From the late 1960s throughout the 1970s, few Nevada Democratic office seekers made a serious move without first consulting politico kingmaker Phil Carlino.
“It was no big deal — I just liked to work behind the scenes, giving advice to the candidates, trying to help our party,” said Carlino, a rare gold and silver coin dealer for more than half a century, in a 2017 Sun interview, his last.
“But mostly, in both politics and business, I just enjoyed talking with people and being happy. Being happy was my secret to longevity.”
Phil T. Carlino, who as two-term Nevada State Democratic Central Committee chairman helped guide the political careers of Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, U.S. Sens. Howard Cannon and Harry Reid, Sheriffs Ralph Lamb and John Moran and scores of others, died Oct. 13. He was 93.
The death of the Las Vegas resident of 56 years was announced Wednesday by the Las Vegas Numismatic Society.
Carlino, alongside his late wife Florence, in 1963 opened their first of seven Fremont Coins stores. Flo died in 1998 and Phil continued working every day until 2017 when, at age 91, he closed his last location, then named Fort Knox Coins, near Sahara Avenue and Boulder Highway.
Carlino made the decision to retire after fending off two armed robbers who came into his establishment around closing, knocking one of them to the ground with his fists and sending them fleeing with just $500. Still, after watching his lone female employee be held at gunpoint, Phil was convinced it was time to quit.
“He was instrumental in guiding me through the business, including his philosophy of treating customers fairly and politely,” said Chris Shands, owner of Archangel Coins in Las Vegas, who met Carlino when Shands, now 30, was 12 years old and began collecting coins.
Over the years the two remained friendly competitors and, when Carlino closed his business, he gave Shands his longtime phone number — in effect giving Shands access to Carlino’ customers — to help his young friend’s operation grow.
Carlino began collecting coins at age 8 in his native Buffalo, N.Y. At his first Las Vegas location at 217 Fremont Street, in the back of a luggage store, he gave away Morgan silver dollars (today worth about $30 apiece) to customers who purchased a suitcase or other travel bags.
The Carlinos soon moved into their own store at 3rd and Fremont streets. The operation at different times went under the names of Fremont Coins, the Carlino Silver Company and Fort Knox Coins.
Carlino’s passion for coins was rivaled by his love of politics.
In 1970, Carlino was selected as chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee after serving as vice chairman in the 1960s. He was nominated to the top post by former Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer.
Although Carlino was skilled at guiding other Democrats into office, he did not enjoy similar success on the campaign trail. He failed in a 1974 bid to become secretary of state and lost a year later in a race for Las Vegas mayor.
Born April 22, 1926, in Buffalo, Carlino was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving in the South Pacific theatre.
He married the former Florence Mahan in 1946. After the war, Phil worked as an usher in Buffalo’s 7,000-seat Lafayette Hotel Theatre. The Carlinos moved to Las Vegas in 1961 after doctors told Flo that she needed to reside in a drier climate because of her asthma.
Phil credited his wife’s warm, sweet personality and stubborn work ethic for the business’ early success. He gave her the adoring nickname of “Floss the Boss.”
Florence also worked tirelessly alongside Phil on numerous Nevada political campaigns.
The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on Aug. 29, 1996, with a large party at the Italian American Club.
Phil was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. He was a member of the local chapter of the Sons of Italy, the Las Vegas Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association.
Phil was a longtime supporter of the local American Lung Association chapter, having served twice as president of the organization.
Carlino’s survivors include a son, Glenn Carlino of Ohio; a daughter, Beverly of Las Vegas; and four grandchildren.
Carlino’s wish was that donations in his memory be made to the American Lung Association and American Heart Association.
Ed Koch is a former longtime Las Vegas Sun reporter.