Gin, Girls, and Governance

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman on personal freedom, free speech, and the state


In February, President Barack Obama told a New Hampshire audience, "You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college." Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was still livid when the president came to town shortly afterward, and Goodman made headlines by refusing to meet with Obama during his visit. Goodman, a former mob attorney, is also famous for telling a fourth-grader that if he were stranded on a deserted island, the one thing he'd bring with him is a bottle of gin, later amended to a bottle of gin and two showgirls.

Originally elected as a Democrat in 1999, Goodman now has no party affiliation. Senior Editor Radley Balko interviewed the mayor in February, days before Goodman dissed the commander in chief.

Q: What shaped your political philosophy?

A: I'm a criminal defense lawyer by profession, so I have an inherent distrust for government. I rarely put a client on the witness stand. I usually made my case by showing the government didn't behave properly, either under the Constitution or by its methodology. That's a pretty successful way to practice criminal law.

Q: Is personal freedom today more threatened by the moral crusaders on the right or the public health crusaders on the left?

A: Both. I think they both have a tendency to want government to address personal behavior. I'm not in favor of that. I don't like smoking bans. If people want to kill themselves slowly, that's their prerogative. There needs to be a national discussion about the legalization of drugs and about the legalization of prostitution. I'm sometimes mischaracterized as supporting those positions, and I certainly understand that some people may not be ready for these sorts of changes. But I think we certainly need to have the discussion, about both the benefits and possible detriments of legalization.

Q: Critics of the U.S. Supreme Court decision lifting campaign restrictions on corporations have mused that it could open the door to NASCAR-style corporate sponsorship of politicians. You actually have a corporate sponsor. How did that happen?

A: A friend who worked for the liquor industry knew I was a big Beefeater drinker and asked if I'd like to be an official sponsor. I said I'd be open to it. They offered $25,000. I said, "Nope. Not enough." So another friend who owns a wine and spirits company asked if I'd like to be a spokesman for Bombay Sapphire instead. I guess we're getting into the area of prostitution here, but I thought if I could get enough money, I'd start drinking Bombay.

So I tried Bombay. It tasted very, very good. They offered $100,000, and I accepted. So $50,000 goes to homeless issues here in the Las Vegas community, and $50,000 goes for scholarships for needy children to a private school my wife founded. Since then, I've received another $50,000, and that went to a brain institute here.

I think I've used the money wisely. I use the product to excess. About a bottle a night.

Q: A couple years ago, you lashed out at a video game that depicted terror attacks on Las Vegas, implying it should be taken off the shelves. How does that jibe with your philosophy of personal and economic freedom?

A: The game put us in a very bad light. I'm a big defender of free speech, but I also have a job to do as mayor. Just like when the president says something bad about Las Vegas, I blast him. The fella who made that game had every right to make it, and I had every right to criticize him for it.

Q: Prior to politics, you represented accused organized crime figures. What's the biggest difference between politics and the mob?

A: My clients gave me their word, and their word was their bond. They always paid me. They always thanked me at the end of the day. In the political world, none of that happens. A politician's word usually doesn't mean a damn. His word is for the moment.