Old Las Vegas

Las Vegas today is a city operated by corporations. The city where time is forgotten was once run by the Mob -- the FBI would call it organized crime -- and gangsters set the rules.

What were the rules that the gangsters of yesteryear established for a city that did away with clocks in casinos, that provided prime rib for under $3.95 and that fed the poor as long as they contributed to the gambling industry? The rules are -- there were no rules.

StageShowVocalistsLasVegas

'Las Vegas was the most unique city I ever worked in,' RoseMarie told me. Rosemarie was the actress-comedienne-singer who appeared on the 'Dick Van Dyke' show. I met her in the early 1980s while working as a reporter in Phoenix, AZ.

RoseMarie was traveling with a group of vocalists who called themselves 'Four Girls Four.' They included Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting and Helen O'Connell. The appeared in concerts throughout the United States and sang such classics as 'Tangerine,' 'Come On-a My House' and other standards that identified a generation of pop music lovers.

Over lunch at a motor hotel on East Van Buren, RoseMarie told me, 'I wasn't always fat, frumpy and fifty. In my twenties, I was pretty cute and I had a good singing voice. I opened for Xavier Cugat's Orchestra at the Flamingo when Bugsy Siegel managed the casino resort for the Mob.

'On opening day, I was so nervous. I walked through the casino and Siegel called me over to his table. He was having a drink with some associates. He took a bundle of cash out of his pocket and handed it to me.

'Here, Kid,' he said. 'You look nervous. Go relax. Play some baccarat or keno. You'll be fine.'

RoseMarie said, 'I thanked him and left the table. When I checked the money he gave me, I almost fainted. It amounted to $10,000. I played a couple of hands of keno and then went back to his table. I gave him the money back and said, 'Mr. Siegel, thanks, but I can't handle this. I have to get ready for my show.' He just smiled, winked and said, 'Good luck, Kid.'

'From then on, I could do no wrong in Bugsy Siegel's eyes. I had passed his honesty test and we became an item. He always treated me in a classy way and I will never forget it.'

The mob took care of the visitors to Las Vegas. Casino owners like Jackie Gaughan, a World War 2 veteran who owned the El Cortez, Gold Spike, Union Plaza and other downtown casinos, at one time reportedly fed at least half the city with his famous .29 cent breakfasts and $3.95 prime rib dinners.

Gaughan had a generous nature that carried over to his casino operations. During his lifetime, he owned up to 25 percent of the casino properties in downtown Las Vegas. He was close friends with Oscar Goodman, the former mayor of Las Vegas, and was well connected with the state's political leaders.

LovingOldLasVegasretro

Even after Gaughan sold the El Cortez, he was well treated and respected by the mob. The new owners allowed him to live at a suite at the El Cortez. Although he was in the beginning stages of Dementia, he played poker nightly in a small stakes game in the poker room.

While he played, nobody was permitted to bother him. Security made certain of that. I remember one evening when I tried to approach the casino mogul at the poker table and was blocked by two burly security guards. They politely but firmly told me that 'Mr. Gaughan is not to be disturbed.' I left the table without talking to him.

Gaughan, who was born in Omaha, Neb., died at the age of 93. His funeral was well attended by many Las Vegans who considered him a friend.

Today the corporations run Las Vegas. They are efficient and they make sure every department -- food, beverages, rooms, etc. -- pays for itself. It makes for good business I guess but somehow it just isn't the same as when the mob ran old Las Vegas.

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