Remembering an attempt to organize a Las Vegas dealers union By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports September 9, 2020 at 8:00 pm Mike O’Callaghan had been the Governor of Nevada just a few months in May 1971 when he faced a crisis in his administration. Namely, what to do with New York attorney Wilfred “Bill” Davis. At a time when the presence of the enigmatic Howard Hughes was supposed to have brought the gaming industry out of the long shadow of the mob, a pipedream as it turned out, casino dealers in Las Vegas found themselves being courted by organizers from the 711 Gaming Union. Sounds lucky, doesn’t it? It wasn’t the first or last time someone came up with the bright idea to unionize the dealers, through whose hands the fortunes of customers and corporate casino kings pass on a nightly basis. Casinos have historically generally taken a hard stance against organizing gaming employees. His name has largely been lost to history, but the presence of Davis as the union’s attorney was a sign that the lucky 711 probably wasn’t just any labor outfit. He was, after all, the attorney for Vito Genovese. And Genovese family mobsters Tommy Eboli, Michael Miranda, and Gerardo “Jerry” Catena. (Catena would later be linked to a major slot machine manufacturer and executives of Caesars Palace, where he was said to have a stake as a hidden owner.) Hank Greenspun’s Las Vegas Sun newspaper immediately went into overdrive to lay out Davis and the organizing attempt. One blistering banner headline and kicker from the May 1 edition: “Mafia Behind Drive for Dealer’s Union” and “Mob Lawyer to Call the Shots.” Former Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan What followed was an editorial disguised as a news story that blistered Davis and left no doubt in readers’ minds who would be running the dealers if they unionized. Greenspun and his reporters pounded away day after day, but it didn’t take long to attract O’Callaghan’s attention. Nevada’s gaming industry was seldom far from scandal in those days, and O’Callaghan quickly dispatched Gaming Control Board Chairman Phil Hannifin to get to the bottom of the organizing attempt. Within hours, Hannifin announced that he was considering recommending Davis for inclusion on the state’s List of Excluded Persons, better known as the Black Book. At that time, the Black Book contained 22 names, 11 of which were part of its 1960 inaugural class of characters. Hannifin’s problem was simple: Much of the state’s gaming regulation in general, and its use of an exclusion list specifically, hadn’t been tested much in the courts. The organizing scandal occurred at a time it wasn’t clear whether the Control Board could legally place slot cheaters, card-benders and other crossroaders in the Black Book, much less a dapper New York attorney who, as his union ally M.C. Pashos assured skeptics, had never been “arrested, convicted of a felony, or accused of unethical misconduct by any bar association.” And in those days slot cheats annually robbed casinos of an estimated $10 million, according to the Control Board’s estimates. Officials were forced to admit they would first have to establish regulations before giving the cheaters the “86.” Vito Genovese, right, New Jersey racketeer, waves as he was bailed out at Federal Court in New York, July 8, 1958. With him is his attorney Wilfred L. Davis, left. Greenspun never needed much help getting his point across in print, but O’Callaghan augmented the publisher’s concern with his own terse comments. The union organizers, meanwhile, expressed surprise given organized labor’s role in O’Callaghan’s upset victory over Lt. Gov. Ed Fike in the 1970 gubernatorial campaign. Davis had nowhere to hide. His name was all over congressional inquiries into the mob’s influence on the New York waterfront, the Genovese family being heavily influential there at the time. He’d often visited his client, the late Genovese, in federal prison. More than two decades later, Davis would continue to make headlines for his complex connections to the upper echelon of the Genovese family, some of whose members were regular Las Vegas visitors. Pashos, the union’s local president and organizer had been successful with several casinos in clearing the way for a vote. He tried to downplay the state’s Black Book threat, uttering a line that would be used unsuccessfully by others associated even peripherally with the casino industry. “We feel they have no jurisdiction over us,” he said. “We are not owners of any gaming license.” Then he jabbed at O’Callaghan, “I’m surprised that he would allow this. Labor put him in office.” That didn’t stop the Governor and the crusading newspaper publisher from continuing to their criticism of the mob’s half-slick organizing attempt. By the end of the summer, the Black Book threat was no longer necessary. The organizing votes had failed. The 711 Gaming Union wasn’t so lucky, after all. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.