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Transcript of interview with Alfred "Al" Guzman by Barbara Guzman, March 1, 1981






On March 1, 1981, Barbara Guzman interviewed her father, Alfred “Al” Guzman (born 1932 in El Paso, Texas) about his life in Southern Nevada. Guzman first talks about his occupational history, including his then-current career in public relations for the Sands Hotel and Casino. He then talks about Las Vegas, including social changes, changes in the gaming industry, and mob influence in the casinos. He also talks about Reno, how his job affects the public, and the MX Missile system.

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Guzman, Alfred Interview, 1981 March 1. OH-00757. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman i An Interview with Alfred Guzman An Oral History Conducted by Barbara Guzman Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018 UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman iv Abstract On March 1, 1981, Barbara Guzman interviewed her father, Alfred “Al” Guzman (born 1932 in El Paso, Texas) about his life in Southern Nevada. Guzman first talks about his occupational history, including his then-current career in public relations for the Sands Hotel and Casino. He then talks about Las Vegas, including social changes, changes in the gaming industry, and mob influence in the casinos. He also talks about Reno, how his job affects the public, and the MX Missile system. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 1 Name of person being interviewed: Al Guzman. Date: March 1st, 1981. Time: 4:45 p.m. Place: 2496 Whippoorwill Lane, Las Vegas, Nevada. Name of Interviewer: Barbara Guzman. Name of project: Local History Project. Okay, Dad, you moved to Las Vegas in 1961. Yes. Can you explain your jobs before you got into public relations and what you did? Well, I was in the Army from 1954 to 1956, and I got out of the Army—I went to work for Hughes Aircraft Company in their Radar Maintenance Division, and also I did a little writing on the side, sports writing, did some writing for the old Los Angeles Mirror, which is no longer in existence. And then I did some selling. I sold life insurance, I sold fences, moved to Las Vegas, and I was a sportswriter for the Las Vegas Sun. And from there, I went into PR work, starting with the Desert Inn in 1968. And from then, I started as an assistant till 1970, and then I became the director, and from there I worked till 1972 when I was moved to the Sands Hotel, where I’ve been ever since. Can you please explain your job, what it entails? Well, primarily my job entails public awareness—making the public aware of the Sands Hotel, either through advertising or through publicity or through promotions—primarily through advertising and publicity. The advertising, of course, you know, is a paid medium, meaning, you know, you pay to put an ad in a magazine or a newspaper or a television or radio spot, and the other, which is just as important and sometimes even more important, is publicity value, where you run a picture and you run it in—you send it out to newspapers in hopes that they run the picture or whatever you’re promoting at that time. And that makes it free exposure to the media, and extremely valuable because, number one, it didn’t cost you really, essentially nothing, but UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 2 just as important, it gets you more exposure than probably any other types of promotion you can do. Has public relations always been your main goal? Yes. It was always my thing in life, even long before I ever got into it. I thought it was, still feel as an exciting, challenging, productive type of work. To me, it’s the apex of anything I can do in my business life. I know you received several awards and honors; can you explain those? Yes. In my time, we have received—I don’t like to say I, I like to say we—have received, even though I did it all myself—(Laughs) (Laughs) Since 1968, I have enjoyed, in the field of advertising, eighty advertising awards. Now, that’s the only thing that you can gauge, because there’s no such thing as a wash in publicity or promotions, but I’d like to think that, if there was such a thing for promotions and publicity, I’d like to think it would be, it would far exceed any advertising, awards ever received. But there’s no such awards for that type of thing. I think that’s been my strongest quality as far as my work goes. You were the second advertising man at the Sands Hotel? The first one was Al Freeman? That’s right, Al Freeman was there since the place opened in 1952; he was there until 1972 when he died. And that’s when Richard Danner was my boss at the Desert Inn—moved over to the Sands in 1972, and when Al Freeman died, he brought me over there. Did you learn any things from Al Freeman, or do you have a completely different—? UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 3 No, my philosophy from Al Freeman was entirely different. Probably when Al Freeman started, because of his first ten, fifteen years with the Sands, was very similar, but entirely different—our concepts of advertising and public relations. Can you explain Las Vegas, why is it such a unique city? Well, it’s unique, of course, because of the gambling, assuming. As far as living here, it’s a very difficult to live in—it’s a very good city. It’s a tough town for most people to live in, but speaking just for myself, it’s been a very good town—extremely good to me. And even if I move tomorrow, which I don’t plan to do, but if I did, I would always have a very close affection to Las Vegas, personally speaking, because it’s always been very good to me, extremely good to me. But it’s a very tough town for most people. What are your aspirations and goals for the future? My aspirations and goals—I would like to, as far as my professional side of my life, I would like to possibly get into the entertainment side more than I’ve been involved in. Personal side, I would like to eventually spend more time with my family, which I have not been able to do in the past twelve years—as much as I would like to. How did your education prepare you for what you’re doing now, if at all? My education did not prepare me at all for what I’m doing now. I went to high school and essentially learned nothing—and I don’t blame the school, I blame myself at the time. Probably when I woke up to the facts about the future was when I was in the Army—made me very aware of my future, you know, what are you going to do and what is your future going to be? Probably when I got out—during my time in the Army, I grew up an awful lot, and even though I’ve always believed that education is great, I’ve always felt my children should really pursue education, you know, from high school to college or whatever. I never did it myself, which I’m UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 4 not saying is right, but I’m just saying for me, it worked out good because I learned through the hard knocks of life, which to me is the best education. Can you explain some of those changes that you’ve seen in Nevada or Las Vegas since you’ve been here? Changes I’ve noticed mostly is in the type of people. Back when I moved here twenty years ago, there wasn’t, of course, the influx of transients that there is now. That’s what bothers me, the transients into this city. I think that’s where the high crime rate comes from, is from the transient rate that comes into this city. And that’s probably true of any city that has gambling and entertainment to lure people like Las Vegas does. I don’t know the answer to how to get rid of the problem we have with the crime rate, which is very disturbing. To me, and I just think that there must be something, but I don’t know what the answer is, unfortunately, of what we can do about the crime rate, which, to me, is the most alarming thing in this community. What’s the difference, from 1961, say, to 1981, in the gambling industry? Would you say there’s any major changes? Well, the first thing you have to remember, in the gambling industry—gambling industry never changes. The odds are always the same. They were the same ten years ago, twenty years ago, a hundred years ago—the odds are always the same as far as the house goes and as far as the customer goes. The house knows that whatever the handle is, whether it’s ten thousand or ten million dollars played, they’re going to hold twenty percent of it. That’s the average of what the house or the hotel or the casino place is going to hold. But that never changes, which is unfortunate for the gambling industry. It’s very, very unfortunate because they don’t have chance to keep up with inflation, cost of living, because the odds are always the same. So, gambling institutions have to rely primarily on volume; if they don’t get the volume, they’re dead. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 5 Okay, back in the old days, mobs used to run the hotels; do you think that was a bad or good situation? Oh, I thought it was good for the employees. I think that, in those days, the mob never was concerned with profit loss with each department in the hotel, meaning the food and beverage department, the rooms, or any department that was revenue producing, was doing. They just figured, you know, overall, we’re going to make money. And I thought that was a good philosophy. That’s the one thing I liked about the old days when the so-called boys were running the places. Now, all the corporations have taken over, and everything is controlled now, in most places, by controllers. And all they go by is profit and loss; and they’ve lost the personal touch which the old regimes held so high, and maybe some work run by the mafia, I don’t know, or by mobster ties. And I think the mobster ties did an awful lot to make the employees really feel part of an organization that they weren’t controlled or concerned or influenced by the profit and loss statements, which, today, that’s the way it’s run, and I think it’s kind of sad because everything is geared on, is the department making money or losing it? In the old days, it wasn’t. They just went by the overall picture. If they made money, it was great. They didn’t give a damn if food and beverage was losing $100,000 a month—it made no difference because they knew at the end of the year, they were going to make X amount of dollars. Now, everything is hinged on a bunch of accountants, and I just think they’re taking a lot away from the place. It makes it like running General Motors; that’s the way General Motors runs. And that’s what made Las Vegas unique in those days is the fact that it was run by people that didn’t give a damn about numbers. It’s just one of those, “Am I going to make any money when those whole thing’s over at the end of the year?” But now everything is controlled by however type accountants who are about as exciting as a dead rag. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 6 How do you think the recent fires at the MGM and Hilton have affected tourism in Las Vegas? They haven’t affected it a bit, I don’t think. People will always come here. If five hotels burned down, it would not affect this town a bit; people would still come here. Dad, you don’t belong to any clubs or organizations—can you tell me why—in this city? Well, my work takes so much of my time, which it should, because I want to contribute my time. I feel it’s an obligation I have in the responsibility. And when I do that, I feel that my obligation and responsibility is over, and I don’t have time for clubs or social organizations, because what little time I had left, I’d like to give to my family, which is not really enough. What type of people come to Las Vegas? People looking for fun, love, sex, drinking, and good times. Okay. What is the largest ethnic group that comes here, or maybe what’s your—maybe South American or? Well ethnic group would probably be Jewish. Jewish? Yes. At least at the Sands, would be Jewish people. Probably second and first in a lot of places would be Italian. What do they look for when they come to the city? This type of tourist? Yes. They’re looking, number one, they’re going to have a good time, they’re looking about, they’re going to gamble, shows, chase wild women—I’m talking about men—and generally, just have a good time. That’s what they’re after. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 7 Do you think their expectations are fulfilled? I would say, for the most part, yes. That’s what makes Las Vegas to exciting. Whatever you’re looking for, you’re going to find in Las Vegas. What’s the difference between Reno and Las Vegas? Well, Reno is primarily a hick town; it’s always been a hick town, it’s a hick town now, and it will always be strictly a hick town—that’s the way the people are, and they’re very serious. They’re klutzes—they’re real hicks. That’s the one thing—that’s why Reno will never be anything. The MGM, and I respect their organization, went into Reno to where they really do something big, and their biggest battle with building the MGM Reno was the people. The people want to still live in the 18th Century; that’s the way they are. They’re slow, they’re adverse to any change, and they’re just backward people. They’ve always been like that and they always will be. And that’s why I dislike Reno so much. They had a chance to really give Las Vegas a battle with the gambling empire, and they blew it. They really blew it because they had their first big chance with the MGM, and they gave the MGM so much problems as far as cooperating. And the MGM went out of their way to do everything that you’re supposed to do to become popular in the community. And the people in Reno have never accepted them; and to this day, I don’t know if they’ve ever accepted them, which is unfortunate for them, because the MGM Reno is a big winner, and no thanks to Reno, because Reno is just a bunch of farmers. That’s all they are, and they always will be farmers. You say that Las Vegas is controlled by accountants; how has this affected you personally? Well, it is controlled by accountants, which is unfortunately true, but for me personally, it’s not really affected me. I’ve always been able to do my thing, doing my job regardless if I had been here thirty years ago when the so-called mobs, the boys used to run the places, my job would UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 8 have been the same. And I’m fortunate, speaking personally, in my position that it’s never bothered me, or it’s never affected me, I should say, because I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do. I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve worked with. I worked on a lot of regimes at the Sands, and all basically very account-conscious, but I’ve been able to do my thing, they’ve never bothered me, and I’ve never bothered them. Because if it had affected my work, I would have left a long time ago. Can you explain how your job affects the public when you advertise for some specific thing at your hotel? How does the public react? Well, you don’t always know how they react; all you know is you do what you think is best. And like I said at the beginning of this interview, I think it’s primarily public awareness. Now, if I run an add someplace, and some little old lady in Des Moines, Iowa take offense to it, I don’t care—I don’t care at all. Number one, she’s become aware of the Sands Hotel. She can write me a nasty letter and say, “I don’t like your ad, I think it’s in poor taste,” or— [Audio cuts out] The thing is, it made her aware of the Sands Hotel. Now, if I get ten letters in the period of a week, people voicing an objection of an ad I run, then I’m concerned. I say, “Well, maybe there is something objectionable about an ad or whatever.” But one or two, I don’t care. I say, at least I made them aware of the Sands Hotel. How do you think the MX Missile system would affect Nevada if we did have it? The greatest thing that ever happened to this state—ever, ever in the history of this state, the greatest thing has ever happened—Governor List, who I love, totally respect, like him as a person, as a governor, but I’m totally opposed to his views that he opposes the MX Missile system. If we were living in California, I could understand it more, that it’s going to upset the UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 9 environmental view, the landscaping—California, I could understand it because California’s a beautiful state. Nevada, let’s face it—and I love Nevada more than any state ever—is ugly. It’s an ugly state, it’s all desert—I’m talking about Southern Nevada. You couldn’t do anything to make it any uglier, and this is what Governor List claims, that it’s going to upset the environment, it’s going to make the, the farmers are complaining—complaining about what? The state is nothing but desert, ugly, and rattlesnakes—it’s an ugly state. It’s probably the ugliest state in the Union, if you’re talking about just looking at a suburban view of a state, Nevada is ugly. The MX Missile system is going to be good—it cannot do anything to the environment as far as the visual qualities of the states are concerned—nothing at all, because the state is ugly anyway—has nothing, nothing but dead grass—not even grass, just dead tumbleweed and Joshua trees and rattlesnakes, and that’s it. So, how can you say something is going to destroy the environment in this state? Nothing can destroy the environment in this state—nothing in this world can destroy the environment in this state. So, the MX system is going to be good; there’s going to be a lot of people in this state, especially in Southern Nevada. They’re going to have jobs, they’re going to buy homes, they’re going to buy food—it’s going to be good for the economy of this entire Southern Nevada community. What about the water situation? Some people are worried about, that there’s not going be enough— There’s no water situation problem here. You don’t think so? No. It’s just something politicians come up with. As for drilling for oil at Red Rock, are you for—? I’m totally for it. UNLV University Libraries Alfred Guzman 10 You are? Yes. Some environmentalists say that it would ruin the— Anybody who goes to Red Rock—Red Rock is not near the tourist attraction that Nevadans like to think it is. It’s probably more a tourist attraction for Nevadans than anybody else. And I think if there’s a chance to find oil there, let them drill for it. I am totally for that and will always be for that. Do you think that Atlantic City will ever be a big competitor for Las Vegas? No, I don’t think Atlantic City is now, has ever been, or will ever be great competition for Las Vegas. Detroit, Boston, Chicago—anyplace else where they bring in gambling, because who in the hell wants to go to Atlantic City? Atlantic City is probably the most depressing place in the world. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it in the summer, I’ve seen it in the winter—it’s a very depressing place. It will always be a depressing place. The only time I think Las Vegas should ever really start worrying about—I don’t care if forty-nine states have gambling—the one state, the only state, would be a big problem for Las Vegas would be California, and I don’t ever foresee California legalizing gambling. Thank you for this interview, Dad. Thank you, where’s my money?