Sen. Cannon: A Nevada classic

Mar 12, 2002 9:36 AM

Former Sen. Howard Cannon, who died last week of congestive heart failure at the age of 90, was a beloved friend of the gaming industry.

His tenure in the U.S. Senate, from 1959 to 1983, coincided with gaming’s formative years, and he is credited with keeping federal agencies and the federal government in general out of Nevada’s gaming industry.

“Senator Cannon was a great advocate for Nevada and Las Vegas in Washington in the midst of a very antagonistic federal atmosphere toward Las Vegas,’’ said veteran gaming executive Burton Cohen.

From 1966 to 1995, Cohen helped run the Frontier, Circus Circus, Flamingo, Caesars, the Dunes as Cannon served in the Senate from 1958 to 1982. “He used his political clout to foster the interests of our industry,’’ Cohen said.

Wielding that clout, Cannon was instrumental in reducing the federal excise wagering tax from 2 percent to the current 0.25 percent in 1980. (It had previously been 10 percent.)

“Immediately thereafter, the big hotels got into the bookmaking business,’’ recalls Art Manteris. “It was the difference between profitability and losing money.

“I consider Senator Cannon the father of our industry as we know it today. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude,’’ said Manteris, who oversees sports and race book operations at Station Casinos.

Cannon also played key roles in airline and trucking deregulation, and also helped send a Teamsters union president to prison for a bribery ­­attempt.

Born in 1912, Cannon was a native of St. George, Utah. He received a college degree in 1933 from the Arizona State Teachers College (now Northern Arizona University), and in 1937 graduated from the University of Arizona law school.

During World War II, Cannon served in the Army Air Forces as a pilot in Europe. During one battle in 1944, a plane he was co-piloting was shot down over the Netherlands, and he spent 42 days trying to trying to return to Allied lines with the assistance of the Dutch underground.

At one point, he dressed as a Dutch farmer and wrapped bandages around his neck to avoid conversation that would give him away.

A decorated war hero, Cannon was awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart and three awards of the Air Medal.

Returning to Las Vegas after the war, he practiced law and served four terms as Las Vegas city attorney.

He lost a 1956 bid for the U.S. House, but two years later handily defeated the Senate incumbent, George W. Malone, a Republican.

Gamers remember Cannon as an “LBJ man” who resisted the Kennedy crusade against Nevada’s casinos. He also was in office in 1976 when a federal task force issued a favorable report about gaming in the state.

Nevada Resort Association boss Bill Bible, whose father, Alan, served as a Democratic senator until 1974, praised Cannon’s devotion to the state and its No. 1 industry. “We knew his family on a personal level. It was an extraordinarily close relationship,’’ Bible recalled.

Cannon was hailed by Republicans as well. Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn referred to Cannon as “One of the giants of Nevada politics.” And in written statements, Sen. John ­­Ensign and Rep. Jim Gibbons called Cannon “Mr. Aviation.”

 Bill Boyd, chairman and CEO of Boyd Gaming, also a family friend, called Cannon “an outstanding senator who represented Nevada very well.’’

 Rampart casino bookmaker Sid Diamond seconded that emotion. “God bless him,’’ he said.