Hit Me!: Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers sight unseen

Dennis Gomes led a romantic life. He died in 2012 in the midst of an attempt to turn around the struggling Resorts Casino in Atlantic City.  It was the last act of a 40-year career of swimming upstream against common practices and wisdom. In the first act, Agent Gomes was a Nevada gaming regulator who moved in a dangerous zone between the world of mobsters and casino bosses. He was instrumental in Nevada casinos’ transition from mob controlled operations to the squeaky-clean, publicly-traded casinos of today.  In later acts, Gomes helped New Jersey establish its regulatory and enforcement structure.  After he left regulation Agent Gomes became the friendlier, and one suspects happier, Dennis Gomes. He was Dennis the casino manager, Dennis the go-to, turnaround guy, Dennis the marketing guy and Dennis the guy who brought the tic-tac-toe playing chicken to Atlantic City casinos.

Dennis Gomes was also a husband and a father.  His son, Aaron is following Dennis’ footsteps in casino management, while one of his daughters, Danielle, has spent the time since her father died finishing her father’s unfinished memoir: Hit Me!: Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers. I have not yet read the book, so you will have to forgive me if all of my knowledge of it comes from reviews.

If nothing else Dennis Gomes was a legend.  He was a legend in Nevada for his work in the 1970s that uncovered organized crime at the Aladdin, Tropicana and Stardust hotel-casinos. And he was a legend in Atlantic City for his management at the Taj Mahal, Tropicana and Resorts hotel-casinos. He was so much of a legend that other legends fought over the right to his services.  In 1991, Donald Trump and Steve Wynn almost came to blows over Gomes after he left Wynn’s Golden Nugget in Las Vegas to work for Trump at the Taj Mahal.  Wynn sued demanding millions from both The Donald and Dennis; the parties finally settled the law suit three years later in 1994.

As with all legends, Dennis’ myths sometimes exaggerate his accomplishments and his capabilities. Still, there were and are many who think Dennis could do anything.

To know the smile of Dennis Gomes was to know sunshine. To know the wisdom of Dennis Gomes, was a college degree. To know the warmth and caring of the man was a spiritual experience. But to know how he operated for the good of the gambling industry inside the world of casinos was an eye opening experience. Victory Gold Levi, Amazon, 8-26-13

“Dennis was not only a leader for the New Jersey casino industry but an innovator for the Tropicana Atlantic City,” said Tony Rodio, president and CEO of Tropicana Casino and Resort. “Dennis was known for his dedication and passion to the company and its employees. A true visionary for Tropicana and Atlantic City, Dennis changed the model and set the tone for a new Atlantic City.” Donald Wittkowski, Press of Atlantic City, 2-25-12

Among those that have paid homage to the Dennis Gomes era in Nevada, I have always counted myself.  I have known and interviewed many people who worked with him during those heady days of mob busting.  Everyone to a man admired him.  Although to them it was a team effort, not a maverick’s solitary accomplishment – a team led by Phil Hannifin.  In their accounts Agent Gomes was important, indeed very important, but not singular.  The 1970s were Nevada Gaming Control’s finest hour.

Probably no one had more blind and loving faith in Dennis Gomes than is daughter and namesake, Danielle.  And that may be a liability – at least for the book’s accuracy and long-term value as a historical document.  Is it a factual account?  Or is it personal account distorted by time, anger and a daughter’s love?  The most recent review of the Hit Me! in the Las Vegas Review-Journal by Jane Ann Morrison contrasts the Gomes’ narrative with the memories of some of the other important people of the time.  According to Morrison, Hit Me! portrays everyone in Nevada, except Gomes, as implicated in the crimes of the mob in Nevada casinos, including the former attorney general and governor, Robert List.  Morrison gives Governor Robert List a chance to comment and give his side of the story. The List version does not match the Gomes version.

Sadly, Dennis Gomes is dead, so this book is his last word on the subject.  It is sad that he is dead, but it is also sad that his version stands without the possibility of any cross-examination, which is after all at the core of our adversarial system of adjudication.  And because of that the Review-Journal article and its implications is very disturbing for me.  I have met and worked with Bob List and in everything I saw he was a man of integrity.  I have also talked to or interviewed former gaming control board agents, heads of enforcements and one former control board chairman.  None of those conversations or accounts align with the Gomes’ narrative.

It is hard to discredit a legend or to question a legend’s credentials.  However, Dennis Gomes as portrayed by his daughter becomes more of a disgruntled, frustrated, egocentric and eccentric than a legend.  I was not there in 1970-something and I did not read the book, still I am siding with Bob List and the others.  I know him to be an honest man and not an egotist or an eccentric.  Regardless of what the man who gave us the chicken wager said, in my opinion there are no rubber chickens in the closets of Robert List, Mike Sloan, Bud Hicks or Phil Hannifin. They were the ones who collectively cleaned up the Nevada gaming industry.  Dennis Gomes was a part of that effort, but he was not alone in his efforts or in his honesty.

Ex-Gov. Robert List responds to allegations in ‘Hit Me!’: I delivered the bad news to former Gov. Robert List. A new book showed him in an unflattering light. He hadn’t read it and was horrified after he did.  “Hit Me!” portrays him as protecting the mob from being investigated, specifically at the Tropicana and the Stardust.  The book is a memoir of Dennis Gomes’ life from 1971 to 1977 when he was chief of audit at the Gaming Control Board, the agency tasked with policing the industry and making sure gaming paid its taxes.  List was attorney general for two terms from 1971 to 1979 and governor from 1979 to 1983. Jane Ann Morrison, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9-9-13

“The book suggests I was somehow tainted, in cahoots with the mob, and in fact, it totally overlooks the fact I’m the guy who took Frank Rosenthal to the Nevada Supreme Court and personally argued the case when he was called forward for licensing,” List said. “I won the case, and it was a landmark case that a gaming license is a privilege, not a right, and constitutional protections are not applicable.  “We took away the licenses of the Tropicana, the Slots of Fun, the Aladdin, the Dunes and Argent. All those individuals he claims were bad guys. Gomes was right about that,” List said. “We not only got them out of there, but we got the new people licensed and in place. For the first time in history, we collected all the taxes. My actions and integrity are the total opposite of what this book suggests. We went from a mob era to a modern era.” Jane Ann Morrison, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9-9-13


1 Response to “Hit Me!: Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers sight unseen”

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