Sunday, January 13, 2019

This is the Cal-Vada Lodge, circa 1940. Just below the lodge on the right (not shown) and hard up against the edge of the lake is the Cal-Neva Lodge, first built by Larry McElvy and then rebuilt after a fire in 1937 by Bill Graham and Jim McKay. 

The photos below from 1995 may help explain a few things about the small casinos at the juncture of Stateline Rd. and NV 28, at Crystal Bay, Nevada, and how they were used.

Clearly there is a road on the left of the building below, and to the right and shown below is the reconstruction of another building that also was named the Cal-Vada Lodge. Yes, there was gaming!

In 1931, when gaming was legalized, the Cal-Vada Lodge opened as a casino. Ownership changed in 1935 after the owners of the Cal-Neva Lodge (Graham and McKay) went on trial for mail fraud in a race-wire scheme outlined in the book Mob City: Reno.

About that time a new casino opened across the street to the left of the Cal-Vada Lodge. It was imaginatively named the La-Vada Lodge. It is shown in 1995 below, going through yet another face-lift.

The new club had lodging, and business was brisk. The group of buildings was sold to Frank Mercer and Mac Barrett in 1942. Mercer also operated a club at South Shore named the Main Entrance.

In 1950, Joby Lewis purchased the larger building from Frank Mercer and reopened as the "New Cal-Neva Lodge."

Joby was offered a small space along the Tahoe Biltmore in 1954, and he moved into what was called Joby's Monte Carlo the following summer. He sold his old club to Bernie Einstoss and Frank Grannis who brought in Bandleader and owner of the Bal Tabarin restaurant in San Francisco as a partner along with Andrew Desimone and Tom Guerin.

The late 1950s sparked a grand ending for the building under the new name the Bal Tabarin. With a newly expanded kitchen, the club featured high-class meals, great entertainment that included headliners like Mel Torme, and music all night long during the summer months. There wasn't a hotter night spot at the lake than what the Bal Tabarin and the Cal-Neva were offering every week.

The casino had over 90 slot machines plus two craps tables, roulette and the occasional chuck-a-luck game. Amid the music from the band, the smoke, the shouting at the craps games and the clanging of the slot machines, nothing could have been better for players in the late ‘50s.

In 1959, Lincoln and Meta Fitzgerald, who owned the Nevada Club in Reno, purchased the Tahoe Biltmore, the Bal Tabarin, and Joby's Monte Carlo. They ran the clubs for just one year before closing the Bal Tabarin down. Then, they expanded their club and renamed it the Nevada Lodge. The Monte Carlo became a large restaurant.

The entire Cal-Vada lodge and Bal-Tabarin remained boarded up until the remodeling of the smaller lodge in 1995 and the demolition of the larger casino the following year. The remodeled property is still intact and the Crystal Bay Club Casino owns it. It's not as big time as Las Vegas, but it's beautiful.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Reno's Town House Casino

Reno became the Divorce Capital of the World in the 1930s. Open-gaming was legalized in 1931 and the state lowered residency requirements to six-weeks for divorces. So, people arrived in droves, ready to "take the cure" as they called it, and hotels were available for those on the rich side. Those with more adventurous souls or more modest pocketbooks stayed at one the many dude ranches found in the countryside all over Washoe Valley.

Pictures from the '20s and '30s depict Reno visitors in cowboy garb, even if they just took the train in from New York City and had never been on a horse in their life. To fit the crowd and the countryside, Reno saloons and casinos sported a country theme well into the '60s.

One of the most popular saloons to open in downtown Reno was the Town House, first known as the Dude Ranch Town House. The property was built and operated by Charles Rennie. The bar didn't have to be as big as the coming Las Vegas casinos like the El Rancho to be successful, and the saloon sported just a long bar, restaurant, and six slot machines. After opening, the club had three games, a 21 table, craps, and roulette.

Although drinking was still illegal due to Prohibition, the Town House offered liquor, as most Reno establishments did. As chronicled in "Mob City: Reno Connection," Bill Graham and George Wingfield had the fix-in for any club that was sharing a piece of their action, and the Feds never busted the Town House.

Rennie tried to expand his gaming empire to Plumas Avenue, several miles from the downtown corridor in 1936. The move didn't sit well with the men in charge of Reno, and within a year Charles Rennie owned neither the Country Club nor the Town House.

After a public auction in 1937, the Town House was purchased and reopened in December by Fay Baker and Tom Brown. Postcards and even gaming chips from the era depict the Town House logo: A tall, bow-legged cowboy bellied up to the bar with well-shaped women on either side of him. The logo's caption was "The riding lesson."

The Town House struggled to stay in business with different owners for nearly 20 years. In 1955 it was destroyed by a suspicious fire.

J.C. Penney built a new store in its place on First Street that survived until 1990. Reno may no longer be a cowboy town, but it’s still more country than city.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Super Easy Aces Field Trial

The hot new table game Super Easy Aces begins a field trial tomorrow at Primm Valley Resort in Primm, Nevada, along highway 15 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

If you haven't stopped at Primm, I understand. It used to be just a tiny bar and casino called Whiskey Pete's with a big two-story facade like Harvey's Wagon Wheel and George's Gateway had at South Shore in the 1940's.

When the club opened, it was considered to be Clark County. Later it was called part of Jean, Nevada. In 1996, the town was officially named Primm, Nevada. Why? Well, let's see.

The town started as a way-station along the long, lonely road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Many a vehicle needed a fill of gas and water during the trip, and Pete McIntyre opened a tiny gas station to supplement his mining income.

With a 10-gallon hat and a pair of holstered pistols, Pete greeted drivers with a wary eye. If he liked you, he explained the Whiskey Pete's name. Yup, you could fill your car's tank with gas, and your Mason jar with moonshine, if you passed muster. But back to the Primm name.

Enter Ernie Primm

About the time Pete passed away in 1933, Ernie Primm was running card games in Gardena, California. In 1936 he opened the Monterey Club and kept his eye on Las Vegas, where newly-legalized gaming was taking hold in the small town.

He took some of his cash and purchased the old Whiskey Pete's gas station and sandwich shop for $15,000. The purchase came with 400 acres of dry desert land Ernie thought might be valuable as a casino center some day. But that someday was 20 years away.

Instead of opening something new in the sand outside Vegas, Ernie headed to Reno, where casino owners were doing quite well, thank you. He refurbished a large retail store directly across from Harold's Club and fought the Reno City Council for two years, demanding that he be allowed to open a casino on the "other side" of the street from the Big Boy's. Finally, in 1955, his wishes were granted.

Ernie's Primadonna Club was very popular, competing on an even footing with Harrah's, Nevada Club, and Harold's Club for players. The casino ran for nearly twenty years before it was sold to Del Webb and became the Sahara Reno.

Back at the little gas station on Highway 15 (what used to be Highway 91) from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the variously named Whiskey Pete's/Bordertown gas station and diner got a face-lift. Well, a refurbishing and a facade. A great big one.

Opening in 1978, Whiskey Pete's had a majestic total of 12 motel rooms for weary travelers and a handful of slot machines plus a blackjack table. Ernie passed away in 1981, but his son, Gary, kept the small casino going and found financing to build the Primadonna casino in 1990.

The resort center added Buffalo Bill's casino in 1994. Today, Affinity Gaming owns the three-casino resort. Visitors are also attracted to the area by a popular golf course and the Las Vegas Outlet Mall.

Affinity Gaming runs a total of ten casinos in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, and Iowa.   

The New Super Easy Aces Field Trial

The Super Easy Aces Field Trial starts tomorrow at the Primm Valley Resort. Game inventor Paul Harry can be seen explaining the exciting game on a feed from the casino featured on KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas.

In a nutshell, the game is a new table-style offering with a deck of 54 cards. However, the deck consists of just aces, twos, threes, and fours, and a couple jokers. That's it. Wagering is on a single card dealt to the player (bet on ace, two, three, or the joker) and a match-bet with the dealer.

It's fast, easy to play, and a lot of fun to catch some good cards or even a joker for a payoff of 25 to 1. The Dealer Match bet pays up to 100 to 1. So drop by the Primm Valley Resort and give it a try!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Legal US Sports Betting

Betting on your favorite team wasn't legal in Nevada until the 1940s, but you could always find a local bookie who would lay a line for you.

At the Country Club, you could talk to Doc in the bar, any night after 9 pm and get a bet down. Nickle lines were popular, but a dime line (lay $1.10 to win $1.00) was standard. If you were betting a big favorite like the New York Yankees or the San Francisco Seals, you might have to bet more than $2.00 to win $1.00, but that was just to even out the wagers.

Once legalized in Nevada, most casinos offered some type of a book, although it was often one run by Bugsy Siegel and offered just horse racing.

In 1951, the Federal Government implemented a 10% fee on all wagers and Nevada sports books had to be creative to take wagers and make a profit. It was so crazy that in the 1960s there were no sports books in any Las Vegas casinos until Jackie Gaughan opened a book inside his Union Plaza in 1975 when the 10% fee was struck down.

After that, Lefty Rosenthal opened a fancy sports book in the Stardust, where he was running the skim at the casino (as outlined in Vegas and the Mob). The sports book was popular, but didn't make enough money to even skim a little, although Lefty allowed friends to make an occasional wager well-after the official start of a game. That, of course, was against the law and against the owner's wishes, but Lefty didn't care.


Recently, the US Supreme Court made betting legal nationwide with a 6-3 decision, siding with New Jersey and striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. 
With the ruling comes a brave new world for illegal bookmakers, and, I suppose, a safer, more profitable one for legal punters. And who will the legal eagles be? Think William Hill and IGT first.
For the past decade, William Hill has handled more than half of the sports wagering in Nevada, the only US state that allowed legal wagering. Following the decision of the Supreme Court (Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association - May 2018), New Jersey legalized gambling on athletic matches based on a previous state ballot. And, William Hill entered agreements to handle sports wagering at Ocean Resort Casino and Monmouth Park Racetrack. More casinos will be added in the future.
As for IGT, the company processed more than $12 billion in wagers last year. Their US sports wagering deals (through their PlayShot system) may be single partnerships with casinos in Delaware, Mississippi, and West Virginia (and perhaps Maryland quite soon), or could be in partnership with William Hill US.
Up in Rhode Island, the lottery department chose IGT to provide the sports betting platform and William Hill to provide the actual sports betting operation and risk management. The partner's contract is for a five year period and has a mutual-consent option for two more five-year terms. 
Several other smaller operators are already in operation in New Jersey. The strongest will survive.
Online Wagers
In New Jersey, DraftKings Sportsbook went live August 1. They were followed by playMGM, SugarHouse, FanDuel, and William Hill. Online wagering is likely to be legal. To make your bets, you have to physically visit one of the casinos and sign up.
West Virginia plans to allow online wagering with some restrictions. Time will tell.
Although 20 states tried to push-through sports wagering proposals, only a few were successful. Delaware already had casinos, horse racing, and was ready for sports books. It was not ready for online bets, so search elsewhere.
Unfortunately, your search in Mississippi won't yield online wagering only. As results are evaluated by states currently on the betting fence, some may be disappointed by overall results.
Sports books don't exactly make a casino profitable. They only compliment the bottom line with a small and shaky profit compared to slot machines or table games. 
Sports wagering profits are made by splitting the majority of wagers along a point spread or movable money line so regardless of who actually wins a sporting event, the bookie holds a small profit (often as low as 2%).
And when will online poker rooms be legal in all states? Soon, I hope.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The King's Castle

How's this for a great shot from the early '70s? This postcard is from Reno Tahoe Specialty, Inc.

Nate Jacobson built the King's Castle Casino at Incline Village (Lake Tahoe), Nevada after selling his part of Caesars Palace in 1969. A former insurance salesman, broker, and owner, Jacobson faced charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to the sale of Caesars Palace in 1969.

His club at the lake ran into issues soon after taking a Teamsters loan to build the property, and they continued as the small casino struggled to get a foothold in a resort community that especially in the early 1970s was quite seasonal. When the snow flew, so did most of the tourists. Sure, there were skiers at Incline, but historically at both north and south shores of Lake Tahoe, the skiers were there to ski, not gamble.

Jacobson moved to the Lake from Las Vegas in 1968 after selling his Baltimore Bullets NBA basketball team, turning his insurance agency over to his sons, and leaving his job as President and CDO of Desert Palace, Inc. (Caesars Palace).

What Jacobson built at Incline Village was complete with medieval castle motif including walls, turrets and an indoor dinner theater named Camelot.  Outside, the grounds held a full-size Lady Godiva on a horse and four palace guards.

Who You Gonna Trust?

Unfortunately, real guards inside the casino were not as trustworthy as they might have been.  One problem leading to the casino’s closure in 1972 was a general lack of honesty.  Workers in several areas of the club were stealing from inside.  Two security guards even had keys to the drop boxes from the blackjack tables.  When the boxes went to the soft-count room in an elevator, the guards would help themselves to a few hundred dollars each night.  They got caught because one of them accidentally took a “fill-slip” along with his nightly cut.

When the club closed, 500 workers lost their jobs. The chips from the club went into the hands of several managers, one of whom was supposed to dump them in the lake. He didn’t make it there with all the chips, which is nice for collectors.

The club reopened in 1974 and lasted less than a year under Judd McIntosh.  Later, Jimmie Hume took charge of managing the club for a year or so until it was purchased by Hyatt Hotels in May of 1975.

Hyatt brought in Jack Hardy as general manager, and he oversaw the renovation and reopening of the property, and since that time, the club has been successfully run as the Hyatt Regency at Incline-Village.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Searchlight, Nevada and "The King of Casinos"

1950's at the El Rey in Searchlight, Nevada
Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Searchlight, Nevada. It's the proverbial black spot on a map. It's an unincorporated town 13 miles square somehow holding 500 hearty souls. To be fair, ah, well, it's a dot, that's all.

Really, if you are accidently in Needles or Blyth, California, you might drift off towards US 95, but more likely, you already found Laughlin and did some gambling. That's cool, but if Las Vegas calls, you need to backtrack to US 95 and take a 100-mile trip where you'll pass nothing but sand and sage and other cars. This is unless you miss the stoplight in Searchlight. Bummer.

And, as you roll through town you'll see that the Searchlight Nugget just closed after 40 years. Double bummer! Of course, there used to be an even more famous place - Willie Martello's El Rey Club and Bordello, which had opened in 1946,  but a fire ended that fun run in 1962.

Along the way, Willie tried his best to grow the club and make a dream in the desert come true, no matter the cost or the consequences. By that, I mean sure, there were prostitutes, and yes, he did get his gambling license revoked, but that happens to all small club owners, right? Maybe not.

At any rate, while Willie wasn't the man who actually started the club, he was the man who made it as the King of Casinos in the tiny town (unincorporated, yes) of Searchlight. To learn more about Willie, you need to read Andy Martello's book, The King of Casinos, which is available in paperback from Amazon and other places.

Believe me, this is a great read. Don't believe me? The book has 64 reviews at Amazon and 95% of them are 5-star. That's amazing. So's the story Andy tells.

Thanks for reading - Al W Moe

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reno's Northern Club

Reno’s Northern Club was one of the first casinos in the state licensed for gaming in 1931. Located on the ground floor along Center Street in Reno, the casino was run by Felix Turillas Sr. and John Etchebarren in the Commercial Hotel. Women were rare players in the 4,000 square-foot club when it opened with two craps games, Hazard, Faro, 21, and poker tables. The three slot machines were an afterthought and rarely had more than a few coins run through them daily. Across the street, clubs like the Dog House (billed as “The Divorcee’s Haven) had stage shows that ran 24-hours a day featuring nearly-nude fan dancers and strippers.

Turillas was a colorful, cantankerous character who also ran the gaming at Lawton’s Springs where he was charged by pro-hi’s with violating the Volstead Act (Prohibition of alcohol sales) in the 1920’s, but his buddy Bill Graham got the charges dropped. Turillas also owned the Northern Hotel and liked to deal poker, often with George Wingfield in the game.

The Northern Club added a Big-Six Wheel and Keno to its gambling mix and ran successfully until it was sold to Jack Fugit, who redecorated and reopening as the Barn. The small club struggled as the casinos fronting on South Virginia Street like Harrah’s, Harold’s and the Nevada Club began to take business from those on Commercial Row and Center Streets.

In 1944, a man with some off-shore gaming and bar experience in San Diego named Wilbur Clark purchased the Barn. Although he had only a few thousand dollars of his own money to invest, he was backed by partners in the mid-west as well as the east coast, variously reported as Moe Dalitz and Frank Costello. He spent their money freely. The most striking attribute of the Gay-Nineties motif club were the wall fixtures, eight-foot tall nude ladies who appeared to be holding the ceiling in place.

The following year Wilbur Clark moved to the El Rancho Casino, the first casino on the old highway to Los Angeles that became known as the Las Vegas Strip. He fronted the casino for Frank Costello, and “skim” went to Meyer Lansky. Thomas Hull, who owned the El Rancho, took a piece of the Bonanza Club in Reno.

His ownership there was very short-lived, and he sold his interest to Lou Wertheimer, who came to town from Detroit, where he ran casinos for the Detroit Partnership. Wertheimer sold his ownership at the Bonanza when the Mapes Casino was ready to be opened in 1947.

The Bonanza stayed in business under several partnerships, but the gaming on Center Street continued to play second fiddle to South Virginia Street and the only person interested in the building was Bill Harrah, who purchased it in 1952. He opened as Harrah’s Bingo in 1953. Today, part of Harrah’s Reno is located at the corner of Second and Center Streets.

Thanks for Reading - Al W Moe