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.
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.
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.