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November 1998 Article

Exclusively Found in the Insider Viewpoint Magazine

Desert Rats
By: Frank Rosenthal

During the 50s and late 60s Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis and Joey Bishop became legendary for their performances as the great entertainers throughout Nevada. Enter the era of “Rat Pack” who dazzled audiences in a style never before seen. They were the great entertainers of a generation who launched the beginning of prosperity to the Silver State and their luxury Hotel and Casinos. Frank was their leader and deservedly so. I was fortunate to have witnessed and become an industry player during those good times, prior to the corporate takeovers.

Little did I know that hidden in the desert background was another group with a similar name. They were “The Desert Rats” extending from all corners of the state. Their fortress was located in the Reno/Carson City area and they were not your standard entertainers. Their specialty was “No Holds Barred” all is fair in Love and War! Their leader was a clever and educated scoundrel named Peter “The Czar” Echeverria, the all powerful chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. His obedient Lieutenants were Claire Hitchcock, John Swartz and the majority of the seven man board who dealt with licensing of all Hotel and Casino properties, and their personnel. They were politically appointed by the Governor and their individual career backgrounds did not require any degree of expertise in the gaming industry. Qualifications were loyalty to the throne, and the ability and willingness to perform career ending executions whenever called upon. Peter had an appetite for hanging anyone with absolute disregard for fair play. He enjoyed his role, power and fame. He was articulate and bright. He was a practicing attorney from Reno, and knew how to recruit and handle the members of his board.

The Gaming Control Board is the investigative arm for the commission, and Peter easily brought Jeff Silver and Jack Stratton, two of the three members into his camp. Strangely enough, he couldn’t corrupt Phil Hannifin, the chairman of that board. Phil Hannifin was a straight arrow of sorts who prided himself for personal integrity. Admittedly, Phil was not a casino wizard when he too was appointed by the Governor to oversee the sleeping giant, casino gaming!

I became quite friendly with Phil once he determined that I was not an evil two-headed monster. He asked if I would be willing to assist him towards learning the intricacies of casino gaming. He was a gentlemen with unusual honor, however he too eventually became a victim of compromise. When I decided to settle into Las Vegas and raise a family, I was counseled and cautioned to beware and alert for killer snakes, and desert rats. Peter and his gang were a combination of both. I was also warned that in order to survive in the desert I would have to avoid the 3 B’s. Booze, broads, and betting. That was the easy part.

When it was determined that I would have to submit myself for “key employee licensing” or reverse back into a lessor position in management, I pondered endlessly. 

During the course of climbing towards a top position within our corporation there were several attempts to knock me out. One afternoon in particular, a casino degenerate approached me with an offer to “get Shannon Bybee off your back for a ham sandwich” Shannon was then a member of Control Board and a former copper from Northern Nevada who joined the lynch mob. The price of that “Ham Sandwich” was $5000.00, and I simply said “thanks, but no thanks” I mentioned the incident to Phil, who then contacted Shannon Bybee. Shannon was apologetic, however he did acknowledge that the extortionist was a friend of his.

One afternoon prior to making my decision regarding the licensing adventure, Phil Hannifin stopped by for lunch and a friendly visit. I decided to ask the Chairman for advice, no more, no less. “Phil, you personally know my entire back round, the bumps and the bruises, along with my reputation. May I respectfully ask you, if I decide to go forward and submit for licensing, can I receive a FAIR AND IMPARTIAL HEARING?” His answer was clear, crisp and memorable. “YES YOU CAN, I WILL VOTE FOR YOUR APPROVAL, AND LOOK ANYONE IN THE EYE AT THE SAME TIME.” For a moment I wondered if I were dreaming. I immediately notified the President and Chairman of our board that I was proceeding forward.

A hearing date was scheduled and I was ready to appear before the 3 man Gaming Control Board in Carson City. The hearing room was packed with spectators including the chairman of the Gaming Commission, Peter The Czar, who had not fully recovered from a badly broken leg having been thrown by his own horse. I wanted to send that horse a bag of Carrots, but I was persuaded not to. Never before had the chairman from the commission sat in on a preliminary hearing. This one was different. It was wired and stacked against me. Phil had been persuaded to vote for denial. Straight arrow became broken arrow. I was grilled for hours by Jeff Silver whose father had been attempting to gain employment within our corporation for months with no qualifications to match his ambitions. When the hearing concluded and the vote came back 3-zip for denial I picked up my briefcase and was on my way back to Las Vegas. Phil walked over to me in the hallway and said, “I’m very sorry, I hope you accept my apologies.”

Two weeks later I was back in Reno facing Peter and his rats. I had retained two of the top attorneys in the state, Oscar Goodman, and former Federal Judge Harry Claiborne. It was the best one-two punch anyone could have brought together as co-counsel. Peter and the gang shot us down just like the massacre in China’s Tiannemen Square. Cold-blooded, and loving every moment. He and his Desert Rats went right for the jugular and the bones. They revoked and canceled my personal service contract worth $2.5 Million. Additionally, my contract contained an option to exercise 49% of the corporations stock that had a face value in excessive of $50 Million U.S. Bucks. You win some, you lose a few!

…Stay tuned.

Frank Rosenthal


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