Oscar Goodman faced a riveting question raised by one of Jay Sarno’s sons: “Was my father in the mob?”
Freddie Sarno said he’s wrestled with that question since seeing his father, the genius creator of Caesars Palace, featured in the Mob Museum.
Sarno’s son brought up the hot potato issue when he and his three siblings (Jay Jr., September and Heidi) were asked to address the crowd during Goodman’s speaking series Thursday at the Plaza steakhouse, Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads.
“I’m 52 years old and I ask myself how do I feel about that,” said Freddie Sarno, a financial expert who handles 401ks for many top Las Vegas companies.
Jay Sarno died July 21, 1984, two decades after he opened Caesars to universal acclaim.
“I was 22 at the time,” said Freddie Sarno, “and history goes on and as I got older and connected the dots, I ask myself what is the mob and was my father in the mob?”
His conclusion: “My father was a hotel manager. He was visionary and Caesars was created from his fertile mind.
“But before Caesars he designed hotels in Atlanta, Dallas and Palo Alto. And (Teamsters Union boss) Jimmy Hoffa, who had money to lend, took a liking to my father because my father had great charisma.
“So he built this casino in Las Vegas, Caesars Palace. So the mob comes in, skims money off the top and my dad can’t say a thing or they will kill him.”
Turning to Goodman, who defended the Caesars Palace icon and organized crime members in the 1960s and 1970s, Freddie Sarno said, “I think I’m right on this, Oscar. My dad had to pay the tab for unreported earnings so he was indicted for this. So was he in the mob? I don’t believe he was. Did he run up against the mob? Absolutely. He couldn’t say a thing or they would kill him.
“And I’m at peace with that. I’m comfortable with that. I don’t know how my siblings feel but I think that’s how I think it went down.”
Goodman’s response: “In my opinion your dad was not a member of the mob. But we have to remember how Las Vegas got built. Las Vegas got built because of monies that were given to developers of these various properties and most of the monies came from the Teamsters Pension fund.
“And the Teamsters Pension fund was riddled with characters that the FBI and federal authorities would like to see characterized as mobsters, even though many of them were the most respected people of their particular communities and in order for Jay Sarno to do business, he had to do business with these folks in order to get the money to build these buildings.
“But if ever I had been involved knowing that Jay was part of the mob I would say it,” said Goodman. “But he knew a lot of guys, he dealt with a lot of guys but I never saw him participate in anything that would suggest he was part of the mob as we know the mob today.”
Heidi Sarno Straus, also a Las Vegas resident, said she came to grips with the question long ago.
“He wasn’t in the mob but he brushed up with the mob. That was the nature of doing business in Las Vegas.”
“I don’t mind the allure,” she said. “It’s kind of cool.”
I had a chance Sunday to get some entertainment community updates at the celebrity bowling fundraiser for the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Mirage headliner Terry Fator and his wife, Taylor Makakoa, traveled to Europe this summer and learned how small the world can be.
During a cab ride in Amsterdam, Makakoa was stunned to see a familiar face on the sidewalk passing by. It was a cousin from her home state of Hawaii.
They loved Salzburg, Austria, and its musical tours the most.
“A 10,” said Taylor.
Anthony Crivello, who had the lead role in “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular” during its six-year run at The Venetian, was back at the event.
He just wrapped up “Heathers,” an off-Broadway version of the 1988 film that starred Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty.
Broadway continues to deal with “a difficult economic climate,” said Crivello, who has worked on and off Broadway since “Phantom” closed two years ago.
Crivello, who lives in Los Angeles but still has a home here, said he has some irons in the fire.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
Myram Borders, a longtime United Press International reporter in Las Vegas before retiring in the 1990s, emailed me Sunday with this observation: “Your Beatles column sure corresponds with what I saw when covering their Las Vegas stop in 1964. I made my way up to their floor via elevators and fire escapes before being stopped by the guards. But I saw a room and hallways full of VERY YOUNG girls before I was shoved out.”
Regis Philbin, dining with friends at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant (Paris) on Friday. He was in town to support the Disabled American Veterans national convention.
THE PUNCH LINE
“I like that Forbes magazine is deciding which city is the coolest (Las Vegas didn’t make the top 20). That’s like Good Housekeeping naming the snowboarder of the year.” – Jimmy Kimmel
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke.