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December 18, 2014

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Only one sure way off the black book

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Steve Marcus

A Black Book, a State Gaming Control Board list of people excluded from Nevada casinos, is displayed at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas Monday, Feb. 13, 2012. At right is a page on former mobster Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, who was removed from the book only after his death.

John Mealey Jr. wasn’t around to celebrate his recent removal from Nevada’s “black book.”

Mealey, who was convicted of cheating at slot machines and card games, was taken off the List of Excluded Persons on July 25 only because he died almost a full year earlier.

His case is typical. Technically, there is an appeals process, but once you’re on the list, you just don’t get off. To be black-listed is to be barred from entering any casino in the state

“The only way to get off the black book is to die,” said Tony Cabot, a Las Vegas gaming attorney.

Even then, it can take the state a long time to remove someone’s name. Louis Tom Dragna died a year and a half before his name was stricken from the black book on May 22.

Karl Bennison, chief of enforcement for the state Gaming Control Board, said the agency needs to confirm deaths with absolute certainty, and sometimes it can be slow to catch up.

“It might be yearly where our folks will go and run each person on the list and see their status and see if there’s news of their passing,” Bennison said. “It can be lengthy.”

Bennison’s division is the law enforcement branch of the control board. It recommends nominees for the excluded persons list. The control board then nominates people , and the Gaming Commission approves them.

Under state law, the list “may include any person whose presence in the establishment is determined by the board and the commission to pose a threat to the interests of this state or to licensed gaming, or both.”

The board and commission are allowed to consider four areas when making additions to the black book:

• Previous felony convictions, crimes involving moral turpitude and violations of state gaming law.

• Violating or conspiring to violate state law that requires people to disclose their stake in a gaming establishment or willful evasion of fees or taxes.

• A “notorious or unsavory reputation” that could undermine the public’s trust in the gaming industry.

• A written order from the government authorizing someone’s exclusion or removal from a business where gambling occurs.

Bennison’s division doesn’t recommend every person with a gaming crime to the list. He and his investigators look for repeat offenders, people who teach other criminals or people who act more egregiously than the average cheat.

People can try to dissuade the commission from approving their nomination, and after someone is placed on the list, he or she can petition for removal. The commission has 90 days to reject the request or conduct a hearing.

Regulations provide few stipulations beyond that, other than to set out rules for conducting and publicizing the hearing, to explain what evidence the commission can consider and to outline that the burden of proof lies with the petitioner, the person asking for removal.

The appeals process, for all intents and purposes, exists only on paper. David Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, said he’s not aware of anyone who has successfully petitioned his or her way off the list. Cabot and Bennison didn’t know of any successful attempts, either.

Francis Citro, who was placed on the list in 1991, could break the pattern. Citro told the Los Angeles Times last year that he was preparing to request a hearing with the board to get off the list, although he has yet to file a petition.

There’s also at least one exception to the removal-after-death rule, though it doesn’t involve the formal appeals process.

In 1965, three people — Rudy Kolod, Felix Alderisio and Willie Alderman — reportedly were removed from the list after being placed on it the same year. People speculate that mobster Moe Dalitz, an associate of the three, used his influence to get them off the list.

The type of people who are put into the black book may have a lot to do with why the appeals process hasn’t been used. The list started as a way to keep notorious mobsters out of casinos. Now, it’s used against people with gaming-related criminal backgrounds.

“What they’ve basically done over the years is say, ‘We’re going to reserve the List of Excluded Persons only for those persons who are so notorious that we don’t want them anywhere near the casino,’ ” Cabot said. “So it has been very selective. You have to have a significant resume in order to get on the list. If you get into that level of infamy, the infamy never goes away.”

The list includes 30 men and one woman. Most were convicted or arrested on suspicion of gaming-related crimes.

Cabot said it would be difficult for anyone to petition their way off, unless they were put on for a “notorious or unsavory reputation” and could show how that’s changed.

“You might have an argument if you can show rehabilitation of your reputation over the years,” he said. “But again, nobody has tried it.”

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