There are still plenty of people in Las Vegas who remember the days when the mob ran Las Vegas. On my last trip I met a couple of them – a barman and a taxi driver. The taxi driver had a business card that described him as ‘driver and lifetime Las Vegas resident’. He described how he and his mother had both worked for in mob-run casinos and lamented the decline in standards and increases in petty crime in the city since the mob had lost control. Asking a few questions the apparently utopian picture turned out to full of darkness. He admitted that now and again those on the edge of the city would find that their dog would bring back a human body part “sometimes a femur, sometimes a skull” from a desert burial. I commented that this was a pretty significant downside but he was adamant that this was not a real issue on the basis that everyone knew that if you were stupid enough to steal from the mafia you would be killed. I remained unconvinced. He told me about the mob museum (Formally know as ‘The National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement’ which is well worth a visit.
The barman, who I’ll call Michael, told me a couple of stories about legendary mobster Anthony Spilotro portrayed in the Martin Scorsese movie Casino as Nicky Santoro. Michael was sitting next to Spilotro at a bar where he was working but off-duty. There was a lot of talk in the city about a very senior level falling out between Spilotro and his fellow mobsters, Michael slid down a couple of stools saying ‘I hope you don’t mind Tony, I just don’t want to catch a bullet’. Spilotro laughed, but two days later he was found dead, buried in a cornfield. In the movie he was buried still breathing, but this the facts are less remarkable; later mob testimony revealed he as beaten to death in a basement and moved to the burial site. Michael was also asked to retrieve and return Spilotro’s wife’s handbag (or purse as he put it) from a bar where she had left it. He couldn’t resist taking a peek at the contents. Inside the handbag was a .38 snub nose revolver, a huge wad of hundred dollar bills and a small bag of white powder…
Spilotro’s story is an interesting one: he came into contact with organised crime at an early age as his parents ran a Chicago restaurant that was adopted by the mob. He became a “made” man in the 1960s and was sent to act as the mob representative in Las Vegas in the 1970s. He founded a burglary operation, known as the Hole in the Wall Gang with his brother; it was their unsubtle entry methods that earned them the gang nickname. Unfortunately for Spilotro this overt criminal behaviour led to him being blacklisted by the casinos, which compromised his official mob representative role. This did not sit well with his bosses and associates. In January 1986, at a high level mob the problem of Spilotro and Las Vegas was debated and the agreed conclusion was ‘hit him’.
On that trip I spent most of my spare time in Downtown Las Vegas, which for me is by far the most interesting part of the city; it is full of character and rather gritty in comparison to the high end experience of the strip. You can find the pictures from this and my other trips at the Las Vegas gallery on this site. There is also an earlier blog on Las Vegas. The accompanying picture for this post was shot with my Leica Q at f1.8, 1/5000 of a second with -0.6 EV, using the electronic shutter. The leaf shutter on the Leica Q is virtually silent and will go to 1/2000s after which the electronic shutter takes over on the way to a maximum 1/16000s – making the Leica’s fast aperture usable even in bright conditions. What I like about this shot is the strong full-length shadow, the inclusion of the big Fremont street neon signs in the background and the gentleman’s white jacket, hat and shoes which contrasts nicely with the dark tones that dominate the shot. The Leica Q’s incredible sharpness on the subject compared to the background helps make that contrast even stronger.