At the Court of a Vegas King

Growing up in Las Vegas, my sister and I read newspaper stories about Desert Inn hotel owner Moe Dalitz. The articles usually included a phrase like “who has alleged mob ties.” We never thought we would actually meet this man. But then our mother, Nellie, went to work for the Dalitz family taking care of their young daughter, Suzy.

My family quickly found a side of Dalitz that very few people in Las Vegas had the opportunity to see, a kindness and compassion that belied—or at least complicated—the tough-guy résumé.

Nellie Feour died in 2005 at age 98, but she talked about her time with the Dalitz family, and my sister, Joanne Thomas, and I remember her stories.

It all happened in the early 1960s. I was away at the University of Nevada most of the time, so my sister had much more contact with the Dalitzes than I did. But I remember Dalitz as a regal person. He exuded quiet confidence, and you immediately knew he was a powerful man. The Dalitzes lived in a plush house on the old Desert Inn golf course. My mother would go to work there, stepping into an entirely different world from the one we inhabited.

My sister remembers the first day she went to see Mom at the Dalitz house. “I was a little nervous,” she says, “but Mr. and Mrs. Dalitz put me at ease almost immediately. They were very cordial and easy to talk with. And they were interested in my life and my children.” Here, in the home of these powerful people with the notorious name, Joanne, who was a single mother, found kindness and compassion. Mrs. Dalitz gave Joanne clothing, and when Suzy grew out of her clothes, they were passed along to Joanne’s young daughter, Deronda.

When our mother walked into the Dalitz household, she was regarded as family. “The Dalitzes treated Mother with great respect and love,” says Joanne. Mom wasn’t the only one who was well treated. She told us that rank-and-file Desert Inn employees would come to the house to speak with Moe, and that he treated them with genuine care and concern.

My mother liked to suggest fun outings for Suzy, and the Dalitzes were always supportive. There were excursions to the Helldorado parade and rodeo, trips to the circus and picnics at Mount Charleston or Red Rock. If tickets were involved, the Dalitzes purchased the best ones possible.

“Sundays were very special,” Joanne says. “My children and I were invited to eat lunch with Nellie and Suzy at the Desert Inn Country Club. The Dalitzes would stop by for a short visit.”

For my sister, the Dalitzes became part of the fabric of family life. On birthdays and Christmas mornings, there were always presents from the Dalitzes. Suzy became good friends with my nephew, Greg. My mother took the two of them to Greg’s school parties, and the Dalitzes took my mother and Greg to their Utah ranch for a week. The playdates, my sister remembers, were an unusual convergence of the rarified world of Las Vegas royalty and the simple pleasures of American kids.

“They always had a good time,” she says. “I remember one time they were eating caviar and drinking soft drinks.”

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