Vegas Stripped

An Inside Look At The Gambling Mecca

Tourists can't get enough of Las Vegas. Some 35 million people, most of them repeat customers, visited the gambling mecca of the U.S. last year. And 500 new hotel rooms a month are being added to keep up with demand.

And it's no accident that people keep coming back. The big casinos do everything they can to lure gamblers, offering free rooms, fancy feasts and gala parties to the big spenders.

But, as Susan Spencer reports, there are some gamblers the casinos go to great lengths to keep out.

Andy Anderson works for Griffin Investigators, the agency that monitors many casinos in Las Vegas. The company uses high-tech hidden cameras that observe everything and everybody in the casinos.

Griffin Investigators keep a "little black book," which holds information on cheaters and others the casinos want to bar from the gaming tables. It's sort of a "Who's Who" of casino bad guys.

In the book is Tommy Hyland, who counts cards, a practice that is not illegal but that is dreaded by casino management.

"I have multiple entries in this mug book," says Hyland of the Griffin book, "which basically blackballs you from casinos all over the world." Hyland, who claims to earn several hundred thousand dollars a year, runs teams of professional card counters that regularly trounce casinos.

As the 48 Hours crew films, Hyland is asked (without any explanation) to leave the Tropicana and never to return.

One of the few constants in Las Vegas is performer Wayne Newton who has been playing Vegas since he was 15 years old. The performer is still idolized on the strip after more than 40 years of six shows a day, six days a week.

"I'm the luckiest guy that ever took a breath of fresh air," Newton tells correspondent Erin Moriarity.

But Newton wasn't always as lucky as he seems. In 1992, he claimed bankruptcy due to his lavish lifestyle, but he says he has been back on stable financial ground since 1995.

An avid Elvis fan, Newton and his second wife, Kathleen, live on a 52-acre horse farm on the outskirts of town. Though he says he misses the golden days - when Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Lena Horne all played with him at the Sands - he is grateful for the opporunity to sing for his supper.

And his wife laughs off the antics of women who come to his shows just to kiss him. "I think they have great taste," she says. "It doesn't bother me at all. And I know he goes home with me."

Going home from the Las Vegas Juvenile Detention Center is Susan, a 14-year-old who claims to earn as much as $800 a night as a prostitute on the Vegas strip.

"These kinds of girls are real floaters," counselor Sally Hunchovsky tells correspondent Harold Dow. "They're not really connected to a responsible adult." That's something that makes them vulnerable to the pimps who earn their livings from underage girls.

Susan says she was a good student, but she started on the street because her mother, a single parent, couldn't afford to give her all that she wanted.

The Las Vegas vice squad has created a program to deal with girls like Susan. The squad tracks down the girls' pimps, and keeps the girls in detention for at least eight weeks to build up their courage to testify against their pimps. Investigators estimate this has kept more than 90 percent of teen-agers from returning to prostitution.

When she returns to testify against the man, allegedly Joe Webster, Susan has begun to turn her life around. "My mom says you can always start over," Susan says. "There's a point in your life when you can't start over, but in this point in my life I can start over."

Joe Webster and his lawyer decide not to risk a trial and plead guilty.

Dan Chandler, who at the time worked for the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, was in charge of reeling in the "high rollers" with the best the casino has to offer.

People like Larry Flynt, head of the publishing empire that includes Hustler magazine, are considered high rollers, and Chasndler said casinos go to great lengths to get and keep their million-dollar business. Sometimes, this means picking up the tab for a girlfriend's jewelry.

"Liz seen a pair of earrings in the shop at the Hilton that cost $36,000," Flynt says. "I suggested the host think about giving them to her...and he did."

At the other end of the scale are Skip and Linda Taylor-St. James, who consider their weekend winnings of several hundred dollars a big bonanza. Though they get none of the perks routinely available to the big spenders, the couple say they enjoy gambling for the fun of it.

Police Officer Anthony Brown, a father of two, leads a double life in Vegas. He spends 40 hours a week chasing bad guys in his cruiser, and another 40 hours chasing his dream as a dancer in a chorus line. He performs in the chorus of Bally's Jubilee, which is one of the longest-running shows on the strip. His boss is Fluff LeCoque, company manager and a former showgirl who has traveled from Los Angeles, to Paris, to Las Vegas performing.

And does Brown get some ribbing at the precinct house?

"They tease me," he admits to correspondent Bill Lagattuta. "But, you know, it's all in fun. But usually what they wanna do is come down to Bally's, see the show and meet the girls."