Robert De Niro once played a Hollywood version of casino executive Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, but Vegas PBS has the real guy on tape.
It also has rare footage of construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, atomic testing in the 1950s, local school board hearings on desegregation, and casinos fighting off allegations of mob influence.
Mafia corruption dramas often played out during contentious Nevada Gaming Commission meetings, featuring much younger versions of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman dressed in the fashions of the Disco era.
Vegas PBS, for example, has film of Reid, who was chairman of the Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981, declaring the suspension of the gaming license for the Aladdin and reading off a list of names of people to be blacklisted from the hotel-casino.
As late as 1994, the metal-covered tapes, some in color and others in black and white, were boxed up in cardboard and placed against a wall in the men's restroom of the station.
Now the mix of video and film is considered an important historical treasure trove and perhaps a new source of income for a nonprofit that is dependent on fundraising.
"We've already sold tapes of Frank Sinatra (in the early 1980s) applying for a gaming license," said Tom Axtell, the general manager for the TV station formerly known as Channel 10.
Sports fans might be interested in a clip featuring future ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne, who graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a degree in broadcasting in 1982. Mayne once did a news report for Vegas PBS on the controversy of allowing female sports reporters in men's locker rooms.
The station has plans to create an online archive of historical film.
Because of provisions in federal copyright law, Vegas PBS would charge fees to customers who want to use the footage for commercial purposes, such as making a documentary, but educators would still be able to download historical film for free, Axtell said.
The station is applying for up to $100,000 in a federal American Archives grant to cover the cost of converting film and videotape to digital.
College interns have been cataloguing and reviewing the tapes for quality. Film erodes over time from the wear and tear of running tape through a projector and because of environmental conditions.
The archived film is going to be preserved in a climate-controlled room at the station's new headquarters at McLeod Drive and Flamingo Road.
Michael Green, a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada, is advising the "Save the Footage" project on what to keep and discard. There are more than 1,300 different programs with much more to index.
So far, Green said he has recommended getting rid of redundant or duplicative material and preserving old news shows like "Real to Reel."
Green said historians have a tendency to think only written documents or "words" are important as source material.
"We also need to see how things were," he said.
"It's what really happened, as opposed to the Hollywood version," Green said. "'Casino' is a good movie. As history, it leaves a little to be desired."
As a TV historian, Axtell regrets that Vegas PBS did not make recordings of some of its earliest broadcasts. The station started as Channel 10 in 1968. A typical local program was a live broadcast of a math teacher doing algebra problems on a blackboard, Axtell said.
When the math teacher was finished, the station would fade to black for a few hours, and programming would resume later that night, perhaps with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Gaming Commission.
It was much like a C-SPAN broadcast of Congress, except it was not carried live. A film crew would have to bring their tape back to the studio for broadcast.
Vegas PBS no longer covers government meetings, since they now can be found on public access channels and online broadcasts.
Because Las Vegas was even more of a one-industry town in the 1970s, the Gaming Commission meetings were considered big news events, Axtell said.
He still meets people who said they regularly tuned in to see who was buying the casino where they worked or to find out about job opportunities at new casinos opening up.
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.