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A True Story of Betrayal, Gambling, and Murder in Las Vegas
By Frank Romano
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Frank Romano
All rights reserved.
While Ed began his opening remarks, I drifted down memory lane ...
One day in January 1988, I returned to the American Coin Enterprises warehouse and office, after finishing my route collections from the dozens of game machines we had placed all over the city of Las Vegas. I moved forty-pound sacks of coins out of the trunk of my car and into the counting room at the office, grunting as I lifted the quarters to the counting table.
"Good pull today," I said to Bernie, the counting room manager. Bernie began opening the sacks and pouring them into the counting machine. The jangle of metal made me feel hopeful; the sound of money always cheered me up.
"Yeah, seems like we're starting off the New Year right," he said.
I headed upstairs to get coffee. On my way, Rudy LaVecchia Sr. called me into his office. "Guess what?" he said. "Rudy Junior is getting married."
My mouth dropped open. "To who? I mean, to whom?"
"Oh yeah? Beth who?"
Senior glared at me and replied, "Diane's daughter, Beth."
Diane was Senior's second wife, raised on a potato farm in Maine, where her father was a laborer. In my opinion, she was the most self-centered and selfish person I had ever met. A classic "trophy wife" type, Diane was blonde, busty (via implants), and utterly focused on maintaining her appearance. She looked demure, but she was a spider; a Scorpion personality full of venom. Diane's greatest fear was being without money in her old age.
Beth and Rudy Junior had been raised together in their parents' combined household. As far as I was concerned, they were siblings.
"How can that work? They're brother and sister!" I spoke in absolute shock. The whole idea felt all wrong to me.
"Well, technically they're not related by blood," Senior reminded me. "Anyway, they're getting married!"
As we sat talking about the kids, other points became very clear too. Now I could see Diane's hand in this matchmaking project; she wanted security for herself and her daughter and figured marrying twice into the LaVecchia family was the way to do it. Now past the initial confusion, I began to consider what Maria was going to say about this lash-up.
"Have you told Maria or Lee yet?"
Senior shook his head. "No, not yet. But I'll call them this afternoon. I want each of them to hear this from me."
Better you than me.
I couldn't help but smile at the thought of the list of questions Maria would cook up within moments of learning the news. As Senior continued speaking, I wondered about what the relationship between Junior and Beth must have been like with the two of them growing up under the same roof. Creepy.
Although the business partnership between the LaVecchia men and me over the past four years was extremely profitable, it certainly wasn't a match made in heaven. For years it had been a continuous fight: father and son vs. the son-in-law, me. We'd been at odds over the operating principles of the business from the very start. Senior and Junior had been investing capital into the partnership. On the other hand, I was a firm believer in building the best possible gaming devices on the planet.
Rudy Junior always managed to put more fuel on the fire. He knew that no matter what he did, his father would support his actions. If anything came to a partnership vote, it was always the father and son (the two) against me (the one).
A previous Saturday in the office was typical. My old friend Bob was visiting me there. Rudy Junior became outraged, screaming and carrying on. He created such a scene about Bob being on the premises that even I was really very surprised.
Bob was a friend of mine from my days at Budget Rent-a-Car back in the seventies, and I'd known him for about eight years. He was a tall guy, about six feet two, with blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair. With his blue eyes and nice build, Maria always said he reminded her of a young Jon Voight.
After the scene with Junior, I retrieved Bob from my office, and we headed out of the building. Bob was looking forward to visiting a few casinos, starting with Caesars Palace, so once in the car we headed straight for the five-star resort.
"Wow, that guy was a jerk," Bob said.
"Yeah, the real problem is his jealousy," I said. "He has a successful business—that his sister and I own. I think he feels cheated by our successes and our relationship. Junior knows that he could never be a friend and business partner with his own wife."
As we drove to Caesars, we talked about our individual business relationships and compared notes on partnership problems.
"Most partnership problems are caused by greed and ignorance," Bob said.
I had to laugh. "It is really funny how I could end up in a partnership with two guys with the same names. Greed and ignorance." Senior and Junior. "But seriously, I may have to find a way to get away from those two," I said quietly.
It was the first time I'd said out loud what I'd been thinking; the partnership was that broken.
Once inside Caesars, we headed directly to the first craps pit on the left. As we approached a table, Bob dug out a stack of hundreds, laughing. "What's the name of this game?"
Craps is my favorite casino game and provides the player with the best odds of any table or machine game played in Las Vegas, or for that matter in any casino anywhere. I knew myself well enough to know that I would bet the farm, if the action called for the bet. Before moving to Vegas, I made a deal with myself not to play as long as I lived there. So far it was working pretty well. I'd only gotten into a couple of games when showing special visitors the way the game was played.
Bob was at the craps table, which was a game where you bet with the house or against the house. You can place your bet on the dice being rolled, such as a pair of the same number, or you can place your bet with the house, which would mean that a person rolled a seven between a pair of dice. Craps is a game where if the house rolled out a seven, which is the highest combination in a pair of dice, the people playing lose. If you roll any other number and place bets prior to the dice being rolled and it's not a seven, you win.
Bob laid down several hundred dollars bills as he gave the croupier audible instructions: "Two hundred seventy dollars, off coming out." Bob laid another four hundred-dollar bills on the table layout.
The croupier, accepting that, stated clearly, "Change up." Finally, Bob placed a hundred-dollar check on the pass line and took the odds as he dragged the remaining checks back to his position at the table; the shooter was coming out. The shooter's come-out roll was an eight. Bob then pressed the original bet, bought hard-way numbers for the table crew, and began waiting for the shooter's next roll of the dice. Bob's opening bet was a classic craps wager. The bet covered the place bets with the correct amount of money to simplify the calculations of the odds. Bob purchased proposition bets with the intention that they become a gratuity to the table crew. The last part of the first bet positioned him on the pass line with odds.
The pass line would pay as a winner when the point of eight was made.
I'd seen enough and began to walk around, looking at new video and slot games on the casino floor. As I walked about, my thoughts drifted back to Rudy Junior. He was such a thorn in my side, on so many levels.
After I'd been around the casino floor, I returned to the craps table to find Bob stacking checks, ready to visit another game. We settled at a blackjack table. While Bob was contributing to the future financial strength of Caesars, I walked around the new casino area and sportsbook. What a fabulous sports parlor ... walls filled with TV screens showing races, games, warm-ups. It was a sportsbook playground. I couldn't help wondering how the local bars would be able to compete with this.
Before long, Bob was ready to visit another casino. He cashed out, down a few hundred dollars. We retrieved the car and headed over to the Dunes and then to the Tropicana.
We reminisced a bit about our seven-plus-year friendship. "Ah, the good old days," I said as we drove. In those days, back in the seventies, I was working as a director of operations for a national rental car company, and Bob was operating his first rental car business. Part of my job was to assist the rental car licensees with the opening and operations of their business, and to continue to work with a licensee group in a designated territory.
This kept me traveling and living on the road twenty-six or so days a month. Since my first marriage had already broken down, the opportunity to travel seemed like a good idea. I could come home to visit the kids about once a month and not have to be close to my estranged wife. But after eight years of continuous travel, the lifestyle did me out. I wanted to stay in one place and wake up in the same room every morning, looking at my own furniture, walls, and pictures, instead of a different hotel or motel every other day.
As the afternoon became early evening, Bob and I returned home to see how Maria and Cindy, Bob's wife, were doing, and to get organized for our dinner and evening plans.
Vegas in the summer of '88 was a town in transition. The classic old casinos—the Dunes, the Sands, the Stardust, Castaways, Aladdin, and the Sahara—were on the verge of being torn down, imploded, and replaced with gaudy, new, huge gaming megaresorts. An energetic young man named Steve Wynn changed the face of Las Vegas when he purchased the Golden Nugget and then built the Mirage Hotel, famous for its gold-tinted windows. It changed the strip and the nature of the town forever. Wynn went on to build the world-renowned Bellagio, the Wynn, and the Encore at Wynn, and brought Wall Street money to redevelop the famous Strip.
Old-school gamblers, mostly middle-aged and old men, weren't seen as profitable any longer. Vegas wanted to attract newer, younger gamblers and families. The seedy side of Vegas was still there—it would always be there—but the big resorts and chamber of commerce types were starting to see that expanding gaming options and entertainment would open up huge new markets for all of them.
Maria had planned a dinner downtown for us. The Golden Nugget had opened a new gourmet room, and everyone wanted to try it out. We four sat in the newly constructed Italian gourmet room, and Bob noticed that the party at the next table was a little loud and rowdy, even for Vegas.
"That guy at the next table acts like he owns the place," Bob said with a grimace.
"He does own the place. That's Steve Wynn." And with that we toasted and continued on with our relaxing evening.
As challenging and widespread as Wynn's effect on Vegas would be, it was nothing compared to what I was about to face with my partners.
Bob and Cindy departed early Sunday morning, just after breakfast, and the house was quiet. I sat in the family room reading the newspaper and watching the morning TV news. Outside, a Las Vegas sun poured golden light over everything. I sighed, feeling pretty contented. I had a lovely family, a great house, challenging and profitable work. What more could any man want?
Marlo, our two-year-old daughter, was still sleeping, and Maria must have been feeling a little lonely because she joined me in the family room with a cup of coffee. She sipped at her cup. "Thanksgiving is going to be quiet. You know, with the kids not coming this year." Meaning my two children, Tracy and Aaron, from my previous marriage.
I nodded and continued reading.
"Senior and Diane will be going out of town too."
"Well, I was just thinking."
"That's good to be thinking. In fact, that is a very good thing." I turned a page and changed the channel on the television. "But is that all you're thinking about? Please, no table fillers such as Junior over here for a meal. I've had all I can take of that son of a bitch this week."
The friction between Maria's blood family and me was ever-present. Her father and brother, Rudy Senior and Rudy Junior, were always challenging to deal with even just as in-laws. As business partners, though, they were more than a challenge.
"Well, maybe we can do something else."
But I was off and running at the mouth, needing to vent. "Someday your father is going to get it stuffed right up his ass because of his constant protection of that little bastard. For Senior, there's always a way for any error to become someone else's fault, and he cannot admit to an error of any kind, particularly one in his own judgment or performance."
Maria was the oldest of Senior's children. Anthony, Maria's twin brother, had been given every possible financial support opportunity to succeed at something. As the oldest male child, he was expected to follow in the father's footsteps and lead the family on to greater successes. However, for Anthony, it was always the easy way of doing whatever until all of a sudden it was too late, after years of continuous disappointment.
Senior then redirected his attention from Anthony to Rudy Junior. Senior's treatment of his children was further complicated by his personal belief that a woman's place is in the home. That his thoughts were not archaic enough, the difficulties became even more pronounced to deal with when it became evident to everyone, including himself, that his daughters were innately more intelligent than his sons.
The weakness in Senior's personality was never more evident than when he was dealing with Junior. Senior protected every move the kid made. No matter how absurd or moronic, it was simply imperative in Senior's mind that Junior succeed at any cost, in part because of Anthony's continued failures, which included the removal of your assets at his convenience, should he need to raise a few bucks. So if you came home at night and your TV set was gone, call Anthony; he most likely had it, or knew where it had gone.
My opinion was that, on top of this Neanderthal mentality, both Senior and Junior possessed cruel streaks in their personalities. Each enjoyed forcing others into impossible positions to gain what they perceived to be control. Each found pleasure in sharing their various victories with each other. When the two were engaged in these conversations, I would simply walk away in disgust.
"Honey, I really don't want to do Thanksgiving with that side of the family," I said sincerely. "Can we come up with another plan?"
"Sure, Frank, I'll think of something," Maria said. And we finished our weekend together with a pleasant Sunday.
At the office the next day, I was curious how the marriage with Beth and Rudy Junior would shake out. Beth was Diane's daughter from her previous marriage, and based on what I'd seen of Diane's shenanigans, it must have been a hoot.
Beth, her husband, Arthur, and their baby girl, Nicole, moved to Las Vegas in 1987 and took a small apartment. Arthur immediately came to work as a laborer at American Coin, while Beth found work with one of the local banks. Arthur was a small-framed man whose Hispanic appearance was of no consequence in Nevada. The job Senior gave Arthur was not easy, because he was immediately delegated to being Rudy Junior's private gopher, which translated to being Junior's whipping boy and slave. Each day, Junior verbally emasculated Arthur, beating him into total submission while totally degrading him. No matter what the assignment, Arthur's performance could never reach a passing level for Junior.
There was always room for massive improvement and justification for one more emasculating experience for Arthur. Other employees couldn't understand what kept Arthur from wiping up the floor with Junior and walking out the door. But Arthur was a man with a family to support, so he kept his head down and did what he was told without hesitation. Everyone who spent time around Junior and Arthur knew that the day would come when Arthur was going to hit a wall, a breaking point that would in turn cause a total calamity between the two of them.
Just about a year after Beth and Arthur had moved to Las Vegas, Beth divorced Arthur. That added to Arthur's complete devastation. The parts of Arthur that Junior had not destroyed while working with him at the shop, Beth then took away with the divorce. Arthur returned to San Diego, and to my knowledge, was not heard from again.
Excerpted from American Coin by Frank Romano. Copyright © 2013 Frank Romano. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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