Las Vegas, oddly, a model for reform

Sep 1, 2009 5:01 PM
Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein |

Reform and change part of its legacy

Las Vegas, over the years, has worked hard at losing its earlier Bugsy Siegel image, and has succeeded to a surprising degree at that very difficult task.

It has been 62 years since the mob helped Bugsy retire by blowing his brains out, and it has taken most of those years to convince people that all the money invested in Vegas over that time did not come from Bugsy’s former colleagues and successors.

The "What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas" ad campaign of recent years did not exactly help dispel the notion that Sin City still lives, nor do the scores of pages in the phone book advertising escort services of all stripes and persuasions. The topless pools have now disappeared, but the lovelies who did business there still are in town and presumably thriving.

For the first time visitor flying into the city, the view is perhaps the most dramatic form of education and revelation. If they are expecting a western town, the jarring site of seeing a metropolis spreading across the desert floor quickly disabuses that idea.

A reminder of how far Vegas has come in its transition into what it now is – a very big and metropolitan American city that largely and effectively polices its wrongdoers – was brought to mind last week by racing news from Australia.

There racing, suddenly hit with the tornado of illegal medication that is a worldwide problem, equine and human, has decided to do what Las Vegas did years ago.

It has organized a new multi-agency unit of detectives, organized crime experts, criminal asset investigators and tax investigators, to work in close concert with one another to restore law and order by ousting organized crime.

The impetus for the formidable task was a report on the integrity of the game from a retired judge, who found the existing system ineffective and called for the specialist squad now being organized.

Under the plan, as described in an online newsletter called, the police will generate their own leads thru intelligence gathered in separate criminal investigations. Information then would be shared with the other units in the agency, on a wide range of illicit activities including bookmakers – legal in Australia – buying property for known criminals; agents placing bets for career criminals; frontmen for false ownership; and jockeys and trainers selling "inside information." We’ll gladly book that action, since years in racing have taught that inside information is as unreliable as that provided by British or Russian spies, or for that matter, closer to home, the CIA.

Very significantly, the new anti-crime unit will have subpoena powers.

Beyond and apart from organized crime, smaller offenses will be handled by a smaller group of racing investigators.

All of the investigation of this super-agency would be worthless if not backed up by resolve to stop the chicanery. That task falls to the racing commissions in Australian states, and they take it very seriously.

Recently they have discovered that the blood builder EPO and its derivatives have arrived in Australia – or more accurately have been uncovered there – and they threw the book at the offenders.

A well-known and popular father and son thoroughbred training team in Queensland was barred in Victoria, where Melbourne is located, and their 50 horses barred from competition, with two stakes winners scratched from races carrying total purses of $300,000.

Another offender, who admitted he bought three bottles of the blood builder Aranesp for $1,000, admitted he had used the medication, legal and widely prescribed here for human patients but banned from racing, but said he doubted it was in fact Aranesp.

His candor led to personal catastrophe. The Victorian racing commission found him guilty on seven counts, and suspended him for six years. Now 57, the suspension could effectively end his career as a successful trainer.

As Las Vegas veterans know, courage and resolve are requirements for successful remolding of public perception. North American racing heard and heeded the alarm after Eight Belles fell and died last year. Although no illegal medication was involved, animal lovers coast-to-coast were up in arms as the television images were shown again and again. Racing quickly formed committees and took actions that were long overdue, with limited success.

Sports officials in this country and in Australia need to visit Las Vegas and talk to commissioners and law enforcement officials here. Such meetings would help sports immensely, and would be one case where what happened here did not stay here. The successful Vegas message of reform and change in image needs far wider distribution.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein