Thunderbird Casino and the Mob

The Thunderbird, one of the first Las Vegas Strip casinos, was also one of the first to become involved in the federal-state controversy over mob involvement in Nevada gaming. In 1950, Thunderbird co-owner Clifford Jones, Nevada's lieutenant governor, was among a number of Las Vegas casino operators subpoenaed to testify before the United States Senate's Kefauver Committee. The committee was investigating organized crime in hearings held in a number of cities throughout the country. In a closed session in downtown Las Vegas, Jones told the committee that he owned eleven percent of the Thunderbird's stock, but had gained no money from it since its 1948 opening. He added that he had received $12,000 that year from his one percent share in the Golden Nugget casino and $14,000 from the five percent he held in the Pioneer casino.

Jones, when asked what he thought about the fact that so many people involved in Las Vegas casinos had criminal records, famously responded, "I would say that I believe as long as they conduct themselves properly that I think there is probably no harm comes to it."

In 1955, the Thunderbird's state gaming license was placed in jeopardy after articles published in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper reported that Jake Lansky, brother of the notorious organized figure Meyer Lansky, took part in counting money in the Thunderbird's casino. The Nevada Tax Commission, which regulated casinos and other state businesses, investigated and soon learned that co-owner Marion Hicks had received a construction loan for the Thunderbird of $160,000 in 1947 from George Sadlo, a close associate of Jake Lansky who had been privately passing on advice from the Lanskys on managing the Thunderbird. Indeed, Jake Lansky was taking trips to Las Vegas from Florida to receive a share of casino funds secretly skimmed at the Thunderbird to service the 1947 loan.

Fearing that mob involvement at the Thunderbird might encourage the federal government to take over regulating Nevada's gambling industry, Governor Charles Russell asked the state legislature to create a new, tougher agency, the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, to closely investigate applicants for gaming licenses. The legislature approved the new board in 1955 and granted privileged status to gaming licenses, allowing the board to turn down applicants without cause.

The control board quickly revoked the gaming licenses held by Hicks and Jones and effectively forced the unlicensed Lanskys out of the business. The Thunderbird was closed briefly, but an investment group from Los Angeles called Harris & Schulz took over control. In 1956, in light of the Thunderbird case, the gaming board adopted a list of rules requiring licensees to provide the state with reports about casino accounting and stockholders, money loans and transfers. Hicks later won a court battle to regain his license and once again owned the Thunderbird until his death in 1961.

Geographic Area: 

Article Locations

Related Articles

None at this time.

Further Reading