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.

Today

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 casinos struggled to get a foothold in a resort community that especially in the early 1970's 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

Monday, December 5, 2016

El Rancho - First on the Las Vegas Strip in 1941

The El Rancho in Las Vegas was built by Thomas Hull as an addition to his chain of “El Rancho” hotels in Gallup, New Mexico, and Fresno and Sacramento, California. The 63-cabin resort was designed as a way-station, a break for families to enjoy on their trip through Nevada, not as a casino property.

Still, it opened on April 3, 1941, with a small casino. The property was inviting, with a white, split-rail fence surrounding the frontage of the 57-acre property and a large sign spanning the driveway entrance. Included at the El Rancho were a large pool, a neon-lit windmill atop the main entrance, and horseback riding stables. Each cabin had a personal parking area, a porch, and a patch of green lawn, carefully maintained by gardeners.  Many cabins had kitchens so that guests could cook meals, or they could eat in the Chuck Wagon buffet in the center of the property.

The casino was smaller than those in the downtown casino area but included blackjack, roulette, and craps, plus seventy slot machines. Guests were encouraged to visit the Opera House, where comedians like Joe E. Brown and Milton Berle performed. Crowds were small but enthusiastic.

Hollywood Legends in Las Vegas

Clark Gable was regularly seen at the 91 Club up the street while establishing Nevada residency and awaiting his divorce in 1939. He then stayed at the El Rancho, reluctantly, in 1942 after his new wife, Hollywood star Carole Lombard, was killed in a plane crash shortly after takeoff from the Las Vegas Airport.

Although the property was successful, Hull sold his percentage (points) in the hotel in 1943, and two new owners were listed on the Clark County gaming license, Hilton-Brown.  Then, in 1944, Wilbur Clark arrived from his training in Reno.

Fronting for the Mob, Clark changed the property’s name to the El Rancho Vegas.  By that time, the Hotel Last Frontier had joined the El Rancho along the highway to Los Angeles on October 12th, 1942.  It kept the name until it changed to the New Frontier in 1955.

The casino did very well and Clark’s partners in Cleveland (Moe Dalitz and company) that they would help bankroll a new club for him.  That move, the building of the Desert Inn, allowed Sanford Adler to move up to the “owner’s position” at the El Rancho Vegas before his ill-fated year at the Flamingo, and his banishment from Las Vegas.

Next, Jake Katleman purchased controlling interest in the property (and leased out the casino operations to some folks from Back East). When Jake passed away in 1947, Beldon Katleman took over at the young age of 31. He obtained loans, bought out the other family interests, and refurbished the resort at the cost of nearly a million dollars. At the time, the expansion made the casino the largest in Las Vegas.

During the 1950’s, entertainers did big shows at the El Rancho, but the competition from new properties like the Sahara, Sands, Dunes, and Desert Inn took away a chunk of the weekend business. Katleman kept interest going in the property by switching to more provocative acts, like strippers Candy Barr and Lili St. Cyr. However, as the resort prospered, his casino malfunctioned under Mob control, and Chicago Outfit henchman Marshall Caifano.

In early June of 1960, Katleman had Caifano removed from the property after a heated argument about the benefits Caifano wanted, which included free lodging and the constant company of new showgirls. On June 17, Caifano was surreptitiously allowed to enter the backstage area of the showroom. Once there, he started a fire that spread to the kitchen. Soon the entire property was a blazing inferno with flames seen all the way to the downtown casinos. The property was destroyed and never rebuilt. It took a while, but Caifano was eventually the first person listed in Nevada’s Black book, barred permanently from ever entering a Nevada casino. He wasn’t happy.

Ten years later, Howard Hughes bought the property before slipping out of his Desert Inn penthouse early one morning and catching a jet to the Bahamas.  The property was still vacant years later when Bill Bennett of Circus Circus purchased it. In 1982, the once-Mob controlled Thunderbird hotel changed its name to the El Rancho Casino, after running as the Silverbird from 1977 to 1981. That El Rancho property closed in 1992.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Harold's Club - A Reno Classic

Early '50's Craps
Harold's Club in Reno was the Nation's best-known casinos in the 1940's and 1950's, but how did that happen? Well, the story is told in much greater detail in Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling, but here's the start!
Raymond "Pappy" Smith
Raymond I. Smith spent thirty years of his life running carnival games from a baseball throw to a hoop game, to a wheel of fortune, and his own fortunes rose and fell with each season.  Summer was always strong, but fall stood more for a change in cash flow than the leaves that left their home in the trees.  Winter was always cold, and there was no fun in Southern California or Florida, yet.  There was just travel, boredom, and the hope for an early spring.
His sons came along almost unnoticed.  Raymond, his first son, was born in 1907, and Harold came into this harsh world three years later.  Traveling from town to town, and carnival to fair, the life was hard.  Too hard, the son’s mother decided in 1918.  She ran away with her lover to Ohio. You can run, but you can’t hide, even in Cleveland.  And soon, “Pappy” arrived at the home of his soon to be ex-wife, dropped off the boys and continued on with his life.
His lifestyle was not conducive to rearing children, but he still provided support to the boys.  When they came of age, he was willing to send for them, so they could work with him for the summer.
Early '50's Blackjack
Settling in one place, Pappy took on several booths at Chutes-at-the-Beach in San Francisco.  Son Raymond was not happy with the beach and boardwalk.  The passing crowds were not fun or exciting, they were cattle.  He soon got a job at a local bank, with civilized people.  Harold saw them differently.  He was driven by a great need to please Pappy.  Every task was taken up with vim and vigor.  Each movement, no matter how simple, would be done to perfection. He was happy to work at the beach year-round.  1928 was a boom year for Pappy, and he looked forward to an even better 1929.  Since Harold had shown such a flair for the “family” business, he decided to send his son to Riverview Park, in Chicago.  Arriving in the spring of 1929, Harold set about getting some new carnival games going.
It was early on that Harold Smith was to learn what he conceded to be the underlying reason for his success in the casino business.  He began giving away better and better prizes to his customers.  He learned that you should get something for something After the stock market crash and a failing national economy, that belief was even more important.
Early '50's Roulette
Back in San Francisco, Pappy sent Harold to Rio Nido, a nice country setting along the Russian River that provided a pleasant summer vacation spot for many families in Northern California.  Harold went to work as a Bingo operator in the summer of 1931.  His first prizes were “Beacon” blankets.  They were both popular, and expensive.  The players were many during that first summer.
Over the next four years, Pappy set up Fascination games in Florida, Whist in San Francisco, and roulette in Modesto.  Changing political tides made his games legal one-day, and illegal the next.  Finally, with the arrest of both “Pappy” and his son in Modesto, CA for gambling violations including the running of an illegal roulette game, he told his son it was time to try a place where gambling was legal every day of the year.  That place was Reno, Nevada.


Off To Reno
Harold was interested until they arrived.  No bright lights, and no big bettors, he considered it a tinhorn town.  Harold studied the market and found a small Bingo parlor on South Virginia Street.  He brought Pappy around and showed him the place.  It wasn’t much, but Pappy decided to trust Harold’s hunch.  They paid $500 to take over the lease and pay off the current owner’s debts.  Then they closed up shop and began cleaning up their new store.
In a long, thin room (25 by 125 feet), Pappy and his son got the ball rolling, literally, at 7:00 p.m., February 23, 1936.  No fanfare went into the first night; they just opened the front door.  With just the penny roulette game, Pappy and son waited for their first customers.  It was not the traditional roulette wheel we know today.  Harold’s Club opened with a “flasher” wheel, and it was the first in Nevada.  Hung from the ceiling, the eight-foot wheel spun before a large mirror, which gave each of the possible 43 players a chance to see the outcome.  One game, no waiting, and the whole family got in on the act with everybody working.  Soon Harold’s brother Raymond joined them, along with (believe it or not) their mother, and her new husband.  By the year’s end, the books showed almost a break-even business.  Profits would come slowly. The family never used an apostrophe after the “d” in Harold’s Club.
There's much more in the book Nevada's Golden Age of Gambling, softbound 8x11 or Kindle, with more than 70 vintage photos!
Thanks for reading - Al W Moe