In 1967 I was a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, and a story I wrote about Moe Dalitz and his PGA golf tournament at the Desert Inn Hotel, had gotten me blackballed from his two Strip Hotels and the tournament. But, Hank Greenspun stood up for my story when Dalitz, who supposedly knew a few guys back east who sometimes hurt people, called him to complain.
I was offered the job by Greenspun personally in late 1965, after three years as an award winning sports writer in Los Angeles. When I walked into his office to accept the job, he said to me: “Just make sure every story you write is honest and substantiated by at least two sources.”
In March 1967, those words became very important for me. I had written a story dealing with one of the most powerful hotel owners in Las Vegas: Moe Dalitz, who owned not only the Desert Inn, but the Stardust Hotel, and the world famous Tournament of Champions PGA golf tournament.
The Desert Inn, and its lush golf course lined by expensive homes, had been the site of the Damon Runyon $100,000 Tournament of Champions for 14 years. It was a benefit for the Damon Runyon Cancer Foundation, and was limited to members of the Professional Golf Association (PGA) who had won a tournament during the prior season leading up to the April tournament. The defending champion for the 15th tournament was Arnold Palmer. It had also been carried on national TV for a number of years, and was locally televised each year. That was, I had learned, going to be a different story in 1967.
“T of C Golf TV Blackout Here,” was the headline on the front page of the sports section on Saturday, March 18, 1967. My source, who was very close to the owner, stated that, “Moe, himself, personally told the big-wigs at ABC-TV in New York, during contract negotiations in 1966, that he was losing money by allowing the local telecast and wanted it blacked out.” It became a big story.
Here’s what happened: I began by calling a contact at our local ABC station, KSHO-TV, who had telecast it the year previously. A station spokesman told me that on Friday, March 10, they were informed by New York that the station would not be permitted to carry the tournament in April. “We had fully expected to carry it again this year.” The spokesman added that they were trying to contact someone at the Desert Inn to see if they could get them to change their minds, “But once those guys had set their mind on something, it’s pretty hard to get them to change. Besides, who do you talk to over there?”
Tuesday afternoon, March 14, I made a call to a big-wig friend of mine at ABC-TV in New York. He verified that it was Dalitz who had actually made the statement credited to him. “He said he was tired of losing money and wanted it blacked out. We would love to feed it to the station, but until someone at the hotel tells us different, we’ll have to blackout the Las Vegas area.”
Saturday afternoon, after the story broke in the morning Sun, Hank received a call from the Desert Inn. The person on the other end of the phone was screaming at Greenspun. My desk was just outside Hanks office. Suddenly Ruthe Deskin, who had the title of Assistant to the Publisher, was waving at me, and pointing for me to get into Hank’s office.
Greenspun was holding the phone away from his ear as I walked in, and signaled for me to sit down. “Well listen Moe, I have Johnson in the office right now and are you telling me that the story he wrote was not truthful?” The phone went quiet for what felt like an hour to me but probably was a couple of seconds. “Well, no, but why did he have to write about it in the first place?” he screamed.
I remember Hank looking at me and sorta hunching his shoulder and smiling. “Because the people of our city need to know Moe, that’s why!”
“Well, that guy is blackballed from covering the tournament, and I’m telling security that he’s not even allowed to set foot on any of my properties,” he yelled at Greenspun. Hank finally responded when Moe stopped screaming to catch a breath of air, “Well, Moe, if you really feel that way, the Sun will not cover your damn tournament at all. Now that’s my final answer. You can take it or change your mind about Johnson!” Another long pause and he soon replied in a more calmer, but still loud voice, “Well, alright, he can cover the damn tournament, but he can’t come into the hotel. He’ll have to enter the golf course from the outside gate.”
Greenspun looked at me, smiled and replied, “Alright. The Sun and the sports department will cover the tournament and Johnson will not go inside the hotel.”
In a subsequent page one story, it was learned that Howard Hughes was in the process of purchasing the Desert Inn, and I believe he didn’t want the tournament played on his golf course. It was announced that the tournament would move to the Stardust Hotel and its smaller par 70 golf course, located on Desert Inn Road about two miles from the Strip. That meant that all future records would forever carry an asterisk, just like baseball had to do after they added more games to the schedule.
On Tuesday, March 21, I again took on the powers-to-be at the Desert Inn in my column, with approval from the boss of course. I had gotten hold of the actual attendance records from 1966, which turned out to be 39,036 paid admissions. With an admission price averaging six-bucks, I figured the total take was about $234,216 in cold hard cash, plus income from the booze, food, and hotel rooms. That didn’t even touch the gambling side. I also noted that over the 14 previous years the fund had received only a small portion of the total revenue taken in by the tournament. The figure I was told by my source amounted to about $500,000.
Mr. Dalitz didn’t like that column either, which was no surprise to me or Hank. Once again guess who called the boss? Greenspun again stood up to Dalitz. The one good thing, however, was that this time I didn’t have to sit and listen to him yelling at my boss.
As promised, I never stepped into either of the hotels until I was eventually informed by an executive at the Stardust that it was alright.
And, gang, that does not even begin to tell the story about the famous “Lottery like $$$$$ pool,” where certain invited guests, etc., would gather inside a room at the D.I. the night before the tournament was to start, and bid a lot of money on the various champions who they thought would win the tournament. I remember that singer Frankie Laine won the “pool,” that year. I believe Laine won the darn tournament three years in a row. The publicity picture that went out across the world was of huge mountain of silver dollars being wheeled into the casino by two showgirls, escorted by a hotel executive and a couple of security guards, in a silver painted wheelbarrow. In those days silver dollars were the coin used in slot machines, for tips, and anything else under five dollars. I personally liked the fifty-cent coin for a tip. Remember, I worked for Hank Greenspun! I loved the guy!
Wow! This was just one story from the great ol’ days of Las Vegas.
If you like this type of a story every now and then, please let me know? I’ve got a million of ‘em. Not really, maybe a hundred or so at the most.
Well, gang, that’s it for this week.