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Johnny Carson, middle, and then-partner Ed Nigro at the Aladdin in 1980. At left was Tony Trudnich, a former fight promoter for the resort. (Photo: Courtesy Ed Nigro)

Part 4

Wayne Newton vs. Johnny Carson

Wayne Newton vs. Johnny Carson

Updated September 21, 2021 - 12:55 pm

Wayne Newton was at the height of his career on the Las Vegas Strip in 1980 — the No. 1 headliner at numerous hotels, earning millions of dollars a year.

Johnny Carson was NBC’s top dog, a power to be reckoned with in Hollywood. His long reign over late-night television was responsible for a massive share of NBC’s profits. And he, too, was well-connected to Las Vegas, as the owner of a local television station and a stand-up comedy performer on the Strip.

The Review Journal's John Katsilometes, left, speaks with Wayne Newton, right, at his ranch in ...
The Review Journal's John Katsilometes, left, speaks with Wayne Newton, right, at his ranch in Rollins, Mont., Sept. 30, 2020. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae

For years the two men were friendly and professional. “The Midnight Idol” had made some 30 appearances on Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

But their relationship took a sharp turn after Newton got the upper hand in their bitter battle to buy the mob-controlled Aladdin Hotel. Carson started skewering Newton in monologues.

The marquee for Johnny Carson and Don Rickles at The Sahara on Nov. 15, 1967, in Las Vegas. (Robert Scott Hooper/Las Vegas News Bureau)
Johnny Carson opening at the Sahara hotel-casino in 1970. (Review-Journal File Photo)

“He was very angry with me and started jokes on his show, and having other comedians join in with those jokes about my lack of manhood, I guess is the best way to say it,” according to Newton. “There was no rhyme or reason for it. No truth, in fact, at all. It was just his being so bent out of shape that I had ended up with the hotel.”

Longtime Las Vegas gaming executive and Johnny Carson partner Ed Nigro in his Las Vegas office ...
Longtime Las Vegas gaming executive and Johnny Carson partner Ed Nigro in his Las Vegas office Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto

Johnny Carson and his partner longtime gaming executive Ed Nigro felt betrayed after their purchase agreement was turned down. Carson left Las Vegas and never returned.

“We were very angry and very upset,” Nigro says. “And we knew we had been double crossed, and we knew that the judge went along with it, and that the state went along with it and that’s what disappointed me the most.”

Newton tried to get through to Carson for a couple of years without success. So one day, he says, he simply walked into Carson’s office unannounced and told him he’d kick his butt if the jokes didn’t stop.

Well, the jokes stopped, but Newton’s decision to buy the Aladdin and gain state approval turned into the nightmare of his life.

An old friend whom Newton turned to in an hour of need would tie organized crime to the Aladdin once more, and turn Newton’s reputation upside down. Reputed mob figure Guido Penosi, who helped Newton deal with death threats against his family, will be part of this episode.

Las Vegas developer Ed Nigro calls Johnny Carson on the announcement of the sale of the Aladdin ...
Las Vegas developer Ed Nigro calls Johnny Carson on the announcement of the sale of the Aladdin Hotel in April 1980. Nigro partnered with "The Tonight Show" host in a failed attempt to buy the Aladdin. (Scott Henry/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Part 4: Wayne Newton vs Johnny Carson

The feud between the two entertainment giants starts off the fourth episode 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, includingApple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and more.

Search for “Mobbed Up” on your preferred mobile podcasting app and tap “subscribe” or “follow,” orclick 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.