Monday, November 19, 2007


My son, his schoolmates, their administrators and the entire school district have been forced to endure bomb scares at his school both this year and last.. Luckily, they've all been hoaxes. Instigators at that age are overwhelmingly; pranksters, or calling out for attention or desperate to delay a test. Therefore because of situations like Columbine Colorado, each threat is rightfully taken seriously.

So whenever there is a "lock down" or an evacuation at the school, student households are notified by a computer generated phone message. Regardless of how much of an optimist you are, you can't help but worry, will THIS be the time!

This past Tuesday November 13th, there was a bomb scare and hostage situation at the Showboat Casino. For those of us who work next door at the Taj Mahal Casino, the six-hour siege was unnerving.

Overall, we all maintained a business as usual attitude but you couldn't help but think, WHAT IF...!

Like the situation with my son's school, attacks such as bomb scares in casinos are rare. Still, tension grew as "eye-witness" reports were leaked to us. Perhaps its human nature but as the night wore on, these accounts got gorier. But in actuality, no shots were fired and none of the hostages got wounded or killed.

Since the Showboat ordeal, I spoke to several of my co-workers and they were all convinced that nobody has ever blown-up a casino...but its NOT true.

When I lived in Las Vegas, I flew up to Reno on three occasions. One of those times was in May 1980. I visited the friend that I only refer to in my stories with pseudonyms or as Mr. K. because, his ways of making extra cash and meeting women are less than complimentary. Anyway...Mr. K. takes me to Lake Tahoe, specifically Stateline Nevada and we wind up in Harvey's Wagon Wheel Casino.
I remember we were standing in line to cash-out our chips when Mr. K. asked a stranger if he had a green chip ($25.00). This knucklehead hands one over to Mr. K. and Mr. K. proceeds, through sleight-of-hand and the magic words, "Now you see you don't," to make the chip vanish. The man was mildly impressed and asked for his chip back. Mr. K. went through another series of gyrations and produced a white ($1.00) chip seemingly from thin air. The man complimented his act and again asked for his green chip. Mr. K. was giving him some double-talk as the man's turn in line with the cashier came up. At that point, he became angry and demanded satisfaction. When Mr. K. told the guy that he was nuts...that he started with a dollar chip, I had to step between them to protect Mr. K.

Only when the man called-out for security did Mr. K. relent and say, "Man, you can't take a joke, can you."

Well, three months later on August 27th, a disgruntled Harvey's customer named John Birges tried to extort 3 million dollars from the casino by having a 1200-pound bomb delivered to Harvey's; hidden inside a photo-copier.

I'm unclear of the reasoning but the casino and hotel were indeed evacuated and the FBI "safely" detonated the bomb. However, the explosion cut a crater in the building up to the third floor. Harvey's was originally built in 1944 and had a 12-story tower added in 1961. So I'm guessing the 'ol wagon wheel was ready for renovations anyway.

Birges was tried and convicted to life in prison. He was still in jail when he died in 1996.

I sometimes wonder if the man Mr. K. tried to con was this Birges fellow and if perhaps it was Mr. K. who was the proverbial straw that broke the mad-bomber's back.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I spent that day in Aug '80 dealing next door to Harvey's at the Sahara Tahoe. We were in dis-belief wondering what would happen.

The area was sealed off but they must have blown it up during the night. So we were on pins and needles for nothing.

Oddly, I never followed the the perpetrator's story is new to me...we all assumed it was an insurance job.

Ahhh, to be young and cynical...thanks for the memories...T