Las Vegas’ Dunes Hotel-Casino by Geno Munari
513 pp., 2021, $25.99, Trine Day LLC
I don’t know why, but I’m fascinated with stories about “The Mob” and their history in our world of gaming. Many of you must be too, since movies like “Casino” and “The Godfather,” along with TV epics like the “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire” always top the ratings. And the Mob Museum in Las Vegas has become one of the most popular tourists stops in downtown Sin City.
The best books on this topic seem to fall into one of two categories: great stories (almost “tales”) from those who were around or worked with those infamous figures, or well-researched, academic-like pieces based on documents, testimony and news accounts.
One of the latest in the genre is from gaming veteran Geno Munari and is entitled “Las Vegas’ Dunes Hotel-Casino – The Mob, The Connections, The Stories.” It’s difficult to decide in which category to place this 513-page book. There are many citations and references throughout to bolster its creditability, but there are also many hearsay stories based on Munari’s time working at the casino, or tales from his colleagues at the time. Likewise, there are many citations that simply read “Interview with confidential sources”.
Before talking more about Munari’s new book, the best solidly researched work on casinos and organized crime is the excellent “The Money and the Power” by Sally Denton and Roger Morris. As I said in an earlier review of that work, it is so well documented that it is a slow and difficult read. But it is worth every bit of effort since it covers a lot of new ground and separates fact from fiction better than anything else I’ve read.
On a specific property level like the Dunes, David G. Schwartz’s “At The Sands” is also an excellent work covering that historic Vegas property that is now the site of the Venetian. Co-author Danielle Gomes (daughter of the book’s main character, gaming regulator and casino executive Dennis Gomes) also does a good job with “Hit Me! Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers”.
In the “stories” category, there are also several good ones. I enjoyed Al Mo’s “Vegas and the Mob” and “Mob City: Reno.” Moe is a friend, so that may have something to do with it. Steve Fischer wrote “When the Mob Ran Vegas” in 2005, and it is also filled with colorful stories.
A related genre is titles about specific mob characters or works from the “bad guys turned informer” group. One of the best of these is a book from Michael Franzese called “Blood Covenant.” One wonders how Franzese escaped the fatal fate of many others who talked publicly like he does. You might find “Mr. Mob: The Life and Crimes of Moe Dalitz” quite interesting. Many, believe that Dalitz, who died in 1989, was the last of the classic Las Vegas mob figures.
And, of course, two of the first noteworthy books on the topic are 1963’s “The Green Felt Jungle” by Ed and Ovid Reid, and 1968’s “The Valachi Papers” authored by FBI informant Joe Valachi. The latter died in prison in 1971 with a reported $100,000 mob bounty still on his head (in the 1972 film version of the book, he was played by actor Charles Bronson). Most believe that Valachi was the first insider to ever publicly acknowledge that the Mafia or “Cosa Nostra” even existed.
With that background, the Dunes book is well worth a read. It is by far one of the most entertaining accounts I’ve read. In his introduction, Munari explains the jumping back and forth between fact and stories. “A number of incidents described in this book I experienced firsthand, so I wrote them as anecdotes, in the first-person point of view. As for other occurrences which are factual, I summarized and wrote in the third person. I have taken this approach so readers may understand this record in the appropriate context intended.”
This is the style that makes this book a better read than “The Money and the Power.” However, it also introduces some topics which border on conjecture, rather than fact.
Munari quotes a source suggesting that the November 1980 fire at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, which killed 85 hotel guests, might have been arson related to organized crime and/or union activities. That’s a claim that has never been documented before. Most reports say the fire was accidentally caused by an electrical ground fault in the kitchen area. Likewise, the chapter entitled Links to the Kennedy Assassinations is sure to fuel the constant debates from the conspiracy world on this subject (Munari was a co-writer of the “Second Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”). There’s also some new hints about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa and why (apologies to Scorsese and De Niro for their version detailed in “The Irishman”).
On balance, there is a significant amount of factual documentation included from FBI sources that is listed and reproduced along with historic photos and copies of handwritten notes. Munari says he put three years of solid research into this work.
But the strength of this book is in the great stories. You’ll enjoy a tale of how a dog napping incident resulted in one (unnamed) Dunes executive becoming a rich man. Or the tale of spiking a cigar with a joint for one player in the Pit.
One of the more unusual chapters is #43, entitled Jimmy Grippo, Magician and Hypnotist. Just as with the Kennedy tie-in, Munari also wrote a book on
“The Magic of Jimmy Grippo”. While the chapter title’s subject is fascinating, you should have a pencil and notepad handy to keep track of every character mentioned to avoid getting lost. There are more mobsters cited in this single chapter than in all 22 seasons of TV’s “Law & Order” (it’s fascinating stuff).
It is also apparent that despite Munari’s disdain for the weak management of the Dunes in its final years, he truly loved the place. “It was a memorable workplace where I earned my ‘doctorate in real life’. I wish I could go back in time and do it again. I am so thankful for the education.”
This work covers the Dunes from beginning to end. After a 38-year run, the doors closed for good in January of 1993. The building was spectacularly imploded following a televised fireworks show that October.
Steve Wynn purchased the site for $75 million in November of 1992. He opened the 3,005-room Bellagio with its now-iconic fountains there five years later in 1998. MGM purchased the site in May 2000. It was sold again to the Blackstone Group in 2019 for $4.25 billion, but the casino-hotel was leased back to MGM for operational control.
It appears there was never a hardcover edition of this book. The paperback lists for $29.95 on most sites, but it can be found for $25.99 on Amazon, and there are a few used copies on the internet for $24. This will be a great addition to your bookshelf section on casinos and the mob.