This is the 7th installment of a series of posts written by Ed Walters, the former Pit Boss at the Sands Hotel and Casino during a most memorable time. We are grateful to Ed for allowing us to reprint these stories here. For earlier posts, please visit The Pit Boss Page.
I will go into the famous fight Frank had and what happened that led to his leaving The Sands. Most importantly, I will straighten out what I feel are some false stories that have developed. I was there through all this. I was there the day it happened, the day before and the day afterward.
I’ll tell you my views and get this straight – I ain’t no apologist for Frank Sinatra or any other entertainer.
The books and magazines you read, would lead one to believe:
- He was a bully all the time and mistreated the casino people.
- He was catered to all the time and became a spoiled brat.
- He mistreated woman.
- After he had the fight with Carl Cohen, everyone was so glad to see him leave and Carl was a hero.
- The Sands didn’t need him and was glad to get rid of him.
From a person who was on the scene, let me give you my views.
Around July or so in 1967, we were bought by the Howard Hughes people. Bob Maheu handled all the transactions. The Sands owners got their money and Hughes brought in their own people. It was done at Midnight to start a new day. The Hughes people (those who were next to him and handled his actions) were a combination of accountants and lawyers. They came in heavy and strong. Stopped all casino transactions and did accounting on everything. These guys had never been in the Casino business before and looked on us as mobsters and gamblers.
They immediately put in a long list of new casino rules, especially concerning the taking in and giving out of Casino Credit. So in September or so, Frank is in and comes to the table, like he has done a thousand times and asks me for some chips. I turn him down, thinking he knows about all the changes. He walks away a bit mad. Later in the day I hear he tried again and got turned down and he was very angry.
He was scheduled to do 2 shows that night. 8pm and midnight.
He is angry and yelling at some people because he is trying to get a hold of Jack Entratter or Carl Cohen and get this all straightened out. He goes around mad at everyone till the confrontation with Carl. He won’t do the show and can’t get to Jack. He confronts Carl in the Garden Room, one of our restaurants. Gets tough, starts yelling at Carl and Carl punches him out.
Within a week he is in negotiations with Caesars Palace and ends up going there.
My thoughts: Yes, Frank acted like an asshole while he was mad and pushed it too far. Yes, we were all disappointed in him and the way he was acting. I was furious with him. I did not like the way he handled this and especially his confrontation with Carl, but I know what Frank was mad about and HE WAS RIGHT.
The new casino rules concerning credit were stupid and foolish. Remember, we at The Sands knew almost all our casino customers by name and sight and what they could get and how they would handle it. These were people who had been playing at the Sands for many years and were the best of the best in Las Vegas. It’s as simple as a guy comes in, we greet him and first thing said is “What do you need?” They asked and we gave it and we all did well.
There was a real sense of honor to a player taking credit. If he lost, he payed without a whimper and if he won we gladly gave him his money. Being at the Sands was a nice experience for anyone there, at the time. The new credit rules were stupid. Imagine me asking a long time Sands customer for identification or asking him how he would pay or checking first to see if he was OK before taking care of him. No way this would work. And these Sands players who had won and lost millions where not going to go for this. Frank knew this was the end of how we did things.
He knew we treated people with class and the players were gamblers and the like, but people of honor when it came to dealing with the Sands. We trusted them and they trusted us. It was the old school of dealing with people. You wonder why we were so easy. Well anyone who couldn’t be trusted to keep his word was weeded out in the process. Some knew and some had to to be taught, it wasn’t nice or too smart to f… with us.
Frank was not a bully. I was at the Sands a long time. I never, never saw him mistreat a casino person. I handled Frank and gave him credit in the casino many times. He could be moody at times, but never gave me any trouble. You want trouble, try handling Jerry… but that’s another story. Frank was very instrumental and a part of the style and class we developed at the Sands. So, no he never was trouble to me in the Casino.
Bully, hell the only time he got really out of line, (with Carl) he got knocked on his ass. I really think he got all caught up in his anger in seeing where The Sands was going and with Jilly at his side he might have expected he would have some backup. Jilly ain’t going to go up against Carl. In this town there were some people no entertainer better f… with. There’s no entertainer bigger than the whole town. Entertainers have bosses. They work for us. And we have bosses….
Carl was not a hero and we weren’t glad Frank got hit. Hell, we had just witnessed a fight between two of the most talented and loved people in the town. I personally looked up to and respected them both. They were the best at what they did. Together with Jack they made the Sands into what it had become and we all knew from that day forward, we would never be the same. By the way Frank said, “This place will go under.” Today (1997) the Sands is a dirt lot waiting for a new place to be built.
Frank never mistreated woman in the way people think. He could be moody and hard on them but I never, never saw him get tough with or bully a woman or for that matter any customer in the casino. He was an asset to the operation, not a liability. The stories you would read in the papers and columns (they were big in those days) were usually about Frank getting hot at someone over something. What was not printed was it was usually about someone in the lounge or someone who was insulting or using foul language to a woman. Frank would never put up with this. He was in fact much nicer and gentler with women then we were. He respected woman. Papers liked to write about the “Frank got mad” stuff but didn’t write what it was about.
Was Frank important to The Sands? When I’ve got a player who has just come in for the weekend and it’s only Friday night and he had already lost $3,000. This player is unhappy and may leave and go back home or worse go to another hotel, then I’ve got a problem. What do I do? I go to the player and try to console him and tell him I got him a seat in Copa Room to see Frank Sinatra. I get him in and as usual Frank does a show like no one else can and this player comes out feeling great and wants to play again. Frank isn’t going around beating up people. He is putting on shows that makes a $3,000 dollar a seat worth it. Let some other entertainers try that. And I personally did this many times. Frank made everyone feel they were lucky to be at The Sands.
And we were lucky for all those years to have him there. It has never been the same without him.