The intent behind this book is to record classic Las Vegas history that would be lost forever if not memorialized.
The Dunes operation was a spectrum of information that is intricate and mysterious at times, protected by a shroud of secrecy and intrigue that is virtually impossible to decipher. It featured different operators and Mob characters who, at various times in the history of the hotel, were involved in various ventures, including gambling, bookmaking, real estate investment, and many other business arrangements.
There are more than 390 footnotes and an index. I have been working on this book for almost four years, which included many hours of research and the development of a timeline. My research helped bring forth answers to questions regarding notable gambling operators, Mafia chiefs, U.S. Senators, Governors, and memorable events.
One such event solves a mystery of a bomb assassination plot and a shooting; politicians were compromised, Hoffa pulled strings, and there are heretofore undisclosed facts that involve President Kennedy’s assassination. I never dreamed these details would ever be uncovered. – Geno Munari
The Dunes was more than just a hotel-casino; it was a magical place
that held every conceivable amenity a guest could desire. It was
also this writer’s two-time former employer, which I hold dear
to my heart. It was a remarkable place to work, and the stepping stone to
my life’s journey and that for many other employees. It was a memorable
workplace where I earned my “doctorate in real life.” I wish I could go back
in time and do it again. I am so thankful for the education.
There were eight major management combines that operated the
Dunes Hotel during its existence. The operators all were showmen and
literally geniuses in their endeavors to please their guests. These hospitality
and gaming pioneers deserve to be remembered for their monumental
contribution to Las Vegas. They were real gamblers, not penny
ante pencil pushers. They had good common sense and fine-tuned the
operation without the aid of computers and social media tools. They had
hearts of gold and never turned away someone who was down on their luck.
They created a flagship property coined the “Miracle in the Desert” and
the “Miracle Mile.” It was THE place to gamble and have a great time.
There will never be another hotel as great as the Dunes Hotel & Country
Club was when these operators had control of the property.
Charles J. Rich, George Duckworth, Sidney “Sid” Wyman, Howard
“Howie” Engel, Dave “Butch” Goldstein, James “Jake” Gottlieb, Major
Riddle, Robert “Bob” Rice, Bill Miller, Morris Shenker, and many others,
including the numerous fine, hard-working employees, were part of a special
brotherhood at this charmed resort.
The intent behind this book is to record the history that would
be lost forever if not memorialized. It spans from the Dunes’ inception
to the final implosion of the fabled gaming mecca. For this project, I researched
the subject exhaustively and created a story timeline that took
nearly three years to complete. It’s a story of good and bad, fierce loyalty
and bitter betrayal, underhanded scheming and swindling, and much
The Dunes operation was a spectrum of information that is intricate
and mysterious at times, protected by a shroud of secrecy and intrigue
that is virtually impossible for the outsider to decipher. It featured
different operators and characters who, at various times in the history of
the hotel, were involved in a multitude of revenue-generating ventures,
including gambling, bookmaking, real estate investment, and many other
“business” arrangements. Exploring each of these avenues elicits a unique
story of interesting characters that interacted in ways that have been described
here as thoroughly as possible. Many are impossible to figure
out to exacting detail, so I have at times used theories and literary
license in explaining them.
A number of incidents described in this book I experienced firsthand,
so I wrote them as anecdotes, in the first person point of view. As for other
occurrences which are factual, I summarized and wrote in the third person.
I have taken this approach so readers may understand this record in the
appropriate context intended.
Because I was a Dunes employee and a confidant of the powers that
were, I wrestled with whether or not to tell this story for several reasons.
The pros and cons are many concerning whether the true story should
be told. Considering the arguments which could be made, one deliberation
revolved around whether another writer was working on the true
Dunes story. There might be one competitor: Morris “Arthur” Shenker.
He once asked me to write a book about his father, Morris Shenker. Had
I written that book, I would have told the story truthfully and reported
the facts accurately. I believe Arthur would not have accepted my final
product. All references in this Dunes book, unless otherwise indicated,
refer to Morris Shenker, Sr.
Also, I did not want to run the risk of betraying my mentors in any
manner or be viewed by scholars, the curious, co-workers and/or friends
as a disloyal whistleblower. I didn’t then, and don’t now judge my former
bosses and co-workers for their actions, which weren’t my business. Laissez-
I struggled through many long days and nights with the possibility
that my good friends, who had entrusted me with key information, and
my confidential sources might think that I’d betrayed them in telling the
true story of the Dunes and Las Vegas. Ultimately, I concluded that writing
the book was not betraying any secret oath. They had given me the
information willingly; I had not obtained it via surveillance, eavesdropping,
or any other sneaky or nefarious methods. I simply asked them directly about certain events and topics. They wanted me to know and get the
record correct. In the process, I realized that their stories should be told.
Law enforcement agencies and newspaper reporters have long noted
that the Dunes had Mob connections. Columnist Jack Anderson, for one,
wrote, “Frustrated with Mafia infestation of Las Vegas, the late J. Edgar
Hoover schemed to turns the Dunes Hotel over to Howard Hughes in
hopes of ridding it of suspected underworld influences.”
One individual whom I wrote about in this book intentionally gave
me, before his passing, a secret photo of himself taken with the real Godfather
of Las Vegas and several members of La Cosa Nostra, knowing that
someday I would write about him and the image. This gentleman lived and
worked as a well-respected casino leader in the city from the early days of
the classic casinos and at one time he was President of the Nevada Resort
Association. He wanted the record written accurately for historical purposes.
I truly believe he wanted the world to know about his dealings with
the Vegas operators of the time and the Mobsters.
Was the Dunes Mob controlled? This can’t be answered with a simple
yes or no, but this question can be: Was the Dunes in an arrangement
with organized crime? The answer is a resounding yes. One of the main
principals of the Dunes was asked if he would ever write a book about the
legendary hotel-casino. He said, “I would, but I’d have to wait until two
people were dead.” Those “people” were definitely not his direct working
associates or employees.
Another problem I faced was limited-to-no access to historical data
held by the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) and the Nevada Gaming
Commission (GC), and the questionable accuracy of the data that
was available for scrutiny. For the most part, the rank and file members
of these agencies are above and beyond reproach. They are hardworking,
dedicated, and good citizens serving Nevada and keeping casino gambling
on the straight and narrow. The following comments are not directed toward
these fine people. These comments are directed toward the powers
that allow the agencies to continually hide and suppress public information
behind several archaic Nevada laws, specifically Nevada Revised
Statute (NRS) 463.335(16) and the provisions of NRS Chapter 239.
These laws keep the facts, the historical data, and the truth from the
public. The laws make it illegal for the GCB and GC to release anything
about a gaming licensee or investigation to practically anyone. This
means they won’t give you a photo of or information about a past
legendary but now deceased gaming operator or a picture of the interior
of an imploded casino, if they even had them. And what about the interesting
cases that were investigated 30 or 40 years ago? Everyone in them
has passed away, and yet the regulators still won’t reveal anything to a
person requesting information. A STONE WALL!
Nevada’s gaming regulators use these statutes to act, in an unjust manner,
as dictators over what should be freely available public information.
When they need to inspect, peruse, or examine a fact in a file, they can
do so under the pretext that it’s legal, yet if a subject of the file needs to
defend him or herself, it’s practically impossible to get a look at what is in
the file pertaining to them.
In the spirit of fair dealing, there must be a reason that the GCB and
GC want to keep this information secret. Perhaps a legitimate right to
privacy would apply in some cases. Certainly, sensitive personal information
that could cause harm to a living subject should not be disclosed.
But in the case of deceased gaming licensees and investigations of these
persons, keeping this information inaccessible in a vault is beyond reasonable.
The argument that the agencies do it to protect Nevada’s gaming industry
from innuendo, speculation, and bad press is simply unacceptable
in this new age of social media and 24/7 worldwide news outlets.
The information in the hundreds, if not thousands, of files maintained
by the state’s gaming regulators is critical to Nevada and to the accuracy of
Nevada’s gaming history. Try to find a picture of Edward “Ed” Torres or
Maurice Friedman on the Internet. Good luck!
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) makes available to the
public much of its information via the Freedom of Information Act for
a postage stamp. So why then have the GCB and GC not released the
same data? Is it because of the fear of litigation? The last time this author
checked the law, a dead man cannot file a lawsuit.
Perhaps the high lamas at the GCB and GC do not want this information
released and open to research because there are smoking guns buried
within it that could implicate past regulators in wrongdoing, unfair dealings,
or even flat out criminal activity.
Here is an example of the regulators’ response to my simple request for
employment verification of Larry Snow (aka Snofsky), a former baccarat
gaming executive at Caesars Palace and an applicant who was once turned
down for a gaming license at the historic Moulin Rouge in 1951-52:
“We have looked into your Public Records Request dated November
19, 2017. It is our understanding that you are looking for all documents
pertaining to Larry Snofsky’s (aka Snow) employment at either the
Dunes Hotel or Sands Hotel. The Nevada Gaming Control Board does
not maintain employment records from the Dunes Hotel or Sands Hotel.
Please contact those companies directly.
“Nevada Gaming Control Board
Here is another response:
“The board has no information to confirm whether Larry Snofsky was
employed with the Sands Hotel. Please call me if you need further clarification.
Surely the GCB and GC realize that the Sands and the Dunes are out
of business? And to state that they have NO records on a man whom they
once denied a gaming license then allowed to work as the baccarat manager
at Caesars Palace is beyond ridiculous. It is especially so after I discovered
that Snow was in close association with Joe Adonis, and once volunteered
information about the suspected Lindbergh baby kidnapper who patronized
Snow’s garage for a paint job to possibly change the appearance
of his automobile.
Adonis was a high ranking member of La Cosa Nostra who operated
for 25 years without ever going to prison and did business with Meyer
Lansky, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Guarino
“Willie” Moretti, and Frank Costello. The Kefauver Committee considered
Adonis the dominant influence over Brooklyn’s leading politicians.
His lavish casino- style craps games in New Jersey earned him more than
$1 million per year. Adonis was the executive in charge of Costello’s million
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas completed an Oral History Program
on “Gaming Regulation in Nevada” in which 21 prominent Nevada
gaming regulators were recorded on audiotape talking about some very
sensitive concerns they had regarding controversial gaming cases and
applicants and licensees. The interviewees were Patricia Becker, Paul
Bible, William “Bill” Bible, Shannon Bybee, Gerald Cunningham, William
“Bill” Curran, Steve DuCharme, Bert Goldwater, Dennis Gomes, Philip
“Phil” Hannifin, S. Barton “Bart” Jacka, Bob Lewis, Arthur Marshall,
Wayne Pearson, Harry Reid, Michael Rumbolz, Brian Sandoval, Frank
Schreck, Jack Stratton, Roger Trounday, and Sue Wagner. I urge readers
of this book to seek out these oral histories for some real inside
A researcher may muck out information from the records of the GCB
and the GC’s hearings but certainly could not write intelligently and accurately
about red flags in individual cases based on these sources alone. It
is almost an unfair advantage that the oral history participants had over
anyone else wishing to discuss or research the topics. There was not
a single instance wherein an interviewee refused to answer a question
from the moderator based on the confidentiality clause of NRS 463.120
and NRS 463.3407.
Yet, I offer the contentious opinion that the oral history participants
crossed the line concerning confidentiality of gaming records
pursuant to these statutes. Even though they may have recited information
from memory or notes, as the laws are written, any information about
investigations is confidential and, thus, cannot be disseminated, whether
orally or through printed matter.
Shannon Bybee was appointed to the Gaming Control Board by Governor
Donald “Mike” O’Callaghan in 1971. Bybee was asked with respect
to Morris Shenker, “Do you recall any specifics of the investigation,
such as who headed the investigation and how many agents were
assigned to his case?”
He answered, “I don’t recall how many agents were assigned; it depended
on workload and what else we had to do. I know I got a call from one of
our agents in Shenker’s office who was going over his things in St. Louis
who said that Shenker had a safe in his office that they wanted to get into.
Shenker said it had client materials in there that were an attorney-client
privilege. I said, ‘Put him on the phone.’ And I said, ‘Morris, you’re going to
have to decide whether you want to be a casino owner or an attorney.’ And
he opened the safe and let them in. And that’s where they found some old
promissory notes where he had loaned money to some of his clients. I think
they’d been paid back, but he still had them in his safe. It actually wasn’t his
clients; I think it was a U.S. attorney that had paid back the money. Shenker
had also sold a car at a pretty good deal, when cars were very shorthanded
during the war, to an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent who ‘happened’
to be also working on a case involving some of his clients.
“However, when we held the hearing, we had an attorney—I can’t
remember his name now, but he had been counsel for the Watergate committee—and he said that the ethical standards before Watergate were different
than they were after. We also had the IRS agent who said the
agent who Shenker sold the car to was not involved in the investigation of
Shenker’s client. And he also said, ‘I was the one who made the determination
that there was no criminal case.’ And then the IRS agent who got
the car said he had no authority to do anything related to that case other
than if they prosecuted and recovered the money, then he would apply
it against the taxes. That’s the kind of thing we ran into on almost every
issue with Morris.”
As for the Dunes, there are many stories and insider moves that I was
not privy to and that could one day yet be discovered. So at the end of a
perplexing arrangement wherein I may theorize on exactly what and why
a certain action occurred, future writers, researchers, and interested parties
may continue where I left off.
In capturing the true story of the Dunes, I had to cross over into the
history of some of the other classic Las Vegas hotel-casinos because many
of the Dunes operators and associates were connected to these other operations.
There is no question that some of these connections, no matter
how tenuous, were with the Mob. By “Mob,” I mean the Mafia, La Cosa
Nostra, the Outfit (Chicago), and the National Syndicate. A common
thread links all of these early Las Vegas Strip operations with many of the
Dunes operators. What I discovered astonished me, even after being very
close to the Dunes situation.
So when I drill down to the particulars and the associates of an individual,
it may seem like I am deviating from the Dunes story, which is not the
case. As I researched and fleshed out new leads, I discovered a new name
associated with Mr. Wyman, for instance. This new person opened up another
set of doors to enter, beyond which I found additional stories
that heretofore were unknown to me.
A final consideration I had regarding writing this book was that if
I were to pass before finishing it, the real story of the Dunes would be
lost forever. Hence, I decided to tell it while I’m still able. Doors that I
open here, questions that are raised but not fully answered, well, they will
be here waiting for the next researcher and writer who care to deep dive
down the rabbit hole and explore the labyrinthine world that was Vintage