Critical view of former governor’s book on his Vegas past

Consider it the memoirist’s prerogative: He gets to recount his life’s events any way he wishes, and readers expect he’ll place himself in a sympathetic light.

Whether he flashes a glimpse of stocking or lets it all hang out, the writer of a memoir needn’t adhere to the biographer’s bibliographical standards or share in the investigative reporter’s obsession with documents and law enforcement sources. Like Frank Sinatra with a laptop, the memoirist can recall it his way.

The trouble with a memoir by a longtime public figure, however, is that his recollections of high-profile events might not match the memories of others who experienced those same events. And when those clashing memories concern the quicksilver days of the mob’s substantial presence inside the Las Vegas casino racket, the subject matter can be tender, indeed.

Such is the case with former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller’s memoir about growing up in the long shadow of his father, old-school gambling boss Ross Miller, “Son of a Gambling Man: My Journey from a Casino Family to the Governor’s Mansion.”

With a foreword from former President Bill Clinton and jacket endorsements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “America’s Most Wanted Host” John Walsh, and business magazine scion Steve Forbes, the book is a neatly packaged inoculation of Miller against the ravages of time and Nevada’s tumultuous and tawdry gambling and political history. The gambler’s son spends substantial space attempting to come to terms with his father’s streetwise stoicism and undeniable notoriety.

As a practical matter, he needn’t have bothered. His life’s legacy should rise and fall on its own merits. And, frankly, Miller would have been better served if he hadn’t opened some of the doors of memory. Other doors easily could have been secured with more thorough editing and a clearer appreciation of the ghosts lurking behind them.

At its best, “Son of a Gambling Man” gives insight into the complex psychology of the offspring of casino men and the sociology of our neon-lighted privileged class. In that regard, it ranks with the late Susan Berman’s memoir, “Easy Street: the True Story of a Gangster’s Daughter.”

Miller tells us his father had been a bookmaker and nightclub operator with some notorious relationships, but he can’t quite bring himself to admit his dad was a loyal Chicago Outfit representative whose Las Vegas opportunity was essentially sponsored by hoodlum friends in the Windy City.

Instead, we get a toe in the water. It’s almost as if the son of the gambler is still sensitive about his old man’s past. Although Ross Miller’s memory gets the usual Al Phillips-the-Cleaner treatment — a ringing character endorsement by no less a paragon of ethics than former Sheriff Ralph Lamb — even cursory research reveals a side of the gambling man that made him look very much like a mobbed-up casino overseer.

In addition to beating a casino skimming investigation that took down his peers, Ross Miller had a decidedly old-school approach to addressing dealers suspected of stealing. In January 1963, he punched a Riviera dice dealer in the mouth and ordered his hotel goons to drag him into a backroom, where he was terrorized. (The dealer sued and in 1965 won a settlement.) In that same incident, the Review-Journal reported, Miller ordered security to take the dealer’s suspected accomplice out behind the hotel and “break his arm.”

Memoirist Bob Miller, of course, needn’t recall that anecdote. Certainly no one could blame him for wanting to forget something that made the newspapers when he was a high school kid.

More problematic are his depictions of the relationships with his father’s green-felt protégé, convicted mob casino skimmer Carl Thomas, and family friend Allen Dorfman, the consummately organized crime-connected Teamsters Central States Pension Fund and Las Vegas casino insider.

Bob Miller admits writing a post-conviction letter to a sentencing federal judge on behalf of Thomas, in connection with skimming on behalf of the Kansas City and Chicago mobs at the Tropicana.

Invoking William Faulkner, Miller eloquently observes, “The past, they say, is never really past. And after I became district attorney, my past — or should I say Ross Miller’s past — became the present.”

He goes on to recount how, against the advice of political adviser Billy Vassiliadis (to whom he dedicates his book), Miller decided to write the letter in July 1983 to U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Stevens that attempted to show Thomas in a sympathetic light.

Miller then focuses on how a political challenger later attempted to make campaign hay of the letter. What he fails to admit is that the letter was a huge embarrassment to the community and to the office of the district attorney, the county’s top prosecutor.

It was inappropriate, but unsurprising. In Nevada politics, friendship almost always trumps duty.

Equally incomplete is Miller’s treatment of Dorfman. Miller acknowledges that Dorfman was a family friend, and on a wiretap uttered some embarrassing statements about their relationship, but he doesn’t finish the story.

The reader is left to ask, “Hey, whatever became of Allen Dorfman?”

The felon was considered such a key player in the mob’s presence in Las Vegas that the FBI devoted a team to taking him down. With wiretaps, undercover agents and confidential informants, the government was pressuring Dorfman to cooperate.

On Jan. 20, 1983, just a few months before DA Miller penned his apology on behalf of Thomas, Dorfman pulled into the parking lot of the Hyatt Hotel in the northwestern Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood and exited his Cadillac. Investigative reporter James Neff writes in his meticulously researched book “Mobbed Up:” “Eight rounds from a silencer-equipped .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun struck Dorfman in the head at close range. Allen Dorfman had just kept thirty years of Mob secrets the hard way.”

So that’s why Dorfman doesn’t write, doesn’t call.

How close was Dorfman to the Miller family?

“Dorfman himself was a secret owner with Chicago gangster Ross Miller of the Bingo Palace, while Miller’s district attorney son held stock in a blind trust in the casino, (Teamsters boss and FBI informant Jackie) Presser said,” wrote Sally Denton and Roger Morris in their best-selling Las Vegas exposé, “The Money and the Power.”

The memoirist can remember as much or as little as he wishes, and owes no one an excuse for the sins of his father. But “Son of a Gambling Man” is a reminder that when you open those creaking doors of Las Vegas past, there’s no telling what ghosts will come swirling out.

Bob Miller outgrew his father’s shadow long ago, but after reading his memoir I’m still not sure our state’s celebrated son of a gambling man believes it.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father recalls the night his 14-year-old son died jumping into moving traffic
From the Clark County Detention Center, Ezequiel Anorve Serrano talks about the night his 14-year-old son, Silas Anorve, died jumping into moving traffic on U.S. 95. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Palace Station unveils new sports book
Palace Station talks about the new sports book Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
One of world's longest racetracks planned in Pahrump by 2020
The racetrack will be 16 miles long by the year 2020 according to Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club owner John Morris. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Robotics takes off at Las Vegas Academy
Las Vegas Academy’s robotics team made it all the way to the world competition last year, the first year the team competed. Zackary Perry describes how they programmed their robot to compete. The team is an example of what Tesla wants to have in every school in the state. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sedan and semitrailer collide in south Las Vegas
An early Wednesday morning crash has left one person in critical condition. A sedan and semitrailer collided around 4 a.m. at the corner of Spencer Street and Serene Avenue. Police do not believe impairment is a factor in the crash. Spencer has been blocked off north of Serene while police continue their investigation.
Cybersecurity Professionals Flock to Las Vegas for Black Hat
Black Hat USA, the largest annual cybersecurity conference, is expecting a record 17,000 attendees during its six-day run at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center this week. One thing attendees have in mind is making sure they don't get hacked while they're there. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police chase ends with suspects captured in east Las Vegas
An early Tuesday morning chase ended with a car crash in an east Las Vegas neighborhood. Police were pursuing the vehicle, which they say was involved in robberies in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, when the driver crashed at Owens and Statz Street. A man was taken into custody. A woman was ejected from a vehicle and taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The intersection at Mojave Road and Owens Avenue was shut down while police officers searched for the suspect and investigated. The intersection will remain closed for most of the morning.
Record number participate in Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony
Three hundred sixty-five medical students received their white coats during the Touro University Nevada White Coat Ceremony at the M Resort in Henderson Monday. The ceremony was developed to honor students in osteopathic medicine, physician assistant studies, nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy as they accept the professional responsibilities inherent in their relationship with patients. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Stop for school buses, urges CCSD
Clark County School District Police Department hold a mock traffic stop at Centennial High School in Las Vegas, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Work Begins at Las Vegas Community Healing Garden
Crews moved the wooden Remembrance Wall at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden on South Casino Center Boulevard Monday. Construction on a permanent wall is set to begin within the week. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Man wounded outside Cottages apartment
Las Vegas police don't have a motive after a man was shot early Monday morning outside a northwest valley apartment. The man's mother called police to say her son had been shot. She called police around 1:15 a.m. Other people were inside the apartment but no one else was injured. Police are still looking for the shooter.
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like