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February 21, 2014



Green Felt JungleThe end of 2013 marked an anniversary some Las Vegans would rather forget. Fifty years before, in December 1963, Trident Press published a new book:  The Green Felt Jungle, by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris.  As historian David Schwartz wrote recently, it hit Las Vegas like a tidal wave.

The book built on Reid’s decade as a reporter and editor at the Las Vegas Sun, and Demaris’s background in writing about the mob.  It spent nearly six months on The New York Times best-seller list, and the paperback edition, with additional material, did well.

Las Vegans felt differently.  Casino owners resented how they were portrayed.  To be fair about it, they were used to that kind of thing.  But they also didn’t like that the book listed who owned the hotel-casinos and the percentages they owned.  Interestingly, one of those upset about the book was Hank Greenspun.  Reid had worked for him and used information printed in the Sun, most notably material the paper had published a decade before.  The Sun had done a series that revealed Meyer Lansky as a hidden investor in the Thunderbird Hotel on the Strip.  But Greenspun resented that Reid used material that had not been published or even confirmed.  He also felt Nevada at least had been trying to clean up its act.  So he went on national television and criticized the book.

The criticism of the book and the criticism in the book … ultimately didn’t amount to much.  By the time The Green Felt Jungle was published, the Justice Department had already been targeting Las Vegas.  The book had nothing that Bobby Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover didn’t already believe.

But The Green Felt Jungle also should be seen as part of a trend.  In the next couple of years after its publication, other books focused on Nevada.  A New York Times reporter, Wallace Turner, published Gamblers’ Money, covering some of the same ground.  Another veteran reporter, Sandy Smith, had a series of articles on the mob in the Chicago papers and in national magazines like Time and Life.  A political scientist, Gilman Ostrander, wrote Nevada:  The Great Rotten Borough, attacking the state as a cesspool of political corruption.  The Green Felt Jungle roughed up Nevada and Las Vegas, but it wasn’t the only one.  It wasn’t even the only mob book Reid and Demaris were involved in.  Reid wrote about organized crime for another newspaper, the Brooklyn Eagle.  Demaris published several books, including one on mob hitman Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno.

In the half-century since The Green Felt Jungle came out, Nevada has teamed with federal and local officials and the media to drive out the old mob ownership.  Indeed, the book was still on everyone’s mind three years after it came out when Howard Hughes came to town, and then-Governor Paul Laxalt began pushing for reforms to allow corporations to be able to own casinos.  But think of movies like The Hangover and ad campaigns like “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  We may have been less sinful than Reid and Demaris claimed at the time, and we certainly are now … but it helps the bottom line if we’re at least a little bit bad.

See discussion rules.


Jan 24, 2015 | 1964 Election, Part 2
As politics go, winning one election doesn't necessarily mean an easy victory in the next one. The first Las Vegas resident to be elected to the Senate faced more challenges the second time around.

Jan 17, 2015 | 1964 Election, Part 1
By the looks of one election, Nevada's political climate in 1964 may have appeared somewhat contrary to what was going on in Washington where there was talk of "the Great Society." The election in Nevada reflected strains in the Democratic Party.

Nov 29, 2014 | 1914 Election, Part 1
Statewide elections in Nevada can certainly get interesting as was the case in 1914. A remarkable election when the results are really, really close. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 28, 2014 | 1912 Election, Part 2
About one-fifth of Nevada's population went to the polls in 1914. And they made some notable decisions. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 13, 2014 | Women's Suffrage in Nevada
A century has gone by since 'women's suffrage became a reality in Nevada. The push to give women in Nevada the right to vote was not an easy endeavor. We take a look at how that change came about on Nevada Yesterdays.

Oct 31, 2014 | One Hundred Fifty Years
Was it 'silver' or politics that tipped the scales in favor of Nevada statehood, 150 years ago. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Sep 5, 2014 | The Beatles
It's been a half century since the Beatles had a 'hard day's night,' right here in Las Vegas. The real thing - John, Paul, George and Ringo - arrived on August 20, 1964. Their performance lasted for about 30-minutes as part of a show that included the Righteous Brothers and Jackie DeShannon.

Aug 22, 2014 | Civil Rights Act
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Aug 1, 2014 | Bob Bailey
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Jul 11, 2014 | Remembering Bob Faiss
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May 16, 2014 | Viva Las Vegas
"Viva Las Vegas" turns 50 in a few days. We'll hear how Las Vegas itself starred in the iconic movie, along side Elvis. Moviegoers got a taste of Southern Nevada and a song to go with it!

May 9, 2014 | Sagebrush Rebels
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Apr 18, 2014 | Metro Battles Corruption and the Mob
Efforts to drive organized crime out of Las Vegas, left one former Metro officer, Kent Clifford, with some controversies of his own.

Mar 21, 2014 | Natalie Rittenhouse
Family connections run deep for some pioneer families of Southern Nevada. Perhaps they aren't too well known these days. They should be. They are among the important pioneer families of southern Nevada.

Mar 7, 2014 | Test Ban
Strange as it may seem now, there was a time when detonating a nuclear bomb was healthy for Nevada's image.

Feb 21, 2014 | Green Felt Jungle
The pen is mightier than the roulette table? Some books over the years have tested that notion. Fifty years ago, a book about Las Vegas became a best-seller. But not everyone was happy with what the book had to say about the influence of organized crime on Las Vegas casinos.

Jan 16, 2014 | Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Jan 3, 2014 | Treaty of Ruby Valley
A treaty that was signed in the territory of Nevada 150 years ago is still raising questions. The Western Shoshone tribe has been offered tens of millions of dollars by the US government, but they say no thanks. In 1974, sisters Mary and Carrie Dann of Beowawe, became symbols of the tribes resistance.

Dec 5, 2013 | Lon Simmons
We take a look at how a legendary sports-broadcaster forged a path from Las Vegas to Candlestick Park. Switching from pitcher to broadcaster turned out to be a home run decision for Lon Simmons. Here's Senator Richard Bryan with Nevada Yesterdays.

Nov 20, 2013 | JFK and Las Vegas Connections
Elements of John F. Kennedy's ties to Las Vegas have been mixed in with the puzzle-pieces surrounding his death. Las Vegas and Nevada were part of the orbit of the Kennedys, their allies, and their enemies. Senator Richard Bryan connects the dots on Nevada Yesterdays.

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