Chicago's Man in Vegas

Anthony Spilotro (1938-1986)

Copyright 2006

Anthony Spilotro wasn't much to look at. His build certainly wasn't threatening. He stood just five feet, six inches tall and weighed in the neighborhood of 160. His small stature led underworld colleagues to call him "Tony the Ant" and "The Little Guy." His face wasn't intimidating either. He had the look of a businessman. But there was something threatening in his blue eyes. The look was confident and detached and perhaps a little bored with the outside world. Behind those eyes, Anthony Spilotro seemed to be committing murder in his mind.

Anthony 'Tony the Ant' Spilotro

Anthony Spilotro

Spilotro's savage tendencies and a string of beatings and killings attributed to him caused him to be revered and feared within the Chicago Outfit. Despite his small physical stature, he rose within the Mafia ranks to become the Outfit's man in Las Vegas, the overlord of Sin City. He held that rank from 1971 until his ambition, his paranoia and his murderous rage conspired to bring him down a decade and a half later.

Born Anthony John Spilotro in Chicago on May 19, 1938, he was frequently in trouble with the law during his teen years. He was repeatedly arrested for burglary and other offenses. As a young adult, he became a collector for Sam DeStefano's Chicago shylocking operation, a job in which Spilotro's willingness to take apart another human being came in handy.

In the early 1960s, authorities believe Spilotro was responsible for the torture deaths of two unpaying DeStefano loan clients. He is widely believed to have forced hoodlum William McCarthy's (some sources refer to him as McCartney) head into a vise and then to have tightened that tool until one of McCarthy's eyes popped from his head. FBI Agent William Roemer said Spilotro was also responsible for the death of William "Action" Jackson. Jackson was hung up on a meat hook and tortured.

By the mid-1960s, Spilotro was a "made" member of the Outfit and became involved with some of Chicago's gambling ventures. He appears to have spent some time protecting Outfit interests in south Florida (Cuba had recently been closed to Mafiosi because of Fidel Castro's communist revolution there). He returned to Chicago after a few years and the Outfit began grooming him to take over its Las Vegas operations.

Chicagoans in Vegas

Stardust Casino


Despite its closeness to Los Angeles, the "Mickey Mouse Mafia" failed to stake out a territory in Vegas, leaving the gambling oasis open for other mob families. The Chicago Outfit swept in with great force under the command of Johnny Roselli (Filippo Sacco). The Stardust and the Fremont Hotel were the Chicago Outfit's larger investment properties, but it also had a hand in other gambling facilities. Other crime families were also represented in Las Vegas to smaller degrees.

Roselli apparently did not squeeze as much out of Vegas casinos as the Chicago leadership wanted - or perhaps he squeezed plenty but kept a little too much for himself. Before 1960, Roselli was moved out in favor of Marshall Caifano. (Roselli organized some rackets on the West Coast and later in Florida before his dismembered remains were found floating in Biscayne Bay in summer of 1976).

Caifano's honeymoon period as Chicago's Vegas enforcer seems not to have lasted very long. The Outfit was reportedly offended by a series of violent outbursts by Caifano (who changed his name to Johnny Marshall) that it understood were bad for business in Vegas.

Marshall Caifano

Marshall Caifano

When the Nevada Gaming Commission listed Caifano with ten others (including Chicago's Sam Giancana and Murray Humphries, Los Angeles's Louis Tom Dragna and Joe Sica and Kansas City's Nick and Carl Civella) in its inaugural "Black Book," the Chicago gangster reacted inappropriately. He brought legal action against the State of Nevada for excluding him from casinos and, in doing so, brought a great deal of media and governmental attention upon himself and his underworld associates. Making matters worse, Caifano lost his October 1960 case, strengthening the public perception of his ties to the Mafia.

The exposure of the court case was a nightmare to the Outfit. Caifano's prestige plummeted back home until 1964 when he was replaced. Some believe Roselli was temporarily returned to his old job. (It is worth noting that some conspiracy theorists believe Caifano was personally involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November of 1963.)

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