COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
July 17, 2002
In May 1997, The late Ted Binion lost his Nevada gaming license for, among other things, the "associations" he had with several ex-cons.
NRS 463.170 - Qualifications for license, finding of suitability or approval states: "The commission (must be) satisfied that the applicant is: (a) A person of good character, honesty and integrity; (b) A person whose prior activities, criminal record, if any, reputation, habits and associations do not pose a threat to the public interest of this state or to the effective regulation and control of gaming...."
Meanwhile, Steve Wynn, in 1997, while testifying in the WYNN v. BARRICADE BOOKS libel trial, admitted that he was logged-in visiting Michael Milken at the Nellis Federal Prison on 57 occasions during the early 1990s.
Like Binion and Wynn, I also have friends who paid their debts to society, therefore I can fully understand Binion's compassion for his friend Herb Blitzstein, and Wynn's compassion for his friend Mike Milken, but I am also not a privileged license holder in this state and I understand that exceptions to the rule should not be made for one person over another who may be less influential.
Why is privileged license holder Wynn allowed to continue his "associations" with a felon such as "Junk Bond King" Mike Milken? What is the difference between ex-felon Milken and ex-felon Herbie Blitzstein who, as a member of Nevada's Black Book, jeopardized Binion's Nevada gaming license?
Shortly after Milken was released from prison, in 1997, Wynn and former Nevada Governor Bob Miller attended a well-publicized 4th of July dinner party at Milken's Lake Tahoe estate. In the meantime, Binion and Blitzstein were seen hanging out together at Club Paradise.
Following the 1997, 4th of July party, why wasn't Wynn brought before the Nevada Gaming Commission for questioning about his "associations," as was Binion that same year?
Remember the scene in the movie Casino when actor Robert Di Nero's character faced the Nevada Gaming Commission for a similar alleged offense? The actual event involving Frank Rosenthal was in the 1970s, however, in the 1990s, the rules had obviously changed when it came to Binion and Wynn, Blitzstein and Milken.
There are many people that do no deserve to live the rest of their lives under the title of "ex-con," or "felon," but NRS 463.170 does not differentiate between "good" and "bad" ex-cons or felons. Taking time off to sit in prison can, and often does, have a reforming effect on some. Most likely, Mike Milken and Herbie Blitzstein may have qualified as being "reformed" by their prison stays. People who know Milken after his release are quick to praise him for his philanthropic efforts, and a lot of people have even called the late Herb Blitzstein a friend and good guy. I guess quality is in the eye of the beholder.
Nonetheless, Mike Milken is still an ex-con, and the past history of Nevada gaming regulation dictates that a license holder not associate with such a person - whether or not he qualifies for sainthood.
Remember Frank Sinatra's skirmish with Nevada authorities over his partial ownership of the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe? Because of his alleged ties to Sam Giancana, Sinatra surrendered his Nevada gaming license in 1963 when there was no double standard. Now, it's obviously quite different.
Binion - in 1996, reluctantly acknowledged being in Blitzstein's presence more than two-dozen times within the previous year. In January 1997, the late Ted Binion told Nevada gaming authorities that he had tried to distance himself from Blitzstein since landing in trouble with the Control Board. "I've seen him once in seven months," Binion said. "I was just avoiding him."
However, that same year, Wynn did absolutely nothing to avoid Milken, in fact he embraced him. Then, with Governor Miller and other politicians in tow, Wynn cajoled with the saintly ex-con and left the dinner party untainted. Most Governors would shy away from associating with an ex-convict, but now its obvious that anything goes in Nevada - for some privileged people.
Need I say more to prove there is a double standard in our state?
The fact that NRS 463.170 is so ambiguous that it never mentions the word "ex-con" or "felon" begs the question as to why such people are singled out in the first place? However, when a politically incorrect gaming license holder dares to be seen with a person who has spent time in prison as was the case with Ted Binion and Herb Blitzstein, watch the Nevada gaming authorities come unglued!
Even more amazing is the fact that this writer is the first and only scribe in this state to ever dare question the enforcement procedures of our state gaming regulators in regard to their very dissimilar treatment of Binion and Wynn.
Should Nevada's gambling laws and their alleged good enforcement history continue to be presumptuously used by the American Gaming Association as their role model to encourage casino competition to Nevada in other states? Not as long as some "associations" are condoned while others are condemned so arbitrarily.
Or, should the word "associations" be omitted from the gaming law altogether? Only Steve Wynn is left to answer that question.
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Former Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Miller writes a weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune on organized crime and political corruption.Visit Steve's website.