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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Daughter of Dennis Gomes shines spotlight on late father in new book

6 May 2013

ATLANTIC CITY -- The late Dennis Gomes had a colorful and Hall of Fame-worthy 40 years in the gaming industry.

He operated more than a dozen casinos in Las Vegas and on the Boardwalk from the mid-1980s until his sudden passing at age 68 in February 2012.

Many of those endeavors played out vividly in the public arena.

Gomes’ daughter Danielle Gomes is now shining the spotlight on her father’s career as a Nevada gaming agent in the 1970s.

Her book, “Hit Me!: Fighting the Las Vegas Mob by the Numbers,” will be released this week.

The backstory is widely known.

Dennis Gomes, an accountant who had visions of joining the FBI, became the youngest-ever chief of the Gaming Control Board’s Audit Division in 1971, at age 27. During the next six years, he oversaw a collection of agents, lawyers and accountants that investigated and uncovered organized crime elements at the Aladdin, Tropicana and Stardust hotel-casinos.

Some of his investigative and operational escapades made it onto the big screen in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film, “Casino.”

The book paints Gomes and his team as a Nevada version of “The Untouchables.”

He was indeed fearless. One evening while on surveillance in the Dunes poker room he stared down mob enforcer Tony Spilotro. The gangster eventually got up and left his high-limit card game in a huff.

What wasn’t widely known, but now is revealed in the book, is that Gomes’ investigations were often circumvented by corrupt Las Vegas police officers and unethical agents in other control board divisions.

Danielle Gomes writes that her father’s probes were stymied by Nevada politics, from the control board and Gaming Commission up to the state attorney general’s office. Several times Gomes gave his investigative materials to a friendly FBI agent so that agency could finish the task.

Gomes and his agents uncovered the mechanics of the mob skim of Stardust gaming revenues, and used a legal loophole to raid the casino’s cage without the Gaming Control Board knowing ahead of time.

There are portions of “Hit Me” that will make some in Las Vegas uncomfortable.

“I imagine it’s a very different type of agency now,” Gomes said last week during an interview in the lobby of Caesars Atlantic City. “The mob was very much part of Las Vegas back then, and they had a lot of control over politics at the time.”

Gomes, who will be 33 this month, is married with a 4-year-old son. She lives most of the time near Atlantic City. Her mother, Barbara Gomes, still has a home in Las Vegas and the family visits often.

Danielle Gomes spent several years researching the book and used the UNLV Center for Gaming Research while obtaining her master’s degree at the school. She also had access to materials not found in the UNLV archives.

After leaving law enforcement, Dennis Gomes and one of his former agents, Dick Law, wrote a detailed account of their investigations and experiences.

The unpublished manuscript was titled, “The Ostrich Conspiracy” and contained original information from investigative reports. Danielle Gomes was able to read those reports and interview several of her father’s former gaming agents.

She also relied on another important resource — her father.

Danielle Gomes wrote much of “Hit Me” in 2011, before his death. She would interview him, finish a chapter, and he would review it.

Danielle Gomes was born after her father left the regulatory world and went into casino operations. Growing up, she was fascinated by his stories about the “mob and Las Vegas.”

In July 2007, Dennis Gomes was a witness for the prosecution in “The Family Secrets Trial” in federal court in Chicago. The case led to the convictions of mob figures on dozens of charges, including murder.

One victim was Jay Vandermark, who was involved in the Stardust skim, but was discovered to have siphoned off a portion of the money. Gomes sought to make Vandermark, who was hiding in Mexico, an informant. It never happened.

Gomes was pulled off the Stardust case in 1977. Vandermark was murdered.

The trial tied up old wounds for Gomes, and his daughter went to work on the book, which is told in a third-person narrative. The words, however, are those of Dennis Gomes.

Dennis Gomes died of kidney failure while she was writing the epilogue.

Finishing “Hit Me” became Danielle Gomes’ way of dealing with her father’s death. Co-author Jay Bonansinga was brought in to “serve as a mentor” and help organize the final product.

“I think my dad would be excited about the book,” she said. “He was a great storyteller, and that’s why I wanted to write the book.”

A book launch is planned for Friday at Cuba Libre in The Quarter, a retail and restaurant area Dennis Gomes built at the Tropicana Atlantic City in 2004. She’s hoping to have a similar event in Las Vegas.

Dennis Gomes left the Gaming Control Board in 1977 and took a similar position with New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. He managed the original licensing investigation for Resorts, which became Atlantic City’s first casino.

As an operator, he oversaw properties for the first Japanese ownerships in Las Vegas. His employment became the subject of a very public 1991 legal fight between Steve Wynn and Donald Trump.

Gomes owned a casino management company with his son Aaron when he became part of an ownership group that bought the rundown Resorts on the Boardwalk in 2010. He was posthumously inducted into the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2012.

Danielle Gomes would like to write another book about her father, primarily about his Atlantic City career. She has a wealth of material.