weather icon Mostly Cloudy
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper
The Aladdin Hotel and Casino, as shown on Jan. 5, 1993, in Las Vegas. (Review-Journal file)

Part 1

The Genie in the Lamp

Part 1: The genie in the lamp

Updated September 20, 2021 - 2:40 pm

When the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts opened in July 1976 with a music legend, Neil Diamond, it was a $10 million, state-of-the-art entertainment center meant to lure new sophisticated tourists to the city during the beginnings of a tourism boom. Though the new venue was designed to be part of the city’s future, it was built on its past.

The performing arts center was part of a $50 million hotel expansion mostly financed by the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, a mob-controlled financial institution that loaned millions of dollars over the years to Las Vegas casinos. And it didn’t take long for that past to catch up with the city.

Neil Diamond opens the Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts on July 2, 1976. Photo by Jessie Eastland – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19932404
Aladdin Hotel and Casino pictured on Aug. 28, 1989, in Las Vegas. (Review-Journal file)

There were at least 14 major casinos on the Strip at the time, and organized crime families had control of more than a third of them.

Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas history professor, says the state was slow to recognize the presence of the mob on the Strip. “I tend to think the Nevada regulators were kind of caught off guard in the late 1970s. They had really just, I think, begun to reckon with just how much more influence there was here.”

Soon, the Aladdin’s entertainment director, James Tamer, came under suspicion of overseeing the Detroit mob’s interests at the resort and attracted the attention of Nevada gaming regulators.

It just hit us like a tidal wave, just hit us like a tidal wave — the enormity of it.

Robert List Governor

In August 1977, an FBI affidavit alleged Detroit mobsters had hidden interests in the hotel. This came when state and federal officials were beginning to look into allegations that crime families in Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Cleveland were skimming funds from other Las Vegas casinos.

In 1978, Tamer and other Aladdin executives were indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit in a scheme to unlawfully manage the casino with mob figures, and they later were convicted at trial.

By the time Robert List became governor, the state was on a collision course with the mob.

“In some ways, I was this young guy who no sooner became governor than this dropped,” List says. “It just hit us like a tidal wave, just hit us like a tidal wave — the enormity of it.”

Jimmy Hoffa, the iron-fisted, colorful boss of the Teamsters union, is introduced in this episode. The mob’s dominance on the Strip would not have happened without Hoffa’s guiding hand.

FILE photo: Historic Nevada postcard showcasing the Aladdin Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
FILE photo: Historic Nevada postcard showcasing the Aladdin Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

Part 1: Genie in the bottle

A packed house at a new Strip theater built on July 2, 1976, with mob money is the starting point for the Review-Journal’s second season of the popular podcast series “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas,” a true-crime series that dives into hidden mob interests at the Aladdin hotel and other Las Vegas casinos in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was one of the most colorful eras in the fight to rid the gaming industry of organized crime.

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.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Tony Spilotro and the mystery of Lake Mead’s body in a barrel

Two experts at Las Vegas’ Mob Museum hypothesize that the ruthless enforcer killed one of three men with mob ties who disappeared decades ago without a trace.

Aladdin’s Curse

It was the final chapter of the troubled Las Vegas Strip resort controlled by the mob two decades earlier, then rescued by a big-name entertainer only to fall into ruin.

A Judge Falls From Grace

Harry Claiborne — the Nevada judge who stood up to prosecutors fighting the mob — was charged with bribery and filing false tax returns, and was the first federal judge to be impeached by the House.

Wayne Newton’s ‘Nightmare’

Newton wound up suing NBC for libel, and even tied his nemesis, Johnny Carson, into what became a decade-long litigation after a news report by Brian Ross.

Threats, Bombs and Stings

Nevada Governor Robert List was embarking on one of the most critical tasks in the history of the state — breaking the mob’s grip on the world-famous Las Vegas Strip.

Wayne Newton vs. Johnny Carson

Wayne Newton and Johnny Carson, two of the biggest stars in the entertainment world, both set their sights on buying the Aladdin after regulators stripped the resort’s owners of their gaming licenses.

‘Close the Place Down’

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.

Jimmy Hoffa’s role in developing Las Vegas

Jimmy Hoffa and his friends in the mob played a big role in developing Las Vegas through their control over the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, and the millions of dollars in loans it extended to casinos.

‘Mobbed Up’ podcast: ‘Strawman — Part 8’

Part 8 of ‘Mobbed Up’ tells the story of the start of the FBI’s Strawman investigation, through electronic surveillance audio and interviews with former members of law enforcement in Kansas City.

‘Mobbed Up’ podcast: ‘Open City — Part 4’

This installment of “Mobbed Up” delves into the history of organized crime in Las Vegas from the 1930s up to the 1960s and sets the stage for the arrival of Frank Cullotta and Tony Spilotro in the 1970s.