Firing Lines

Before I was a history professor, or even a history major, I was a cub reporter for The Valley Times. I started in April 1982, after the newspaper’s glory days, when it had regularly beaten the R-J and Sun on major stories and provided the first truly in-depth local coverage of gaming and politics. Not long after my arrival, the IRS seized the paper’s building and presses for failing to pay payroll taxes, and a federal grand jury indicted our publisher, Bob Brown, for helping to skim money for Argent—the company depicted in Casino.

Casino begins with Frank Rosenthal’s car exploding outside the Tony Roma’s at Sahara and Sixth on Oct. 4, 1982. That explosion also began my understanding of how the mobsters of that era—the 1970s and 1980s—operated far differently than Moe Dalitz, Benny Binion and their earlier generation of casino operators who built old Las Vegas.

When the news came, our managing editor, Bruce Hasley, jumped in his car and ran off to report on the attempt to kill Rosenthal. His story led the paper the next day, and it was terrific. Brown walked into the newsroom that night. I was hanging around, doing whatever a 17-year-old could do—proofreading, running errands, checking pages, writing news stories.

“Nice job,” Brown told Hasley, “but you were pretty easy on Lefty.”

“Hell, somebody tried to blow him up!” Hasley said.

“It was your chance to get even with him for firing you,” Brown said.

Hasley said, “You mean—”

Brown wagged a finger. “Shouldn’t have called him a fucking mobster.”

The old pros had lost me, but I wanted to know more. I looked at Hasley. He was a good storyteller, and this was one of his best:

One of the deals The Valley Times made with the devil was for Rosenthal to write a sports handicapping column for $500 a week—more than three times what I later made there full-time (seriously). We were already kicking back 90 percent of Argent’s ad buys as part of that gang’s skim operation, so this presumably was another way to move mob money around. Once you dig your way into one of these “arrangements,” the walls around you tend to keep crumbling. In any case, one night, Rosenthal learned of an injury that would change an NFL pick, and he called The Times to change his column.

We couldn’t afford a night switchboard operator (we couldn’t afford one during the day, either). Ned Day, the paper’s best reporter (actually, Las Vegas’ best reporter ever), picked up the phone and said, “Good evening, Valley Times.” A voice said, “Lemme talk to Hasley.”

Day turned toward Hasley, whose back was to him as he worked on the next day’s paper, and held the phone toward him. Nobody wrote better, more ground-breaking stories on the mob than Day, so he knew the voice. He said, “Bruce, Frank Rosenthal.”

Hasley didn’t look. He was busy and bellowed, “Tell that fucking mobster I don’t want to talk to him.” Ned stared at the phone and lifted it to his ear. Dial tone.

Next day, Brown called in Hasley. “I owe you some vacation time,” Brown said. He offered to pay Bruce’s way back East for two weeks to fill in at a newspaper owned by a friend of Brown’s who also had a beach condo where Hasley could stay. That worked for Hasley. Off he went. He returned two weeks later and that was that.

The night Lefty’s car exploded, Brown explained to Hasley why he’d been sent packing on that strange and sudden “vacation.” “When you called him a mobster, he hung up, called me and told me to fire you,” Brown said. “I was so far in the hole to him that I couldn’t say no, but of course I couldn’t lose you. So I sent you away for the two weeks and took your name out of the staff box. I figured Lefty would forget, and he did.”

Hasley now lives back East. Brown died in 1984 of being a Christian Scientist with high blood pressure. Day died on a beach in Hawaii at age 42, and rumors persist to this day that it wasn’t necessarily a heart attack. Lefty died of natural causes in 2008.

Hasley was the second person close to me who Lefty fired. The first was my father, a blackjack dealer at the Stardust. That firing stuck. By the way, the night they blew up Lefty … my dad has an airtight alibi.

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