A book based on memories of Dennis Gomes, former Gaming Control Board chief of audit division, says former Gov. Robert List, when attorney general, blocked investigations into two mob-controlled casinos back in the 1970s — the Stardust and the Tropicana.
“Hit Me!” portrays List as standing in Gomes’ way when Gomes worked to oust mob interests from Las Vegas.
Powerful stuff, except four former gaming officials quoted in the book said they never said those things. List himself denied the accusations. A sixth former official wasn’t quoted but said the allegations were not true.
Former Nevada Gaming Commissioner George Swarts repudiated his quotes. So did Gaming Control Board Chairman Phil Hannifin, Bud Hicks, then the chief deputy attorney general assigned to the gaming regulators, and former board enforcement agent Ron Tanner.
Mike Sloan, now with Station Casinos, was the deputy attorney general for the control board and Nevada Gaming Commission based in Las Vegas. He wasn’t quoted but worked with Gomes. Hicks and Sloan both denied List prohibited investigations as attorney general and said even the process described in the book for gaming investigations is wrong.
“Hit Me!” was coauthored by Gomes’ daughter, Danielle Gomes, and novelist Jay Bonansinga. Much is based on Gomes’ unpublished memoir called “The Ostrich Conspiracy” written in 1983. Gomes died in 2012 at age 68.
Danielle Gomes, 33, said she is sticking by her father’s claims about List. “Going into this, I knew there was no way they would own up to it. Of course they would deny it.”
Memoirs take leeway, and she said she put some of her father’s recollections of his days at the control board from 1971-1977 into direct quotes even though he had paraphrased them.
Why didn’t she interview these six men? “The most obvious answer is that this is really my Dad’s story told from his point of view.”
The most startling allegations were three segments alleging that when List was attorney general from 1971-79 he refused to investigate wrongdoing uncovered by Gomes at the Tropicana and the Stardust.
TROPICANA: In 1973, Gomes concluded that the Tropicana had extended more than $1 million in bad credit to a junket program based in Detroit. He wanted the Gaming Control Board to investigate the credit fraud. The book claimed the “Las Vegas district attorney” (Roy Woofter) said the DA’s office didn’t have the expertise to handle a credit fraud case, and he should take his information to Hicks, the chief deputy attorney for gaming regulators.
Gomes did so, and according to the book, Hicks formally recommended taking action to List.
The alleged Hicks quote: “Dennis, I’m sorry, but Bob has declined this request. He refused to convene a special grand jury to try this case. He thinks it’s too sensitive an issue.” Then the book quoted Hicks saying “Listen, you can never repeat this — I don’t know how true it is, and I’ve never seen any evidence myself, but some feds told me that List was dirty.”
After reading the book, Hicks told me recently that district attorneys certainly prosecuted bad checks and credit fraud.
“Dennis brought that case to me and gave me a report on it. I didn’t send it up to Bob List. We (Gomes and Hicks) had a series of conversations, and my analysis was it was an interesting report, but not sufficient information to file a criminal complaint. I had fairly extensive criminal prosecutorial experience, and I said it was interesting and certainly a lot of smoke.”
Hicks, 67, pointed out that the AG had no authority to convene grand juries unless it involved a crime by a public official. “I discussed that case with people on the board, and I might have told Bob List I was looking at it, but I was the one who rejected it.” He asked Gomes to “give us more information. He had a lot of rumors but we needed admissible evidence.”
Gomes was no lawyer, Hick said. “He didn’t appreciate the different standards of evidence, and he got frustrated and mad.”
Hicks, now a gaming attorney in Reno, said he never would have said List was “dirty” because he wasn’t that stupid.
TROPICANA TWO: In 1975, Gomes recommend that the Nevada Gaming Commission fine the Tropicana for operating in an unsuitable fashion and call Joe Agosto forward for licensing, though he was the entertainment director.
Gomes said he told Hannifin of his idea, and Hannifin, who was on the board from 1971-78, said he’d consult with Attorney General List.
The book said Hannifin called Gomes on Jan. 15, 1976, and said: “Bob List said that we don’t have the authority to call Agosto forward for any sort of gaming licensing and suggested that we don’t move forward with any sort of formal action.”
Hannifin, 78, told me it would be “nonsense” that he would consult List about how to proceed with a gaming case. The control board was an independent agency, though the AG provided legal advice.
“My general impression is that this seems to be an ode to a semi-god written by the daughter. I don’t find it to be a good history,” Hannifin said.
He also told me, “I don’t want you to impugn much of the work Dennis Gomes did. He was very well-educated and a smart young man. He was a control freak and didn’t like being supervised. He would take rumor and conjecture and a little fact and come up with a whole story of corruption. But he did a lot of good. … He was a heavy hitter when it came down to the financial side of things.”
SLOT REPORT: The book says Hannifin gave board enforcement agent Tanner an envelope to deliver to Allen Glick, the mob’s frontman at the Argent Corp. Tanner supposedly opened it and saw it was Gomes’ confidential report on missing slot machines.
Both Tanner and Hannifin deny it happened. Hannifin said there was no reason for him to be sending anything to Glick, much less a confidential internal audit report. “Dennis had a good career in the gaming business, I’m sorry, I think this book does not serve him well.”
STARDUST SKIM: The book claimed List was elected governor in 1976. Wrong. List wasn’t elected until 1978. Yet the book said, “A new governor had been elected — Robert List, former attorney general for Nevada — and he had appointed a new Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid.” Also wrong. Gov. Mike O’Callaghan appointed Reid.
The book said Gaming Commissioner Swarts told Gomes, “Dennis, you can’t tell anyone that I suggested this, but you should ask the new governor to appoint a special grand jury to try the Stardust case, bypassing Clark County altogether. … He could possibly gain political points by making a public example of this major skimming case.”
Gomes submitted a request, and List turned it down, according to “Hit Me!”
Swarts, 70, denied saying the things involving List.
“I knew List personally, and if I wanted him to do that, I would have called him. … Dennis and I worked together just fine, and there was no reason to call him and ask him to do that and try to keep it a secret. No way. I never asked for a special grand jury.”
Sloan, 69, wasn’t quoted in the book, but said if these things were happening, he and Hicks would have known about it. “It’s just not fair to Bob’s reputation and it’s just not true.”
Danielle Gomes’ response: “I don’t understand how anyone can deny the fact that those in power refused to take action based on my dad’s investigations when almost every investigation in the book later became a federal case.” She said she has his investigative reports “that describe in detail what the federal investigations uncovered … only years later.”
You can look at this from many angles.
His daughter’s perspective: Dennis Gomes had great investigations that were later substantiated, so they must have been blocked by crooked politicians.
Hicks’ and Hannifin’s perspective: Dennis Gomes hadn’t nailed these cases down well enough for gaming regulators to act.
The book doesn’t quote List, 77. But he has plenty to say about “Hit Me!” which hits him so hard.
Read List’s response in Monday’s column.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. http://www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/jane-ann-morrison