In early August 1979, state gaming control agents were on the Las Vegas Strip preparing to take unprecedented enforcement action to shut down the casino of the mob-ridden Aladdin hotel.
The federal government had obtained convictions against the Aladdin Corporation … and some of its top executives, including entertainment director James Tamer, for allowing the Detroit mob to unlawfully manage the casino.
Minutes after the Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously to close the casino floor, state agents rushed into the Aladdin. Some headed straight for the casino cage. Some went to the gaming tables. Others went to the slot machines.
Employees and patrons were instructed to leave, as agents secured the casino and the sounds of gaming came to an abrupt halt.
Then-Control Board Chairman Roger Trounday personally went to the Aladdin to inform Sorkis Webbe, the casino’s general counsel, of the closure.
“He, he started yelling and screaming and started frothing at the mouth, somewhat,” Trounday says. “I don’t know what that was all about. But he was, he was really angry. And I think he may have been a little frightened.”
Webbe was the brother of Peter Webbe, one of the Aladdin’s mob-connected owners who had been forced out by the state.
But the shutdown didn’t last long. Within hours, at the request of the Aladdin’s owners, federal Judge Harry Claiborne ordered the casino reopened until a mob-free buyer could be found.
I think what Harry Claiborne did shocked everybody.
Bud Hicks, deputy attorney
It created animosity between Claiborne and state regulators, who didn’t like losing control of a licensed gaming operation.
“I think what Harry Claiborne did shocked everybody,” says Bud Hicks, a top deputy attorney general in that era. “It was really beyond the pale.”
Despite running into a roadblock from Claiborne, the state’s action against the Aladdin spurred on hard-charging federal prosecutors to make a final push to drive organized crime from the Strip.
It was a costly campaign that shook up the Las Vegas establishment, led to a bitter war between the prosecutors and judges, and cost Claiborne his job on the bench — and his freedom. The man credited with bringing Claiborne down was the FBI’s new special agent in charge in Las Vegas, Joseph Yablonsky, the cigar-chomping, self-promoting “King of Sting. He’ll be introduced in this episode.
Part 3: ‘Close the Place Down’
The brief shutdown of the Aladdin’s casino highlights the third installment in the Review-Journal’s second season of the popular true-crime podcast series “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas.”
Your host for season 2 is Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German, who has covered organized crime in the city for more than 40 years.
Where and how to listen
“Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas, Season 2” is available for free on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and more.
Search for “Mobbed Up” on your preferred mobile podcasting app and tap “subscribe” or “follow” or click here to listen to the series on the Review-Journal website.
Season One of “Mobbed Up,” published in summer 2020, chronicled the rise and fall of the mob in Las Vegas over the course of 11 episodes.