Amid the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas, the gambling Mecca of the world, there is no shortage of exclusive clubs that all of the would-be high rollers want to be a part of. The TAO nightclub at the Venetian Casino, Omnia at Caesar’s Palace, and the absurdly decadent XS Club are all famous for their merciless door policies and highly exclusive guest lists.
However, there is one exclusive club in Vegas that nobody wants to be a part of. At just 35 members, the Las Vegas Black Book, known officially as the Gaming Control Board Excluded Person List, is one of the smaller clubs in the City of Sin. Put simply, the Black Book is a list of people that Nevada’s powerful Gaming Control Board has decided to ban outright from all casinos in the state.
If you are added to the listed, your name and face are burned into the brains of every doorman in the city, none of whom will hesitate to send you packing should you attempt to play a round of poker in their casino. But how does one make it to the black book, and why is the book one of the most feared things in the city? Let’s dive into the history of Las Vegas’ infamous Black Book.
Why the Book Exists
The Las Vegas Black Book was first published in 1960, following a recommendation from the Kefauver Hearings in the US Senate, which was one of the first major federal inquiries into organized crime in America. Throughout the 1950s, Las Vegas was very different from the city we know today, where much of the gambling is controlled by reputable, multi-billion-dollar companies.
Back then, feared Chicago mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel controlled many of the big casinos, using extortion, muscle, bribery, and, of course, game-rigging to turn the City of Sin into their own personal cash cow. As Nevada authorities began their first steps towards cleaning up the city’s image, they decided that a publicly available blacklist of the most notorious mobsters was needed to keep the casino owners up to date on who they needed to watch out for.
Upon the initial publication of the book, the Nevada Supreme Court announced that the list would be used to make sure casino owners could continue “avoiding any potentially significant criminal or corruptive taint and thus maintaining public confidence and trust in the gambling industry”.
While at first many of the mobsters who were targeted on the list felt confident enough to shrug it off, sentiments quickly changed. The Las Vegas Gaming Control Board quickly established itself as the most powerful authority in the city, ruthlessly enforcing the blacklist and ensuring that none of the known mobsters could get anywhere near the front doors of a casino.
The list quickly became so feared that it gained a reputation as the stuff of nightmares for criminals in the city. Its impact is visible today in popular culture, with hit movies like Martin Scorsese’s film Casino depicting the fear that the list could instill in the hearts of mobsters, who quickly realized that their career in crime was effectively over as soon as they made it onto the dreaded Black Book.
Who is On the List?
Today, the list contains 35 members and can be viewed in full on the Nevada GCB website. Many of the current members are notorious cheaters, who had been caught using elaborate methods to cheat casinos out of money during rounds of poker, blackjack, roulette, and baccarat. Although many of the names on the list today are unlikely to ring a bell with most people, some of the historic members included the most feared names in the US criminal underworld.
There was Tony ‘The Ant’ Spilotro, who served as the inspiration for the character Nicky in Casino and was placed on the lust for his ruthless attempts to intimidate casino staff. There was John Vaccaro, who organized the biggest slot-fixing scam in history at the behest of a feared Californian crime family. His wife Sandy was also added to the list, making her the first and only woman to ever be included in the Black Book.
The most recent addition to the list came in 2018 and was the first new entry in over a decade. That person was Jeffrey Martin, who organized an elaborate craps cheating scheme with two accomplices that managed to fleece the Bellagio Casino out of more than $1 million over the course of several years. Despite Martin’s repeated legal appeals to get removed from the list, the GCB has upheld the decision.
The Future of the Black Book
Today, it is becoming less and less clear whether something as old-school as a blacklist is still needed in Las Vegas. Cheating in casinos is now a vanishingly rare occurrence, in part due to the fact cheating on casino games in virtually impossible, whilst organized crime syndicates stopped targeting Las Vegas casinos several decades ago.
In addition, the big casinos of the strip are no longer the epicenter of American gambling. Fans of poker, slots, and roulette have largely moved into the digital realm, thanks to US-licensed platforms such as Wildz Online Casino now offering hundreds of different real-money games to players in Nevada and beyond. Since cheating at online casinos is virtually impossible, given the stringent cybersecurity measures employed by casinos like Wildz, entities such as the black book are starting to look increasingly archaic.
While the black book is a fun and fascinating reminder of the City of Sin’s checkered past, it hardly feels like an entity that is necessary in the world of 21st-century gambling. Of course, the people included on the current list may attempt to re-enter the floor of Caesars Palace one day and resume their misbehavior, but that would take some serious amounts of bravery and stupidity in equal measure.
Whether the black book will survive in its current form remains to be seen. However, it certainly makes for an interesting read, given the colorful figures that feature on it.