In late December 2018 and again in early January 2019 I sent an email query to former Arizona Attorney General Bruce Babbitt (click below to read that email in its entirety). Since there still has been no word back from him, it now seems safe to assume that Babbitt does not intend to respond.
Over the span of 1979-1988 as a journalist writing for the SCOTTSDALE PROGRESS, I had heard consistent allegations from multiple sources that Babbitt had a gambling history in Las Vegas.
- A well-connected Phoenix businessman once described Babbitt to me as briefly having been “a heavy hitter” in Las Vegas, possibly introduced to high-stakes gaming there by none other than Barry Goldwater’s brother, banker Bob Goldwater. An apparent inference was that Babbitt then soon thereafter returned a few times on his own, vainly trying to re-coup his losses.
- Kent Clifford, former head of the Las Vegas Metro Police intelligence unit, readily acknowledged when I interviewed him there his department’s awareness of Babbitt’s gambling activities at the Dunes casino in particular. Clifford repeated that same information when the AzAG’s office conducted a follow-up interview in 1988 (click below to read).
- A seasonal Arizona source of mine recalled Dunes executive Ash Resnick opening a desk drawer at his casino office there to show him a Babbitt gambling “marker” which the source remembered to be in excess of $40,000. I shared those recollections with the AzAG’s office as well.
- A couple of other Las Vegas casino officials advised me that Babbitt, in fact, had been active at three additional casinos there back in that period, possibly running up an overall gambling debt in the $170,000 range. That also was passed along to the AzAG’s office and reportedly confirmed in follow-up.
- Finally, the 1989 Nevada Gaming Control Board information — cited in my email to Babbitt — clearly would tend to support that overview (also click below to read those relevant pages).
The only rational conclusion is an obvious one. Either all of those folks are wrong, and Babbitt has been falsely accused. Or else Babbitt deliberately lied to the FBI — a serious felony — in his categorical denials during ensuing questioning about it by bureau agents in the mid-1970s.
Back in those years, of course, many Las Vegas casinos effectively were still under Mafia control. If Babbitt did leave a trail of “markers”, which were promptly picked up by the mob when it was realized who he was, he recklessly would have placed himself in an extortable position. Such major organized crime figures as Tucson-based Joe Bonanno, clearly in charge of the Mafia’s evident “silent partnership” in all six Emprise/Funk greyhound tracks in Arizona, suddenly would have extraordinary leverage at his disposal. If those “markers” were to be disclosed, Babbitt would be facing severe legal consequences along with an abrupt end to his considerable political ambitions.
Could that explain Babbitt’s unexpected decision as AzAG in February 1976 not to kick a mobbed-up Emprise Corp. out of the state’s dog racing business despite a recent federal felony conviction of Emprise for conspiring to hide Mafia financial interests in a Las Vegas casino?
Could that also be why Babbitt, as AzAG following the June 1976 car bombing of Don Bolles, quickly opted to pursue what looks to have been a misdirection of the murder case, moving it completely away from Bolles’ own dying attribution of the attack on him to “Emprise, the Mafia,” the very nexus of Arizona’s Emprise/ Funk dog tracks and the mob?
Should such gambling allegations be accurate, given earlier FBI inquiries on the subject in the mid-1970s vastly augmented by all of the related information subsequently in law enforcement hands by the end of the 1980s, how in the world did Babbitt survive the bureau’s vetting process in 1993 to become U.S. Secretary of Interior in the Clinton Administration?
What bothers me as much as anything else is that the state AG’s office right here in Phoenix, Arizona, through various Republican and Democratic Party regimes — that of Terry Goddard included — clearly has been aware of the Las Vegas-related allegations about Babbitt and their glaring potential implications without taking any unequivocal steps to resolve the issue.
Even at this late date, the public absolutely has a right to know the truth regarding the Babbitt gambling allegations, perhaps to better understand all that really was going on back in that murky and troubled span of Arizona history. It’s time for the AZAG’s office — and maybe for Babbitt himself — to clear the air.
Copyright © 2019 Don Devereux, All Rights Reserved
Journalists, historians, teachers, and students are free to quote from any of this material in writings of their own, provided that they do so with proper attribution and acknowledgement of applicable copyrights.