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Birthright of Gangsters (1984)

Crime Inc. - Episode 4/7

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Birthright of Gangsters (1984)The migration of Sicilians to America brought with it members of the Family, a highly organized subculture that controlled the political power structure of the western region of Italy. The concept transferred well to America, in both New York and Chicago.

This episode looks at the success of the mafia in the gambling mecca of Las Vegas, where organized crime gained a stronghold. For the first twenty five years gambling was uncensored in Vegas, but the 1955 establishment of The Nevada Gaming Commission led to tighter laws. The programme starts with Sinatra’s suspected involvement with the mafia, particularly Sam Giancanna, through his ownership of a Vegas casino and which was investigated by the Commission. Sinatra’s involvement stems from Judith Drexler, who certainly has a list of lovers – Giancanna, Kennedy and Sinatra to name but three.

The documentary shows extensive coverage of Sinatra’s testimony in front of the commission. The Vegas casinos have been a big earner for the mafia as explained by Gerry Denono, who reveals how the money was displaced through the crime syndicate. Money was also poured in to the casinos through mafia controlled heads of pension funds and unions. The truck drivers union, the teamsters were hit particularly hard. Proof of the extent of mafia involvement came when it was proved that bookie Richard Glick was ‘loaned’ 90 million dollars by the mafia to buy two casinos, which were skimmed for 7 million dollars in just the first two years.

The programme then moves to Atlanta. When Brendan Burn organised casinos here, he vowed to keep the mafia away. Atlanta has nine casinos which have a higher turnover than Vegas, and stringent methods have been deployed to halt mafia takeovers through respectable frontmen or employees in the cage. However, the documentary goes on to reveal that the way round this is for the mafia to control the casino supplies through the unions.

The majority of the casino employees are members of ‘Local 54’ which has been controlled by the Philadelphia mafia from the days of Angelo Bruno. Under the new boss, Nicky Scarfo, this continued so as Donoghue points out, from the napkins to the garbage collection everything but the gambling itself is mafia controlled. This is more or less acknowledged on film by Lt Col Justin Duntino, of the New Jersey state police.

Gambling is the ‘birthright of gangsters’ and if they cannot control the casinos through gaining licences, then they will control them through the unions that handle the staff and the supplies. The mafia controlled the casinos in Atlanta before a brick was laid.


IMDB (5.8)