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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 06:36 GMT 07:36 UK
Vegas gives crooks the cold shoulder
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.
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."
"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.
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.
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."
"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."
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."
Mr German said: "The Black Book is still a tool of vigilance to guard against the Mob influence."
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.
"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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