Carl Cohen – Las Vegas Casino Manager and Owner

Carl Cohen was born in Cleveland, Ohio February 15, 1913, and spent his adult years working in the gaming industry, first finding employment at the Thomas Club as a dealer. Cohen saw the Cleveland Syndicate’s casinos as a fine job and was both a dice dealer and later a pit boss. He also worked as a bookie’s agent, taking wagers outside of the casinos and delivering cash to offices owned by Moe Dalitz and Morris Kleinman.

After the syndicate and the Mayfield Road Gang combined efforts in the late 1930s, they cooperated with political and police corruption but maintained their income-producing enterprises. As the animosity between the Dalitz group, Alfred Polizzi, and Thomas McGinty intensified, Cohen was advised to take his efforts to Las Vegas. He moved his wife and sons there in 1941.

Like other pit bosses from Steubenville and Cleveland, Ohio, Cohen carried an air of reliability Las Vegas casino managers demanded. He was hired at the El Rancho Vegas, where he became the casino manager when the Mob moved Wilbur Clark from the downtown Turf Club to front the Strip casino.

Working at the El Rancho

Cohen was commanding but respectful, keeping the employees in line and the patrons happy. He earned a reasonable salary and later received five points in the small casino (four table games and 70 slot machines) when Thomas Hull sold the property to Joe Drown in 1943.

The resort changed hands regularly (Drown, then Wilbur Clark, then Drown again, then Sanford Adler) until stability resumed when the property was leased to Jake Katleman.

After Jake was killed in an auto accident, his nephew ran the property and expanded the facilities in 1951. Carl Cohen was now an admired and respected casino manager, but he and Beldon disagreed over gaming and comp decisions.

Because the casino provided most of the resort’s income, Cohen treated his big players and celebrities like gold. And rightly so.

One summer evening in 1955, millionaire Howard Hughes was seated at a gaming table but wasn’t playing. When Katleman saw the disheveled man in jeans and tennis shoes, no socks, he came unglued. Waving Cohen over to speak with him like he was a flunky, Katleman demanded that he throw “that bum” out. Cohen refused.

When Katleman screamed at Cohen and shoved him toward the blackjack table, Cohen turned back with a short punch to his face, decking the owner. The argument was heated enough to draw the attention of several dealers and pit bosses, so when Cohen told him to “Run this fucking joint by yourself if you’re so smart” and headed towards his office to pack his things, four dealers dropped their decks and walked off the job.

And Along Came the Sands Casino

News traveled fast in Vegas, and it wasn’t but a few hours before Sands casino owner Jake Freedman reached Cohen and offered him a job. Cohen took the meeting, agreed on a salary, got five points, and brought with him the dealers that had walked out in his defense.

That one incident could have made Cohen a legend. Still, he managed to top it by punching Frank Sinatra in the face after he followed the Sands casino manager to a restaurant and demanded more credit at the gaming tables.

Sinatra had previously been denied, turned over a blackjack table, and tried to flip the restaurant table over. Still, it landed against a chair, spilling Cohen’s breakfast and a pot of coffee. Cohen wasn’t happy, so he knocked the caps off Frank’s two front teeth with a quick punch to his mouth.

In the late 1950s, Cohen introduced high-stakes baccarat to the Sand’s clientele and offered a high-stakes room for the best players, a perk now standard in Strip casinos.

The Sands, like the Flamingo before it, was built on sprawling grounds with many separate buildings. And like most Sands executives, the Cohens lived on the property with pleasant surroundings and a private pool. Unfortunately, after the Kefauver hearings on organized crime, the FBI continued to surveil suspects in Las Vegas, including the Cohens.

As early as 1944, they had wiretaps in Bugsy Siegel’s offices at the Las Vegas Club and then his hotel room at the El Rancho – and they continued their illegal surveillance into the 1960s. In 1963, the Justice Department received FBI wiretap transcripts from 25 Las Vegas casino executives, including the Cohen residence. The transcripts embarrassed Fran Cohen, Carl’s wife, and their sons, Steve and Alan, but they proved nothing suspicious.

Cohen moved to operations manager at the Sands the year afterward, then senior vice president, and became the senior vice president of MGM Grand in 1973. His efforts and reputation in Las Vegas and the casino industry were stellar, and his innovations in providing high-roller amenities are now a Vegas staple.

He passed away on December 26, 1986, in Las Vegas.


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