By Amy Silverman
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But Las Vegas sources tell New Times that casinos are much less willing to bestow credit, few questions asked, than Hollis seems to suggest in Seper's story.
A longtime employee of Caesars Palace, who frequently deals with credit requests from hotel guests, says that casinos check "absolutely everyone" who asks for credit, and will only allow guests to forgo filling out a detailed credit questionnaire if they are "truly exceptional."
"If George Bush walked in here and wanted credit," the employee says, "we might have Central Credit check him out by name only." A young, little-known attorney general from a sparsely populated western state--which is what Babbitt was in 1977--would definitely not qualify for such treatment, he added.
A spokesperson for Central Credit says it is actually impossible for casinos to perform any kind of check without detailed personal information.
Constance Fitzgerald, Central Credit's vice president for operations, says the company "can't help track a guest's credit history, unless he has a very, very unusual name, without a complete form." Fitzgerald laughed when asked if casinos ever submit just a name to help the guest protect his anonymity.
"Why would they want to do a thing like that? The law bars us from releasing credit checks to anyone but the person himself and the casino doing the check at his request, anyway," she says.
"Too much money is at stake for casinos to gamble on just a name."
Noting this, investigators believe that the presence of Babbitt's name--and his name alone--in the credit files is highly suspicious. Rather than indicating he actually applied for credit, as Seper reports, the files tend to suggest that someone may have deliberately planted the name in an effort to smear Babbitt.
The Caesars Palace employee notes that anyone could have walked into a Las Vegas casino, identified himself as "Bruce Babbitt" and requested immediate credit. Because casinos have an obvious financial interest in providing credit to guests as quickly as possible, in such circumstances a hotel employee would probably ask "Mr. Babbitt" to step into a backroom. There, the employee would call Central Credit and ask the necessary questions directly of the credit applicant, relaying the answers over the telephone in an effort to speed the process.
"Anybody could walk in here and say they were Babbitt and we would do a credit check," he says. In fact, someone could simply call on the telephone, claim to be Bruce Babbitt, and a credit check on that name would be sufficient to start a file showing an inquiry had been made. The name would likely still be left in the Central Credit records to show that an inquiry was begun.
However Babbitt's name came to be immortalized in the files of Central Credit, it clearly falls far short of serving as the evidentiary bombshell Seper's article suggests it to be. As the FBI concluded after examining all the possibilities, it fails to prove that Babbitt applied for credit, lost heavily at the tables, or even ever visited a casino.
But to the readers of Seper's story, it was clear that Babbitt must, at the very least, have gambled at the Dunes Hotel. What couldn't perhaps be proven by apocryphal credit checks could certainly be verified by eyewitness testimony. And according to the Washington Times, Las Vegas police officers actually watched Bruce Babbitt put his money down.
@body:Seper quotes Kent Clifford, the former head of the Las Vegas police intelligence unit, as saying that his agents--lured by reports from the Dunes that Babbitt had gambling debts at the hotel--covertly observed Babbitt placing bets there on "two or three occasions" between 1979 and 1982.
But Clifford, now a real estate salesman, tells New Times a different story, one that is diametrically opposed to Seper's smoking-gun account.
Clifford says Seper misquoted him and "enhanced" his comments about the Babbitt investigation. Contrary to what appeared in the Washington Times, Clifford maintains that neither he nor his officers saw Babbitt at the casino or anywhere else in Las Vegas.
"Nobody saw him there to my knowledge," he says. "I don't think any of my officers saw him there. They were just asked to check on the record."
What the record revealed was identical to what had been uncovered by the FBI in 1977--Babbitt's name was in the Central Credit files. An inquiry into the gambling debts led to a similar dead end. Ash Resnick, the shadowy Dunes employee mentioned in Seper's story, allegedly told officers he had copies of IOU markers Babbitt owed the Dunes. But Clifford tells New Times Resnick never actually showed the markers to anyone from the police department.
Clifford says he ordered the inquiry abandoned after reviewing the "informal" file on Babbitt compiled by his officers, noting that there was no evidence to justify a formal investigation. He says he then threw the report away.
"I looked at that report and said, 'So what?'" he says. "There was no reason to believe criminal activity was involved."
Clifford says he is weary of inquiries into Babbitt's alleged gambling.
"The FBI called me during the Interior [confirmation]. I told them, hey, the guy never did anything wrong in this state that I know of."
Clifford's men weren't the only ones to fail in efforts to document the alleged Babbitt gambling IOUs. Don Devereux traveled to Las Vegas with former Phoenix police detective Jack Weaver in the mid-1980s in an effort to purchase proof of the IOU markers from Resnick.