Review of Money Machine a documentary on the Las Vegas Mass Shooting

Money Machine” is the newest documentary by Ram Denison, the director of “What Happened In Vegas,” which won numerous awards while exposing rampant corruption within the LVMPD. Much like its predecessor, Money Machine explores cover-ups by the Las Vegas police, as well as the people and reasons behind them. However, this time the focus is on the events during and after the 1 October 2017 Las Vegas Mass Shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival across from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Plot Summary Via IMDB:

On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 concertgoers from his hotel room at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. In a matter of minutes, Paddock killed 58 people and wounded more than 400. It was the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States. Yet, just a couple of years later, Vegas seems to have forgotten it completely. Needless to say, mass shootings are not good for business, and it didn’t take long for the Vegas money machine to get to work making this one disappear. In the aftermath of remarketing Las Vegas as a safe destination for tourists, many questionable practices were put into place—one of the most shocking being filing a lawsuit against the victims of this devastating tragedy. On top of that, despite the popular #VegasStrong movement and nationwide fundraising, there’s still a huge question of where all that money went. An enthralling documentary about the dark side of the Las Vegas economy, Money Machine exposes Sin City’s darkest secrets… including its culpability in this country’s deadliest shooting.

Director’s Statement:

My first feature film What Happened In Vegas was a harrowing portrait of police corruption in Sin City that lead me to form some unlikely allies that would end up being crucial to the making of Money Machine. I never expected that the film the Village Voice called “a damning takedown” would lead me to becoming friends with numerous retired Las Vegas police officers from the department my film had brutally exposed, but that’s what ended up happening. After What Happened In Vegas came out, many retired LVMPD cops reached out to me to basically say “good job” and as I began talking with them, I realized these were good cops who wanted the same thing I did: an accountable police department run by a sheriff with solid morals. Almost immediately after the 1 October tragedy occurred, these former officers who still had close contacts in the LVMPD reached out to me to let me know that LVMPD Sheriff Joe Lombardo was misleading the public on several key issues related to the Vegas mass shooting. Money Machine exposes a rigged game of corrupt policing and corporate cover-ups that I never would have been able to expose without the cooperation of the retired cops who provided it.

Money Machine was originally set to screen at various film festivals, including the Cleveland International Film Festival and the Anthem Film Festival (part of  the annual “Freedom Fest“) here in Las Vegas. However, as a result of the closures related to Covid-19, the festivals were inevitably cancelled. Instead, the movie is now available to be streamed via the Theatrical-At-Home service at this link: https://theatricalathome.com/products/money-machine

“Money Machine” Trailer:

For obvious reasons, the movie begins with a recap of the shooting during the “Route 91 Harvest Festival” by Stephen Paddock on 1 October 2017. This features footage from cell phones, surveillance cameras, and police bodycams that were subsequently released. Interspersed within those video clips are descriptions of the chaos and mayhem by people who were in attendance.

Money Machine Mandalay Bay Las Vegas Mass ShootingMuch of that video footage and the details within those interviews with survivors from that night when 58 people were killed and several hundred more were injured have never been widely shared previously. It, of course, makes for a pretty compelling and emotional prelude to the remainder of the movie

Ultimately, the real focus of Money Machine, though, is the aftermath of that night and various attempts to bury the story along with the victims. Not surprisingly, Sheriff Joe Lombardo and the LVMPD were knee-deep in the midst of the efforts to minimize and move past the shooting as soon as possible.

This was partly to draw attention from their own missteps and inaction, as well as lax policies toward “high rollers” by management and security at the Mandalay Bay. One of the pivotal parts of the movie is the inclusion of body cam footage showing Metro Officer Cordell Hendrex and a team of security guards hiding in the stairwell a floor below Paddock’s room while he was still in the process of shooting at the crowd. (Hendrex was later quietly fired by the department.)

Money Machine documentary on the Las Vegas Mass ShootingIn fact, in spite of Sheriff Lombardo’s immediate painting of them as heroes that rushed toward gunfire to save everyone, Las Vegas police at the Mandalay Bay did the opposite. Instead of intervening to stop him, a team of LVMPD officers hid in the hallway during the actual shooting. It wasn’t until over an hour after the shooting stopped that they finally got around to entering the room where Paddock had fired upon the people attending the concert.

Just as unsurprising is that the casinos and other tourist based businesses had a firm grip on the Lombardo’s leash from early on. Nor should it be shocking that Vegas politicians and the typical grifters jumped on this opportunity for their own benefit in a hurry. Prominent among them was current governor Steve Sisolak, who had no qualms about incorporating it into his campaign for governor.

These various groups that collectively make up the “money machine” referenced in the title, all pull together to “make sure the cash registers keep ringing” in Las Vegas. Obviously, in a city where the economy is entirely based on tourism and gambling, making sure that tourists felt safe coming back to the Strip was a high priority from early on. Therefore, it was important to make sure they quickly established that this was just a “lone nut” who acted randomly and that the casinos weren’t at fault in any way.

Similarly, it was important that the entire thing be relegated to the past and forgotten as quickly as possible. Almost as soon as the shooting stopped the police, politicians, and casino execs set about making sure that happened. In fact, Metro dispatchers can be heard inexplicably ordering police officers on the scene to shut their body cameras off.

The Original vigil site for the Las Vegas Mass Shooting
The original location of the vigil for the 1 October Mass Shooting was the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the end of the Strip.

Of course, the LVMPD did their part, fighting tooth and nail to try and keep from releasing the aforementioned footage and other public records, even to the point of defying a judge’s orders. The official timeline was also revised three separate times to accommodate the impression that the police and hotel security didn’t have time to intervene. Further efforts to control the narrative by limiting press access and avoiding any sort of hard questions are illustrated pretty clearly by the clips of Sheriff Lombardo’s daily press conferences.

Lombardo soon declared the investigation closed, concluding in record time that Paddock was the only one involved and that there was no official motive behind his deadly rampage. With Paddock dead, any future danger was now gone. Shortly after, the security guard who was shot while trying to enter Paddock’s room, Jesus Campos, bailed out on a scheduled media tour. Instead, Campos did one singular interview with hard hitting investigative journalist Ellen DeGeneres before riding off into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again.

Within months, the vigil was moved from its original location at the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign to an obscure lot miles away from the Strip. Next, the actual location of the shooting (valued at over $30 million) was donated to the LVMPD to use as a SWAT headquarters by the MGM Resorts International. (Almost like they were completing some sort of payoff.) More importantly, these actions eliminated any lingering reminders of the Vegas Mass Shooting on the Strip.

There’s also a bonus cameo featuring Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman that manages to illustrate the profits-at-all-costs theme of the movie while also presenting Goodman in all her bizarre, outrageous, and unintentionally humorous vapidness. While it’s not likely to surprise anyone who actually lives in Las Vegas and is familiar with the Goodman family, it is well worth waiting to the end to see for entertainment value.

Media Coverage and Reviews

Some articles that have been written about the film are linked below. They include rave reviews from well respected publications, such as Film Threat (who gave the movie a rare 10 out of 10 rating). Also, Forbes, who premiered the trailer, gave the documentary an “A” rating.

https://nypost.com/2020/07/02/new-documentary-offers-clues-for-las-vegas-shooters-motive/

https://filmthreat.com/reviews/money-machine/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidalm/2020/04/20/what-happened-in-vegas—a-new-documentary-unpacks-the-sordid-aftermath-of-the-2017-mass-shooting

https://www.yesweekly.com/film/new-documentary-money-machine-exposes-massive-police-corruption-cover-ups-surrounding-las-vegas-mass-shooting/article_1dbd92d0-b7c3-11ea-99a4-871da936da06.html

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