Las Vegas, Nevada, is a very unlikely place to find American history. After all, in this city people worship the future as they always look to the next pull of the handle, roll of the dice, or turn of the card. Also, they make a point out of forgetting that last loss. Just as a gambler would choose to “blow up” (figuratively) all past failures in the casinos, local entrepreneurs choose to “blow-up” (literally) the evidence of the city’s seamy past. Las Vegas implodes casinos. The city blows-up its history.
First, the Dunes fell in 1993, then the Landmark was imploded in 1995, and in 1996, the Sands bit the desert dust. The Dunes was pushed aside to make way for the new Bellagio Resort, the Landmark made way for a convention center parking lot, and the Sands (once the building was removed) became the site of the $2 billion Venetian Casino Hotel. Two of the implosions were used as footage for Hollywood movies. So there were economic and commercial reasons for taking these three icons away from our sight. But perhaps there were other motives in getting these venerable locations out of our minds. We do not have even a single plaque to recognize the significance of the locations, but if we did? Maybe one would simply say “Hoffa,” another might say “Watergate,” and the third just possibly might say “Prelude to Dallas, 1963.”
The Landmark was where Watergate began, because it was the reason behind Howard Hughes’s loan to Pres. Richard Nixon – and it is generally believed that it was not a loan, it was a bribe given so that when Nixon was elected, he would remove an antitrust action so that Hughes could buy the Landmark. Democratic Party chairman Larry O’Brien was working for Howard Hughes when the bribe went thorough, and it was information about that bribe that Nixon’s people were trying to get out of O’Brien’s Watergate office. I personally talked to Howard Hughes’s guy Robert Maheu, and Maheu said absolutely, the Watergate break-in was to get information about the bribe on the Landmark.
The Dunes just may have provided the motivation for the murder of Jimmy Hoffa. It was money from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the Teamsters’ union) that went to finance the Dunes – and Teamsters’ money was spread around Las Vegas—but the Dunes was the main place. The Teamsters’ loans had all sorts of crooked things around them. There were invitations to skim, and Hoffa got kickbacks on the loans. Hoffa’s successor Frank Fitzsimmons kept the loans going after Hoffa was in prison and then he kept them going after Hoffa was pardoned, but Hoffa could not run for union office.
Hoffa wanted to ingratiate himself with the Nixon administration. The federal government passed a new law in 1974 called the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, giving the Department of Labor and the Federal Bureau of Investigation special powers to investigate and prosecute union pension funds that were being misused.  I worked for the new pension administration in 1976 and 1977, and the story was still in the rumor mill. In 1974, Hoffa starts singing to the government in exchange for a change in his pardon so he could run for union office, and he was murdered. And what was he singing about before he was murdered? The Dunes. He was telling the government how Fitzsimmons was skimming money out at the Dunes much as he had done. Hoffa told about the Teamsters’ loan structure for constructing the property.
Ah! But the historical possibilities that lurked in the hallways of the Sands, at one time the most famous of all the resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. Denton and Morris (2001) tell many of the seedy stories that came out of the Sands. This was the home of Frank Sinatra and his “Rat Pack” This is where he held a secret ownership and where he solidified his alliances with Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. I always pointed to the Sands and said, well, in my mind it’s as good as the theory that Lee Harvey Osward acted alone. The theory that there was a plot to assassinate the president. If there was, it may have started at the Sands. It was not just the Rat Pack. The Sands was John F. Kennedy’s casino; that is where he met Judy Campbell Exner, through Peter Lawford (Rat Pack member and Kennedy brother-in-law) and Frank Sinatra. She was also the girlfriend of Sam Giancana, who was working with Salvatore Traficante to kill Fidel Castro. One scenario was that killing Kennedy was Castro’s revenge, because Kennedy was going with the girlfriend and must know about the Mob plot to kill Castro. Another scenario was that the Mob was compromising Kennedy and that they had the fix in that Kennedy would back off of Mob activities, but his brother Bobby Kennedy was a wild card and would not stop, and sort of screwed everything up, and the assassination was to get at Bobby Kennedy. But where did it start? The Sands (see Davis 1989).
I think it’s beautiful – the triple. Of course, I am happy to repeat the myths. It is a lot of history. Maybe now we will be more sterilized, part of the “we’re-a-clean-wonderful-town” thing. But it takes a little bit of the glamour away from Las Vegas.

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