ORAL HISTORIES WITH NEVADA’S GAMBLING PIONEERS
I interviewed almost 600 key figures in the development of the Nevada casino industry from 6 to 50 hours over several years. Each of these oral history interviews lasted at least two hours Before I sat down with the most relevant individuals, I tried to interview their best friends, worst enemies, attorney, and accountant. I prepared a detailed list of relevant questions based on the previous interviewees’ statements and all the documentation I had assembled. I explored every important event and issue they were part of, and the policies and their experiences at every casino they were associated with.
My historical books include first-hand, contemporary experiences that are based on eyewitness’ observations of each event or issue I cover. When an interviewee repeated what he had heard from someone else, the information was highly distorted compared to eyewitness accounts of the same event. Thus I consigned any second-hand, hearsay information to a special file that I used to prepare questions for future interviewees. Then I sought people who had been at these events or who were involved with these issues.
The vast majority of men who developed Nevada’s legal casino industry had previously been involved with illegal casinos, many of them with Prohibition as well. They always refused requests from reporters and authors for interviews about their lives. Part of the reason for their silence was a carryover of their strict secrecy about criminal activities, but most of this reticence was a reaction to the frequent misquotes by reporters and the lies written by authors whose books were fiction thinly disguised as crime history.
Counterbalancing this craving for privacy, these men also harbored a deep resentment of the stigma and negativity staining their names. In Nevada, having become legitimate, law-abiding businessmen, they wanted their families to have an accurate record and image of their lives.
They eventually accepted me to be their official historian because I was a dedicated, well-prepared academic researcher and a fellow Nevadan, unlike writers from out of state who stayed briefly and moved on. I had attended the University of Nevada, Reno, and was a casino dealer for three years before beginning my research. They knew I had become part of the casino industry and loved it.
My oral histories began with a few bold pioneers who hoped the truth would finally be told. Satisfied with the depth of my research and my determination to dig up the truth, they convinced other pioneers to speak to me. Over time, I earned acceptability from virtually every pioneer. All but a handful eventually participated in my oral histories.
I was surprised to find that these gambling-industry pioneers actually wanted an accurate record – warts and all – rather than a puff piece. The most negative information I got about some of them came not from documents, associates, or enemies, but directly from them. When I would point out that what they had just related to me was quite unflattering, they invariably admonished me with a remark like, “That’s me. You can use it, but just tell the truth, the whole truth. Tell it the way it really was!”
Only small parts of these interviews are relevant to this history about America’s Public Enemy Number 1 bank robbers and the Kansas City Mafia, but they will be a crucial source in future volumes in this series of historical books.