Thorn in the Mob’s Side, ‘Ultimate Gaming Champion’ Senator Harry Reid Passes at 82

  • Reid’s wife Landra said her husband died “peacefully” surrounded by friends on Tuesday
  • He chaired the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981 when organized crime was rife 
  • Reid banned mobster with a vise penchant Tony (the Ant) Spilotro from all casinos in 1979
  • The mob allegedly attempted to kill Reid with a car bomb in 1981
  • Reid’s tenure on the Commission inspired a role in Scorsese’s 1995 epic Casino
Senator Harry Reid
America is mourning the passing of the mob-bothering former chair of the Nevada Gaming Commission, Senator Harry Reid. [Image:]

AGA’s Miller paid tribute

Senator Harry Reid — a man hailed as the “ultimate gaming champion” by AGA president and CEO Bill Miller — has passed away at the age of 82.

Following Reid’s passing on Tuesday, the AGA took to Twitter to share Miller’s statement, which paid tribute to the Senator’s “unparalleled […] impact on Nevada and the gaming industry.”

The Guardian cited the late Senator’s wife Landra Reid as saying her husband died “peacefully” and surrounded by friends “following a courageous, four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.”

he faced personal threats from the mob

The Searchlight, Nevada native chaired the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981, during which he faced personal threats from the mob. Reid emerged from the Las Vegas political environment to head the Senate Democrats through the turbulent years of 2005 to 2017.

Miller added in his statement that Reid “was one of the sharpest, most effective political minds to ever enter the arena.”

Taking on the mob

Paying tribute to Reid, President Joe Biden called him a “great American [who] looked at challenges and believed it was within our capacity to do good — to do right.” Biden referenced the late Senator’s humble roots and his boxing background, adding “he never gave up a fight.”

Organized crime figures from Reid’s Sin City days can no doubt attest to his ferocity. One mobster Reid faced down was Tony (the Ant) Spilotro, who a Chicago branch of La Costra Nostra sent to Las Vegas, according to The New Yorker, Despite Spilotro’s penchant for killing his victims by squeezing their heads in vises, Reid banned him from all casinos in 1979.

On Sunday, the oldest still-operating resort on the Strip and Las Vegas’s first mob-built casino, the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, celebrated its 75th anniversary.  Celebrity mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was the owner when the Flamingo first opened on December 26, 1946.

Reid’s no-nonsense stand against organized crime led to the mob allegedly attempting to kill him with a car bomb in 1981. In his book The Good Fight, Reid wrote there was speculation the man behind the failed hit was Jack Gordon, who went to prison for attempting to bribe Reid with $12,000 in 1978 to approve a gaming device.

New Republic journalist Matt Ford took to Twitter to share the backstory, which includes Reid famously going off script during an FBI sting on Gordon.

Public historian Dr. Alicia Barber shared a link to Reid’s recollections while head of the Commission in the University of Nevada Oral History Program:

Reid’s tenure at the Nevada Gaming Commission even caught the attention of Hollywood.

Inspiration to many

Political scientist and Georgetown University professor, Donald Moynihan, got onto Twitter to share how Reid’s reputation on the Commission inspired a role in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 epic Casino:

The man with the wispy-thin voice but steely exterior, however, has left a massive impression, with many leaders paying tribute.

Former President Barack Obama said he “wouldn’t have been president had it not been for [Reid’s] encouragement and support.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak said that calling Reid “a giant” failed to “fully encapsulate all he accomplished on behalf of the state of Nevada and for Nevada families.”

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