Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Stupak rips secret probe allegations

Bob Stupak, the colorful Las Vegas gaming entrepreneur who built the Stratosphere Tower, flatly denied allegations in an attorney general's probe that he bribed regulators, rigged slot machines and fronted for the mob.

These and other unsubstantiated claims were leveled against Stupak by former state Gaming Control Board employees Ron Harris and Gordon Hickman in confidential 1996 videotapes and memos released Tuesday.

The material, part of an investigation of gaming regulators, was unsealed by District Judge James Mahan at the request of the Sun and KLAS Channel 8.

Harris, an electronics whiz and convicted slot cheat who was paroled from prison last year, was fired from his job as a gaming machine tester for the board but agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

He alleged that he found during an investigation of the now-defunct Vegas World hotel-casino owned by Stupak that certain promotional slot machines paid less than 3 cents on the dollar. While conceding that the machines used play money and were not subject to gaming regulation, Harris agreed with Deputy Attorney General David Thompson that Stupak committed "false advertising."

"You know, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and everyone else is out after him for false advertising," Harris said.

Stupak acknowledged Wednesday that he had been frequently investigated by regulators. He once had to pay a $150,000 fine for deceptive advertising connected with Vegas World, which was razed and replaced by the Stratosphere.

But Stupak, who won a gaming license for the Stratosphere in 1996, said he was never investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and was unaware of the specific machines Harris mentioned.

"Being a thief is one thing, but having been employed by the Gaming Control Board, he left a tremendous black eye with the state of Nevada and the gaming industry," Stupak said of Harris. "It's the old story of a disgruntled former employee who has to say something to reduce his (prison) time."

Stupak said he was particularly displeased that many prominent Nevadans, such as former Control Board Chairman Bill Bible and former Gov. Bob Miller, were also dragged into the probe.

"I'm not as worried about what's said about me as I am about the state of Nevada and gaming in general," Stupak said.

Hickman, who worked for the board's electronic services division, told Ron Wheatley, a senior investigator for the attorney general's office, that Stupak was suspected of rigging his slot machines to reduce payouts to players. Hickman also said Stupak had a reputation of one who "paid off" Control Board employees and fit the profile of a "front" for organized crime interests.

Stupak scoffed at each of those allegations, none of which were corroborated.

"It sounds like a good story for a movie," Stupak said. "But in real life it's a shame that he could say something like that. In my opinion I would be the last person organized crime would want to profile."