Gaming History

Quick Fact – Matrimonial Diss

1947 Hollywood actress Mildred Jenkins testified in court about her wedding night in Nevada. After marrying A.Q. Bonner, Jr., a Northern California rancher, the two had breakfast and went to a casino. “A.Q. lost all his money then insisted I give him mine because, he said, it belonged to both of us now,” she said. “When I repeatedly refused, he said I took the marriage too seriously and that he thought it was just a good gag” (Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1947). The judge granted Jenkins an annulment.

Crime: The Harrah’s Holdup

1972-1973 Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed, as there were no innocents. This is the city, Stateline, Nevada. It’s the gambling mecca of Lake Tahoe. Most people visit it to recreate, but some go there to commit a crime. It was Tuesday, September 19, 1972. It was a chilly night. Douglas County sheriffs were working the late shift when they got the call. At 10:40 p.m., five employees at Harrah’s hotel-casino were making a routine money transfer from the basement to the casino floor when an armed man stopped them on the stairs and shouted, “Give me the money, or I’ll blow your heads off.” The suspect was described as roughly 5 feet 8 inches tall, 170 pounds, stocky, in his 30s, long haired and wearing dark glasses, a cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes and possibly a fake beard. His weapon was a .45-caliber Automatic Colt Pistol. He grabbed the two bags from the workers, ordered them to back off and fled through the casino and out the door into the dark. He purposely dropped the bag containing chips, $4,500’s worth, ran about two blocks and crossed […]

Crime: The Harrah’s Holdup

1972-1973 Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed, as there were no innocents. This is the city, Stateline, Nevada. It’s the gambling mecca of Lake Tahoe. Most people visit it to recreate, but some go there to commit a crime. It was Tuesday, September 19, 1972. It was a chilly night. Douglas County sheriffs were working the late shift when they got the call. At 10:40 p.m., five employees at Harrah’s hotel-casino were making a routine money transfer from the basement to the casino floor when an armed man stopped them on the stairs and shouted, “Give me the money, or I’ll blow your heads off.” The suspect was described as roughly 5 feet 8 inches tall, 170 pounds, stocky, in his 30s, long haired and wearing dark glasses, a cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes and possibly a fake beard. His weapon was a .45-caliber Automatic Colt Pistol. He grabbed the two bags from the workers, ordered them to back off and fled through the casino and out the door into the dark. He purposely dropped the bag containing chips, $4,500’s worth, ran about two blocks and crossed […]

Gambling Junkets Cause International Discord

1974-1975 For many Japan-based businessmen, gambling trips to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas turned nightmarish. Kikumaru Okuda, 46, also a resident of the Land of the Rising Sun, and a film producer with Toho Film Company, organized numerous trips on behalf of the Nevada hotel-casino, at the request of its president, Harry Wald. Caesars Palace paid Okuda, who’d met all of Nevada’s requirements for junketeers, $3,000 ($15,000 today) a month for his services. The agreement with junket guests, which was typical, was that the resort would pay their airfare and hotel bills in exchange for them gambling a certain number of games while in Sin City. If they won, the casino would pay them in U.S. dollars on site. If they lost, the guests would pay in yen what they owed after returning to Japan. Illegal Collections In the case of a 32-year-old, Yokohama dry goods dealer, upon his return home, Okuda told him he owed $93,000 (about $455,000 today) and demanded payment. (It’s likely the man hadn’t known the size of his marker or how fast it had grown when he was in Vegas.) He refused to pay. Soon after, Okuda’s partners —Yoshihisa Kuroda, 45, and Manabu Nakajima, 40, both […]

Quick Fact – Detrimental Game of Chance

1956 The gambling licensees of the Dunes and Silver Slipper casinos applied to restart bingo on the premises, but the Nevada Gaming Commission denied their request, stating that the return of the game to the Las Vegas Strip would be detrimental to the area. This was because in prior years when bingo had been permitted, the competition had gotten out of hand and the ample prize money had drawn so many people, it had created traffic problems.

Mobsters Threaten Hollywood Filmmaker

1950 In late 1948, Hollywood movie producer, Frank N. Seltzer — known for the movies, Jungle Patrol and Let’s Live Again, which debuted that same year — began research for his next project, 711 Ocean Drive, starring Edmond O’Brien and Joanne Dru. He intended for it to expose the “bookie racket,” or “wire service as a new industry for the hoodlums who lost out through repeal” of Prohibition,” he said (Nevada State Journal, June 15, 1950). He planned to film in a handful of California and Nevada cities. However, Lieutenant William “Bill” Burns, with the Los Angeles Police Department, warned Seltzer he was “walking into a bear trap” in Las Vegas. In 1949, after the script was ready, someone from the public relations firm that represented the City of Las Vegas told Seltzer they could make available famous hotel-casinos on the Strip for filming. A separate hotel owner directly offered his property for the Sin City sequences. Further, a city councilman and Chamber of Commerce member assured the producer they’d cooperate fully with production. Obstruction, Harassment Begin Two months later, however, when production manager, Orville Fouse, went to Las Vegas, the hotel-casino owner who had offered his property for filming […]

Quick Fact – Life Staked on Coin Toss

1909 Businessman David Eldridge and self-described “desert rat,” Malapai Mike, traveled 40 miles across Death Valley in California to investigate a proposed power site for the Brockington Company in Boston, Massachusetts. On their return, they got lost in what seemed to be a sinkhole. In the oppressive heat, they grew exhausted and dehydrated, and one of their two burros died. They tossed a silver dollar to determine who’d take the remaining burro and try to get to safety. Eldridge lost. The men divvied up the water, 1 quart for Mike, 4 quarts for Eldridge. Then Mike left. He made it to civilization and safety despite the second burro also giving out. Hollow-eyed and emaciated, he told authorities the tale of his having abandoned his companion and his harrowing escape. Eldridge, who subsequently couldn’t be found, was presumed dead.

Gunfire Roils Crowded Harolds Club

1947-1953 Harolds Club bustled on Christmas Eve in 1947 with revelers enjoying the gambling and camaraderie when an unexpected event instantly silenced the din. Panic followed. Since the previous morning, Reno, Nevada police had been trying to locate a suspect: white male, approximately 20 years old, 5 feet 8 inches, 150 pounds. He’d robbed two taxicabs at gunpoint — one for $17 and one for $5 (about $184 and $54 today, respectively) — and had failed a third attempt. At around 12:30 a.m., detective sergeants Francis Quinn and James Franklin spotted the alleged criminal entering Harolds Club. They followed him inside, where they informed patrolman William Reeder, working his regular beat there, of the situation. The three quickly fanned out then closed in on their target. “Take your hands out of your pockets,” Quinn ordered. The young man shot at the officers. All three fell, wounded. They didn’t fire back for fear a bystander might get hurt. Meanwhile, casino guests darted under tables or ran. Amazingly, none was hit. Pursuit of Fugitive The suspect fled out the door. He got into a taxicab and after riding for a few minutes, pulled a gun on the driver (who hadn’t heard about […]

Tango Game, Las Vegas, Nevada

1946 Some Las Vegas, Nevada casinos handed out women’s nylons as slot machine and tango game* prizes. When the city’s board of commissioners found out, they banned it, threatening repeat offenders with losing their gambling license. It wasn’t the hosiery the officials took offense to; it was the casinos offering merchandise to encourage the playing of traditional games of chance. “We are endeavoring to maintain gaming on a high plane and feel bound to discourage and eliminate any practice which may impugn the dignity of our gaming establishments,” they said (Nevada State Journal, Oct. 12, 1946). * Tango is similar to bingo and keno

Token from the Old Cathay Club, a casino, restaurant and bar open in the mid-1950s in Reno, Nevada

1955-1966 Harry Chon, licensed operator of the gambling operations at the Old Cathay Club* in Reno, Nevada, found himself in an uncomfortable spot, under pressure from two parties, in 1956. The story begins about a year earlier, when two other men, Horace Fong and his godfather, Moon Wah, applied unsuccessfully for a gambling license for the same property. Of the two, only Wah had casino experience, and he’d been convicted recently of tax evasion in California. Soon after, Fong re-applied — this time with Chon named as the co-licensee — but to no avail because the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) deemed Fong unsuitable, likely due to his relationship with Wah. Then Chon alone sought and was granted a gambling license to lease space from Fong and run a casino in it. Fong operated the other entities on the property, a restaurant and bar. Rumblings Then Temblor In spring 1957, the NGCB heard rumors that individuals other than Chon were running the gambling at the Old Cathay. It was verboten to change casino interests without approval first from gaming regulators, so agents investigated. Chon confided in them he’d hired a man named Fred Down to manage the casino, but Down […]

Quick Fact – Early Gambling Ban

  1859 Before Nevada became a state (1864), a few hundred miners at Gold Hill — in what then was the Territory of Utah — passed some anti-crime laws. One forbade gambling:  “No Banking games, under any consideration shall be allowed in this district under the penalty of final banishment from the District,” according to the Territorial Enterprise. Photo from the University of Nevada, Reno Special Collections: by I.E. James

flag-of-the-chief-of-the-los-angeles-police-department-california-72-dpi

1886 In fall 1886, Officer John L. Fonck confronted one of his superiors face to face. He charged Chief of Police J.W. Davis with “standing in with the gamblers,” in other words, allowing them to operate their illegal casinos unfettered (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 8, 1886). California had banned gaming 26 years earlier. In response, Davis suspended him for insubordination. When Fonck subsequently asked the Police Commissioners to reinstate him, they fired him instead. The unemployed officer then took his allegations against Davis to the Los Angeles Times, which published them. Chief Publicly Outed Consequently, the Los Angeles City Council members held a special meeting to investigate. During this proceeding in which attorneys were disallowed, Fonck presented a case, gave a statement and questioned witnesses. He depicted a scenario in which Davis: • Accepted protection money from local, Chinese gamblers • Tipped off those individuals about upcoming raids • Obstructed, in other ways, officers’ efforts to close gambling dens Soon after Davis took office, in December 1885, Captain of Police C.A. Ketlar told Fonck that he (Ketlar) and Chief Davis “let them play and pay,” referring to the Chinese gamblers, and that everyone could benefit from the arrangement. The next day, […]

Quick Fact – Serious Boredom

1800s To amuse themselves, some miners — California ones, as reported in this case — staged lice fights and waged large sums on the outcome. They placed two Pediculus humanus face to face on a level surface and nudged them forward until their heads touched. Then the battle was on. “Through their large magnifying lenses, the men would watch the combat with intense interest. The insects would often fight with great ferocity, lunging at each other with their tusks, biting off legs, rearing up on end, and displaying throughout the most desperate valor. The struggle would only end with the death of one or both of the gladiators,” reported the Reno Evening Gazette (Feb. 5, 1880).