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Dan Eitner, The Venetian Casino, Las Vegas
"I'm sure there are times when these individuals have snuck into casinos."
 real 28k

Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
Vegas gives crooks the cold shoulder
The Strip in Las Vegas
The Strip is no longer an easy touch for the Mob
Las Vegas conjures up images of glad-handing commissionaires, eager-to-help bellboys and endless complimentary drinks. But the city is keen to shake off its underworld reputation and many of those with shady pasts are distinctly unwelcome, as BBC News Online's Chris Summers discovered.

Every cop in every town knows who the bad guys are but in Las Vegas they have a public register of people declared persona non grata.

The List of Excluded Persons, better known as the Black Book, actually covers the whole of Nevada but its main aim is to protect the jewel in the state's gambling crown, Las Vegas, from corruption.

Some of the Black Book entries
Louis Dragna (since 1960) Los Angeles mob racketeer
John (1986) and Sandra Vaccaro (1987) slot machine cheats
William Land (1988) card cheat
Ronald Harris (1997) ex-Gaming Control Board computer expert
Stephen "The Whale" Cino and Charles "The Moose" Panarella (1997) both convicted of murdering Las Vegas mob figure Herbie Blitzstein.
Once on the list, they face a criminal charge if they enter a gaming establishment.

Exemptions include bars and arcades with less than 15 slot machines and airports - McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas has hundreds of 'slots'.

Casino officials who tolerate or fail to report visits by Black Book members face fines or even the loss of their licence.

The legality of the exclusion list has survived numerous court challenges, right up to the Supreme Court.

The chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, Brian Sandoval, told BBC News Online: "There are persons we feel are not suitable to enter into our licensed establishments because of their reputations or their convictions."

Carl Civella
Carl Civella (left), one of the 11 original names, died in 1996
Mr Sandoval said pictures of all the individuals on the list are posted on the commission's website and are disseminated to all Nevada casinos.

"The Black Book is very reliable and effective in keeping them away from casinos," he said.

There are currently 35 names in the Black Book.

The latest to be nominated for the unenviable honour was Ramon Pereira, who was added to the list last month.

Pereira, 54, had four felony convictions for slot machine cheating and is facing a federal trial later this year accused of manufacturing a device which would have been capable of defrauding the casinos of thousands of dollars.

Fear of federal crackdown

The Black Book was created in 1960 by Nevada's gaming authorities, who feared a crackdown by the federal government.

Las Vegas strip
Las Vegas's gambling industry is worth billions of dollars
Nevada's then governor, Grant Sawyer, believed if they did not act to control mob influence in the state's legal gaming industry, Congress would effectively eliminate it through high federal taxes.

One of the first to be installed in the book was Sam Giancana, the legendary Chicago mafia boss, who spent a great deal of time in Vegas.

The Chicago mob invested a lot of money in the city's casinos and felt entitled to skim their profits.

Deleted after death

Giancana, whose name became synonymous with shadow conspiracy theories against President John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, was only removed from the book on his death in 1975.

In the early days names were just added, without debate, by the three-member Gaming Control Board.

Lewis v Holyfield II
Illegal bookmaking, on events such as boxing, is also a trouble area
But in the 1970s a system was introduced whereby those nominated could appear in person and challenge their nomination.

Jeff German, a reporter with the Las Vegas Sun who has covered organised crime in the city for the last 20 years, said Las Vegas had changed a great deal in that time, with big corporations gradually taking over.

He told BBC News Online: "In the late 1970s and early 1980s the federal and state governments were coming down hard on organised crime in casinos."

A good example was Anthony "Tony The Ant" Spilotro - the basis of the Joe Pesci character in the movie Casino. He was entered in the Black Book in 1978.

A former jewel thief, he was brought to Vegas as the Chicago mob's enforcer but was later murdered - beaten to death in a cornfield, along with his brother in 1986 - when his excessive violence began to embarrass his bosses.

'Harder to infiltrate casinos'

His position in the book, which meant he was unable to enter Nevada casinos, may have also persuaded his bosses he was no longer useful.

Mr German said: "The Justice Department has made great inroads into organised crime and it has been made more difficult to infiltrate casinos."

A game of poker
Card sharks are not unknown in Las Vegas
So much so, he said, that organised crime no longer had a foothold inside the casinos.

"Today organised crime is restricted to street rackets, such as prostitution, drugs, loansharking, insurance fraud and illegal bookmaking."

Mr Sandoval agrees: "We have worked very hard to restore public confidence in the gaming industry. We have purged the industry of that element.

Gambling monopoly broken

"People used to consider Nevada a haven for organised crime but that is not the case any more."

New York, New York
New York, New York is one of the new clean super-casinos
In the mid-1970s Nevada held a monopoly on gambling. But casinos have been legalised elsewhere in the US, first in Atlantic City, New Jersey, then on Indian reservations, and more recently on riverboats in Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Mr German said the Mafia was more likely to be found in some of these casinos, than in Vegas which is dominated by legitimate billionaires such as Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian and Bill Bennett, all of whom are darlings of Wall Street.

In 1979 New Jersey - home of Atlantic City - followed Nevada by introducing its own List of Excluded Persons, which now includes 173 individuals.

Dan Eitner, director of surveillance at the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas, said while the Black Book only contained 34 names, there were many more people who were unwelcome in his casino.

Casinos share information

"All the casinos share a database of individuals who are either cheats, card counters or thieves," he told BBC News Online.

"We are linked up to the internet connected to a secured server, which has pictures of these individuals."

Mr Eitner keeps an eye out for unwelcome guests with the help of 700 close circuit cameras hidden in the ceiling of the casino and communicates with uniformed and plain clothes security staff on the casino floor using mobile phones or walkie talkies.

But he said: "In the seven years I've worked in Nevada I've only seen one of the people on the Black Book in my casino."

In the seven years I've worked in Nevada I've only seen one of the people on the Black Book in my casino

Dan Eitner, Venetian Casino
"We were not 100% sure so we did not apprehend him. But we notified the Gaming Board and they looked at the photos of the person we had taken."

Mr German said: "The Black Book is still a tool of vigilance to guard against the Mob influence."

Roulette wheel
Casinos keep a keen look-out for cheats
In 1996 a notorious Vegas mobster, Herbie Blitzstein, was nominated for the book, but he was murdered by several Los Angeles gangster before he could join the club.

While the Black Book remains useful in combating the visible presence of the Mafia in Las Vegas, it is redundant in the new world of internet gambling.

'No Black Book for internet'

Online gambling, while not technically illegal in the US, is considered by the Justice Department to be a violation of the Interstate Wire Act, a 1961 law banning gambling by telephone.

Legislation specifically banning internet gambling failed in Congress last year.

Of course the Black Book is useless on the internet. I don't know how you would police internet casinos.

Jeff German, Las Vegas Sun
Nevada does not permit online gambling within its borders, but Mr Sandoval says the legalisation of internet gambling was inevitable because of the global nature of the web, although he is concerned about protecting minors.

"The big casinos are divided about the internet. Some want to get into it but others see it as nothing but a threat," Mr German said.

"Of course the Black Book is useless on the internet. I don't know how you would police internet casinos."

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