Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War over the West's Public Lands

Listed as one of the Reno News & Review's "New Books from Nevada Authors," December 29, 2021

The grazing rights battle between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government, resulting in a tense, armed standoff between Bundy’s supporters and federal law enforcement officers, garnered international media attention in 2014. Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens places the Bundy conflict into the larger context of the Sagebrush Rebellion and the long struggle over the use of federal public lands in the American West.

Author John L. Smith skillfully captures the drama of the Bundy legal tangle amid the current political climate. Although no shots were fired during the standoff itself, just weeks later self-proclaimed Bundy supporters murdered two Las Vegas police officers and a civilian. In Eastern Oregon, other Bundy supporters occupied the federal offices of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and one of them died in a hail of bullets.

While examining the complex history of federal public land policies, Smith exposes both sides of this story. He shows that there are passionate true believers on opposite sides of the insurrection, along with government agents and politicians in Washington complicit in efforts to control public lands for their wealthy allies and campaign contributors. With the promise of billions of dollars in natural resource profits and vast tracts of environmentally sensitive lands hanging in the balance, the West’s latest range war is the most important in the nation’s history. This masterful exposé raises serious questions about the fate of America’s public lands and the vehement arguments that are framing the debate from all sides.

March 10, 2021


Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn

Beneath the Las Vegas that America sees on the Travel Channel— nightclubs, famous chefs, rambunctious gambling, celebrities at play—there’s an older, stranger, harder city. A place whose citizens often gamble with more than just money, where you’d better be able to see what’s coming before it arrives, where what happens there stays there because it can’t go anywhere else. Jasper Lamar Crabbe is a stubborn, cagey survivor of this Las Vegas. Your guide through this purgatorial city, Jasper has seen it all and he knows everyone worth knowing—The Professor, The Duke, the Marino Brothers, Ginger and the Twins … plus a few people who weren’t so adept at surviving. These are Las Vegas stories told from the street level, by a narrator who could only have been created by a first-rate author who’s left a lot of shoe leather on those streets, who’s actually talked to their denizens. One of the city’s most-beloved newspapermen, John L. Smith has poured a lifetime of hard-won, backroom knowledge, whispered tales and pure Vegas mojo into these short stories—stories that take you deep into a Vegas no one else can show you.

September 9, 2014


No Limit: The Rise and Fall of Bob Stupak and Las Vegas' Stratosphere Tower

Of all the modern Las Vegas casino operators, none had more flair than Bob Stupak. The self-proclaimed “Polish Maverick” rose from humble origins as the son of a Pittsburgh boss gambler to head one of the largest privately owned casinos in Las Vegas, the infamous Vegas World. Stupak parlayed a small slot joint into a $100 million-a-year gambling operation by manipulating the local and national media with outrageous stunts and promotions. His headline-grabbing handiwork is now the stuff of Las Vegas legend.
Remember Vegas World’s VIP Vacations? Stupak’s cleverly worded advertisements flooded millions of mailboxes around the country and appeared in dozens of prominent national periodicals, including Playboy, Parade, and USA Today, attracting hordes of tourists to his out-of-the-way casino. Though the VIP Vacation became the most successful promotional campaign in the history of Las Vegas, it was also the most controversial. It prompted sanctions and fines from casino-industry regulators, but not before generating enough seed money to fund early construction on the $550 million Stratosphere Tower; Hotel and Casino.
Of all of Stupak’s big ideas, the Stratosphere Tower was the biggest. It was to be the tower to end all towers, the greatest mousetrap in a city of great mousetraps. But the tallest observation tower in the country was erected on a wobbly financial foundation of oppressive interest rates and sky-high debt, which ultimately turned the no-lose proposition into one of Las Vegas’ most high-profile flops.

April 15, 2014


Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights: High Rolling With Happy Chandler's Wayward Son, Dan Chandler

Bluegrass Days, Neon Night takes you through the rollicking life and times of legendary Las Vegas casino host and bon vivant, Dan Chandler. The wayward son of former Kentucky Governor and Major League Baseball Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler, Dan likes to say he started at the top and has spent his life working his way to the middle.Dan's bluegrass days began as a boy growing up in the Kentucky Governor's Mansion, the youngest son of one of the most popular politicians in America. Dan not only encountered President John F. Kennedy, but also learned a hard lesson in politics and life. Dan arrived in Las Vegas as the gambling capital's mob days were fading, but Caesars Palace had no shortage of characters - and he became intimate friends with super high rollers and stars ranging from Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to Frank Sinatra. Bluegrass Days, Neon Nights is an unforgettable true tale told in the voice of one of the last of the great Vegas characters.

January 1, 2010


Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn is the former owner of the Bellagio -- Las Vegas's latest monument to conspicuous consumption whose hotel and casino contain over 300 million in fine art and 1.5 billion in Wall Street money. He's a mogul whose empire at one point included the Mirage, the Golden Nugget, and Treasure Island. But how did he gain and wield his tremendous power in Nevada? And why did a confidential Scotland Yard report prevent him from opening a casino in London? When this biography, written by a local reporter, was first released in 1995, Steve Wynn brought suit against its original publisher and forced him into bankruptcy. Now available in paperback, the inside story of the biggest phenomenon to roil Las Vegas since Hoover Dam gives readers an intimate glimpse at the real business that's conducted beyond the gaming tables.

April 28, 2009


Sharks in the Desert

The story of the evolution of the gambling racket from mobbed-up vice to corporate success story as told through the biographies of the men who made it happen.

August 5, 2005


The Animal in Hollywood

The Animal in Hollywood recounts in frank and chilling detail mob enforcer Anthony Fiato's explosive career in the mafia on both coasts.

June 10, 2004


Of Rats and Men: Oscar Goodman's Life from Mob Mouthpiece to Mayor of Las Vegas

For more than 35 years, Oscar Goodman was the country's pre-eminent defense attorney for alleged gangsters. His endless client list included Meyer Lansky, Nick Civella, Anthony Spilotro, Frank Rosenthal, Jimmy Chagra, Natale Richichi, Nicky Scarfo, and Vinny Ferrara, along with many others. Though no further connection between Goodman and the Mafia has ever been proved, the famous litigator has often been accused of being more than just a mouthpiece for organized crime. Was Oscar Goodman only what he claims, an attorney who defended his clients based on the simple principle that they, too, have constitutional rights? And if so, how did he manage to mingle with the mob for decades without becoming part of it? After scores of unlikely courtroom victories, Goodman pulled off an even more unlikely career change. Twice elected mayor of Las Vegas, he went from legal spokesman for the most notorious crime figures of our era to political spokesman for the most notorious city in the country.

January 1, 2003


On the Boulevard--The Best of John L. Smith

On the Boulevard brings together the best writing of Las Vegas' most popular columnist, the Las Vegas Review-Journal's John L. Smith. Smith provides singular insights into the fast, fluid, and often funny town he's chronicled for nearly 20 years. Subjects include: Las Vegas mayor and Mob mouthpiece Oscar Goodman, legendary slot cheat Bill Land, and seldom-chronicled gambling icons such as Mel Exber (Las Vegas Club), Si Redd (IGT), and Big Julie Weintraub ('60s junket operator).

December 1, 1998


Amelia's Long Journey: Stories about a brave girl and her fight against cancer

For John and Tricia Smith, life couldn't get any better. After years of waiting and praying, they were finally parents, gaining permanent custody of their adopted daughter. And then life couldn't get any worse. In Amelia's Long Journey, John chronicles the joys of becoming a parent and raising a beautiful little girl, and the terror of almost losing her. With the skill of a journalist and the heart of father, John lovingly chronicles Amelia's life: her early carefree years, her chronic illnesses, the diagnosis of a cancerous brain tumor, the surgeries, the treatments, the remissions, the relapse, the recovery. In a series of heartwarming and heart-wrenching newspaper columns dedicated to Amelia, John L. Smith shares the nightmare his daughter has lived since she was eight years old, and the courage, the humor, and optimism she has shown throughout. Amelia's Long Journey is not only a story about a brave girl's fight against cancer, but a story about a precious little girl's love for life.

February 28, 2018