Everyone knows Las Vegas. The name conjures up a mental template of lights, slots, and money, money, money, even for peasants such as myself who have never been there. It is no secret that it was built with the greenbacks of organized crime. THE MONEY AND THE POWER, however, attempts to go a step further and demonstrate that the power of organized crime has become so intertwined with the government --- city, state, and federal --- and with legitimate business that Las Vegas and Washington (what the authors call the underworld and the overworld) have become as one, with Las Vegas controlling the machinations of our federal government, replacing a democracy with an oligarchy.
A word of warning here: this is not a history, nor a research study, nor even a scholarly work of journalism of any sort. It purports to be, however, with a bibliography and confusing footnotes from dubious sources and one of the most inadequate indexes I have ever encountered. THE MONEY AND THE POWER makes some Clinton Death Lists that I have encountered look like well-researched, scholarly treatises. Sally Denton and Roger Morris try to connect dots but all too often appear to make up the points as they go along so as to draw the picture they want to display. They more often than not appear to contradict themselves, with the major players forming and abandoning alliances with no clear reasons as to why. The authors seem to have a major ax to grind, not so much with organized crime --- the major gripe that Denton and Morris appear to have is that the mob doesn't pay enough taxes --- but with the concept of capitalism as an economic force that itself functions as a Petri dish, which inevitably results in a culture in which organized crime can flourish. The fact that organized crime in the old Soviet Union flourished under Communism is a topic that Denton and Morris fail to address here. They probably never will.
Yet, this book, for all of its shoddy research and often unwieldy if not incomprehensible twisting of language, is fascinating, almost in spite of itself. The story of Las Vegas, its transformation from a desert crossroads into a worldwide destination, is an astounding tale. The lives of the individuals who transformed it --- particularly Howard Hughes --- are the stuff of legend. What Denton and Morris attempt to do is to tie Las Vegas, and the people who made it what it is today, with the Kennedy assassination and the Watergate incident, perhaps two of the major events of the last half of the 20th Century. In doing so, they arguably, and almost by accident, achieve three milestones, which by themselves make this book, for all of its errors, omissions, and stylistic butchering worth reading.
The first of these concerns the Kennedy assassination. It is said that when Bill Clinton was first sworn into the presidency, he told the debriefing team that he wanted to know two things. The first was whether or not UFOs were real and the second was who killed Kennedy. The answer to the second question is, quite possibly, contained in THE MONEY AND THE POWER, in an account of an alleged plot to assassinate Fidel Castro gone horribly awry and turned around to be aimed back at this country. The second milestone deals with Watergate. It is doubtful that Watergate would have attracted the headlines it did without the assistance of Deep Throat, who appeared to have access to the Nixon Oval Office. There have been many guesses as to the identity of the leak --- everyone from Alexander Haig to the milquetoast-like John Dean has been a suspect --- but in THE MONEY AND THE POWER a likely suspect for the title of Deep Throat is presented, even though the authors never identify him as such. Interestingly enough, it is someone who, to my knowledge, has never been identified as possibly being Deep Throat; in fact, I don't even recall ever hearing of this individual. The third milestone is, given the political proclivities of the authors, no doubt inadvertent. For it is in THE MONEY AND THE POWER, in a paragraph that could almost be described as a throwaway, that the link between Bill Clinton and Arkansas cocaine kingpin Dan Lassiter is firmly established for the first time.
While it is doubtful that THE MONEY AND THE POWER will be widely read, it should be noted that, even if everything in its pages were true, and that Las Vegas and the money behind it constituted a shadow government ruling the nation, it is doubtful that anyone would care. Las Vegas has become synonymous with the concept of an adult Disneyland; as long as the shows start on time, and the food is good, and the shows are free, people will keep coming. Whether that is a good thing or an indication of a nation's moral decay will have to be decided by each of us individually. THE MONEY AND THE POWER, however, fails to make its own case.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 3, 2001
The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 1947-2000