Tales of Lady Luck
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Tales of Lady Luck are stories during my twenty-five years in the gaming business.

The opportunity I had in 1975 was enormous. There were no casinos on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, and nothing in Louisiana other than horse racing. The Louisiana lottery didn’t get voted in until sixteen years later. We had people hungry for gambling, and they came in droves once the word got out.

What I saw as I got into the business was the need for the little guy with maybe five hundred dollars to gamble with. So I developed programs that touched everyone, from the player with five hundred to the high roller with a hundred thousand dollars. Of course, the more you gambled, the more perks you got: large suites, better restaurants, and private jets. I had it all covered, and flew from eighteen cities, moving over twelve hundred people a month, and made a statement so big in Las Vegas that Nevada Gaming Control had me on their radar. Published in the Las Vegas Review was an article that my customers had left over sixty million dollars on the casino tables in two years.

Here are some topics my gaming clients found interesting when we would sit around a table in a cocktail lounge at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas or Harrah Lake Tahoe. They loved to hear the stories, and at times, they were part of the story. The problems, demands, and things that went wrong are just too crazy to dream up.
These stories are based on true events.

Published: Vito Zuppardo, Sr on


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Tales of Lady Luck - Vito Zuppardo, Sr

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The Yellow Spats

Primarily men wore spats, and women less commonly so, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They fell out of frequent usage during the 1920s. Made of white cloth and gray or brown felt material, spats buttoned around the ankle. The intended practical purpose was to protect shoes and socks from mud or rain, but this footwear also served as a feature of the stylish dress by the fashions of the periods.

It was about 1978, and the demand for Las Vegas was getting stronger, but not everyone was a high roller and could afford to put up ten or fifteen thousand dollars for a three-night trip to Las Vegas. The Stardust Casino had just started a program that would accommodate a player with as little as fifteen hundred dollars for a two-night stay with a small service charge. A program like this hit a lot more pockets, and I knew I could make a fortune with it. The problem was how to get in on the program. I tried a few phone calls to the Stardust Casino, and they went unanswered. When they listened long enough to take a message, I never got a return call.

I knew someone in Atlanta that knew someone in Miami that made a call for me to the right person at the Stardust in Las Vegas. When I arrived in Las Vegas, I was to call a phone number to confirm the time and meeting place. My trusted employee Richie Matta—who you will read about in my book Alluring Lady Luck, where he is named Moe—traveled with me to Las Vegas. I made the call, and a man answered, so I introduced myself. The conversation went like this between the guy and me on the other end.

Hi, I’m Vito Zuppardo, I said.

You’re the guy from New Orleans? the voice asked with a slight East Coast accent.

Yes, I am, I said.

Meet me at the Riviera bar in the center of the Casino at two p.m., okay? he said.

You have a name? Who am I meeting with? I questioned.

If you know anything about Las Vegas, you’ll know me when you see me, he said before he hung the phone up.

I held the phone to my ear for a few seconds in confusion. I hung the phone up and looked at Richie in amazement and said, What the fuck?

I had to make a deal, so Richie and I went to the bar fifteen minutes early. I wanted to ensure we were not late to meet the man that ran one of the most successful programs in Las Vegas. Of course, we had no idea who we were looking for; a description would have helped.

Two o’clock came, and no one showed. I looked at my watch and said, It’s ten minutes after two.

I heard Richie say, Holy shit! That’s got to be him. Coming towards us by the dice table. I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes.

A lone man walked towards us wearing a royal blue suit, white shirt, a bright yellow tie, and yellow spats over his shoes. He walked directly to me and stuck his hand out. We shook hands, and he said, My name is Frank Rosenthal. My friends call me ‘Lefty.’ I had no clue who the guy was. I’d never heard the name before. I apparently knew little about Las Vegas, since he was supposed to be some bigshot.

We sat and talked for a while and made a deal for three planes a week. The meeting was short, maybe fifteen minutes, and I asked, How did you know me? He pointed to two guys standing at the end of the bar who raised their cocktail glasses to me. He told me they were his bodyguards, and they picked Richie and me out as soon as we walked up.

He parted with, New Orleans gave the okay; you can run your planes. I had no clue of what that meant, but for now, I was in with the man on top, and that was all that mattered.

That was the last time I saw or spoke to Lefty Rosenthal. I was given a contact name at the casino for all future dealings. I was later passed on to another guy by the name of Killer that would run the day-to-day operations. We started slow with one plane and added a few more each month. Aside from making money on the gambling side, we were charging a fee and baggage-handling charges that added up to several thousand dollars for each flight.

Everything was going fine until one trip I’m sitting at the bar, and Killer shows up and tells me I have not been making my payments. I had no idea what he was referring to but gave him my full attention. It seems that it was standard practice that every time a flight came in I was to drop an envelope with twenty-five hundred dollars to a guy in the business office. I quickly made the payment for the trip that was in the house and the next week I dropped the due balance off. I guess I didn’t go to the school of kickbacks, but I quickly learned everyone had their hand out in Las Vegas. It was never clear if that was a Lefty payment or the guys under him getting their taste of the money. Either way, I didn’t care. We were all getting paid, and Killer and I never had another conversation about the envelope drop again.

In fact, Killer and I became good friends. Once he got to know me and we exchanged New Orleans stories, we got along good. He started making these slight hints. New Orleans, man, I love that place. The seafood is just fantastic, seasoned hot just the way I like it. You can’t get anything close to that cooking in Las Vegas.

Two weeks later I called Killer, and I told him I was bringing dinner Thursday night and for him to meet me poolside at seven p.m. and bring friends. The morning of the flight I picked up two ice chests of boiled crabs and shrimp. I traded the owner of the seafood place who was coming on the trip a beautiful suite and a limousine for him and his girlfriend. In return, I got the boiled seafood and a delighted Killer when I arrived. When we finished our three-hour feast, I had to tip the waiter a few hundred dollars to clean the place up. There were crab shells and shrimp heads all over the place, as well as beer cans. We had to call the pool man to come out with a hose to get the place clean.

As stated, everyone had their hand out, but it always channeled back to you if you played the game right. All my flights came out on a Sunday and went home on Wednesday. Then the plane would ferry to another city and go back to Las Vegas on Thursday and fly back on Sunday morning. Thursday to Sunday were prime days. That is when everyone wanted to go, and I never could get those days—until the seafood night. The next week, the schedule came out for all my cities. Every flight was a Thursday-to-Sunday trip. I called Killer to thank him. All he said was, Keep the seafood coming. His weakness, among other things, was spicy seafood, and I took advantage of it the best I could.

That seafood night poolside got me information from Killer that didn’t mean much to me at the time. Just that Lefty had a lot of juice at the Stardust. Killer when drinking would rattle his mouth. He was an older man, but in shape and a big guy. Always talked about his Bookie days when the G-Men would raid him in Chicago. He said Lefty was the best football handicapper in the world. I later learned how true that was.

I didn’t know until months later Lefty Rosenthal ran the Stardust for some people back in Kansas City, and I mean he ran the place. Nothing got done without his approval.

Who is Frank Lefty Rosenthal? Well, he is the real person Robert De Niro played in the movie Casino. If you have not seen the film, it is well worth the two and a half hours.

See how this went down in my book Alluring Lady Luck. www.vitozuppardobooks.com

The Room Has an Odor

Once a trip has landed, the limousines have taken the people to the hotel, and I deposit all the cash in the casino cage, my obligation to the casino is done. Other than having dinner or cocktails at the bar until the early morning hours entertaining customers, I didn’t have a lot to do, which was not a bad gig to have. My work was back home making sure the airplanes were full. Coming out with them was just making sure everyone had a good time.

People of this category are used to other people taking care of them. I accommodated every demand and became a glorified babysitter for the wealthy but not-so-famous customers. If that is what it took to keep them coming back with me, I didn’t care. Being well paid made it very easy.

I’d get calls all hours of the day and night with strange requests, of which I was able to accommodate most demands. This one guy would call for everything. His pillows were too hard. He wanted a better view from his window or just dinner reservations. All of these things he could have done himself, but I was the babysitter.

There was one trip I did not go on and was happy I was not there. I got a call from this problem customer, and I was back in New Orleans. He had called me instead of the front desk to tell me his room had a smell. To accommodate him, I called the hotel manager and gave the okay to move him to another suite and use Mr. Problem Child’s suite for a customer that was coming in later that afternoon.

Several hours later I got a call from the front desk that my late-arriving customer wanted to change from the suite we swapped the other guy from, again because it smelled. I called the hotel manager and raised all kinds of hell and asked if he would go up and check the room. He checked the records, and the room had been cleaned five days ago when the last person checked out of it. This type of suite doesn’t get used every day, so that was not uncommon. The manager went up to the room with the housecleaning supervisor. When they arrived, they did find an odor and ordered a machine to clean the carpet and spray something to deodorize the room. While the manager and housekeeping were waiting for the crew to return with the cleaning device, they followed the smell to the bed. It did get stronger as they got closer to the mattress. They pulled the bedspread off and found clean sheets, but the smell was still strong. The crew showed up, and the manager asked them to take the mattress off the frame. All the beds were sitting on a box spring that sat on an enclosed wood-finished frame. They took the bed off and pulled the box spring off its tightly held frame, and the smell took over the room. Covering their nose, they could see what appeared to be a young woman, and she had positively been dead for some time.

The saying is true: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. I was never able to find out what happened.

The Priest Got Me Again

We were flying to Harrah’s Casino in the company jet, a Gulfstream II airplane. This luxury jet could fly nonstop in four hours from New Orleans to a small airport in Lake Tahoe. This was one of the big perks to attract high-limit gamblers. Harrah’s Lake Tahoe was pure luxury, from the airplane to the five-star hotel.

The four-hour flight with these big-money people gave me a lot of one-on-one time to pick their brains of just how they made their money. Some were born into it, some came from poor families and were able to go to some great colleges on sports scholarships, and some had no education at all and were self-made millionaires. It was a mixed bag of fruit, and I enjoyed talking to all of them. When you ask someone about themselves or their success, they love to talk and talk they did.

This flight, I’m sitting around the table with a few guys, and one said his wife couldn’t make the trip because she was with her ill mother in some little country town in northern Louisiana.

That is when Bobby said, My wife gave me so much grief about coming because I can lose money gambling, but I don’t want to give the priest at our church fifty thousand dollars to help build an addition.

He went on to say, "We gave him a new car, and I’m always giving him cash to help out.

Fifty thousand is a lot of money," he said, making sure his wife didn’t hear him.

I never gave any of it another thought. Everyone checked into their suites and most gave the keys to their wives so they could escort the bellmen with their luggage. The men were like kids at Disney World when they walked through the front door and heard the thrilling noise coming from the casino. They didn’t need to go to the room—they came to gamble—and went straight to the casino.

It was three days of fun, and it was time to head home. I did my regular walk around, letting everyone know our limousines were out front. Bobby did not have a good run at the tables and had lost eighty thousand dollars. Still at the dice table trying to catch back, but time was not on his side. I asked him if he wanted me to pick up the eighty