’s decision to go East hit the presses, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to those in the know. However, some worried that Nevada would not be able to continue to cleanse itself without Gomes’s help. In 1977 a Wall Street Journal writer expressed this concern, when he wrote, “Without Mr. Gomes in attendance, Nevada is through”.

           So, what was luring Gomes, one of Nevada’s top casino sentries, to the great state of New Jersey?

It was a job offer that promised to allow him to assist in the development of a gaming control enforcement agency from scratch, free from decades of criminal tolerance and corruption. The gaming bill in New Jersey had just passed and Gomes was hired as Chief of the Special Investigations Bureau for the newly formed New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. However, in just one year he would be back in Nevada and out of law enforcement for good. What happened over the course of this one year indelibly changed Gomes.

These events have never before been in print.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

*Citations supplied by request.