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Vegas Cowboys, Unions Square Off at Binions' : Gaming: Lawmen say 'undesirables' at this casino--founded by a killer--get stomped. Now it's the scene of a showdown between organized labor and the Old West.


Jack Binion charged that union leaders struck the Horseshoe--as opposed to other casinos whose labor contracts have also expired--because they knew an indictment was in the works, a charge union leaders deny.

According to the federal indictment, a series of beatings were ordered by Jack's brother, Lonnie Theodore (Ted) Binion, and Jack's nephew, Steven Binion Fechser, and were carried out by eight security guards as warnings to undesirables to stay away.

According to the indictment, the casino wanted to "foster the image . . . as a place which meted out its own justice and sent out warnings or messages that certain persons would not be welcome." On the unwelcome list were black people who were "poorly dressed" or "aggressive-looking," the indictment said.

Lawyers for Ted Binion, 47, and Fechser, 35, would not allow either to be interviewed. Both have pleaded innocent to the charges, and neither works at the Horseshoe any longer. Jack Binion also declined to discuss any aspect of the cases.

Horseshoe security guards were known for their enormous necks and an unwillingness to call local police when there was trouble. "The Horseshoe handled their own business in their own way," said John Redlein, chief deputy attorney general.

Scott MacKenzie, a bartender at the casino before he went on strike, said customer beatings at the Horseshoe used to be so common that "frankly, I got used to it. It's like a doctor who learns to stick a needle in someone's arm."

In another interview, a striking Horseshoe waitress said she saw a black customer handcuffed and thrown into an alley, with his head used as a battering ram to open the door. "I was sick for a week after that," said the waitress, who asked not to be identified.

Although casino employees say the number of beatings is down in recent years, at least one customer complained about getting beaten up by a casino guard in the hotel parking lot just four months ago.

John W. Davis, a heating and air-conditioning maintenance worker from Oklahoma City, said he needed hospital treatment after being attacked and beaten by a security guard as he was trying to open his car with a coat hanger. He had locked his keys inside the automobile.

"I thought this guy was crazy," Davis said in a telephone interview. "I was in a state of shock." Davis, 27, said he was told later by a hotel employee that security guards were edgy because a car battery had recently been stolen in the garage.

The most serious allegations against the Horseshoe came from two customers, Alan E. Brown and Barry R. Finn, who testified before a state grand jury in 1986 that they were savagely beaten by two security guards and Steven Binion Fechser. The casino suspected the pair of cheating at blackjack, court testimony shows.

Brown said he was pummeled so badly that he defecated in his pants and, according to Redlein, probably would have died without prompt medical attention. Brown said he could not get out of bed without his wife's help for "at least two months."

The pair testified that the prolonged beatings occurred in a security office adjacent to the casino parking lot. "They called us cheaters," Brown said. "They said, 'You should never come back here again. You are going to tell your friends not to come back in.' "

The men, both of whom were experienced gamblers, were then robbed of their gambling chips before being released, they said. Brown, an engineer, and Finn, an airplane pilot, were later paid a total of $675,000 to settle the civil suit they filed.

The testimony led to state indictments of Fechser and the two guards--Steven Dale Witten and Emory W. Cofield--on charges of kidnaping, robbery and battery. Cofield was eventually acquitted, but Witten and Fechser were convicted of robbery and battery during a hotly contested jury trial that ended in early 1988.

A state judge, Thomas Foley, threw out the convictions, however, because he felt that law enforcement officials had acted improperly in trying the case. So irked was Nevada Atty. Gen. Brian McKay at Foley's decision that he took a sharp public jab at the city's casino-controlled power structure.

"The good-old-boy network in Las Vegas told me there was no way they could let the convictions stand, so I wasn't surprised," McKay was quoted as saying.

A retrial of Witten and Fechser is scheduled, although the state's case is now hampered by the enigmatic disappearance of the trial court reporter, Liz Donnelly. Prosecutor Redlein said he needs a transcript of the trial to answer defendants' motions to dismiss the charges.

If a trial transcript is not produced soon, the charges may be dismissed, according to Oscar Goodman, Fechser's attorney. Donnelly, who has moved to Utah, said in a telephone interview that she has been unable to prepare a transcript because she has been ill.

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