LONE STAR STATE OF GAMBLING – On line casino Participant Journal | Strictly Slots Journal

LONE STAR STATE OF GAMBLING – Casino Player Magazine | Strictly Slots Magazine

Galveston Island’s distinctive historical past of underground casinos

By Sean Chaffin


As certainly one of Texas’s oldest cities, Galveston has fairly a historical past. That stretches again to 1528 when Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca and his crew had been shipwrecked on the island. French and Spanish explorers traversed the realm within the coming years and famed pirate Jean Lafitte constructed the island’s first settlement in 1817. The island has at all times been a bit different—dwelling to buccaneers, smugglers and rugged wanderers.

From the early 1900s as much as the ’50s, that historical past additionally included an in depth community of underground casinos. These within the know may find playing institutions in dance halls and saloons throughout the island. Town was dwelling to varied forms of criminality from prostitution to bootlegging, and Sam and Rosario (nicknamed Rose) Maceo entered this world after they moved to the island in 1910 from Louisiana.

Born in Sicily, the brothers started work as barbers, however the lure of straightforward cash quickly led to a lifetime of crime serving the vices of Texans searching for a stiff drink throughout Prohibition. In Galveston, ships from Jamaica, Cuba and different Central American and Caribbean nations would offload liquor a couple of miles out to sea, after which be run into port by bootleggers who may make hundreds of {dollars} supplying the Southwest (together with the remainder of Texas) and different locations with unlawful booze.

When a frontrunner of one of many two native gangs approached Rose about hiding 1,500 circumstances of rum in his seashore cottage, the reward versus the chance simply appeared too irresistible. The fee of $1 a case trumped his haircutting wages, and Rose and Sam had been quickly hooked on the “enterprise.”

Sam quickly opened a retailer promoting “chilly drinks,” nevertheless it was actually a entrance to hawk liquor. The ban on alcohol proved to be a gap the lads wanted and so they had been quickly knee-deep in liquor till the repeal of Prohibition in 1933.


Bootlegging to Betting

As their bootlegging enterprise flourished, the Maceos had been constructing a burgeoning legal enterprise. Galveston was a big port and the beach-lined island was (and stays) a preferred vacationer vacation spot. The famed Lodge Galvez, the place Sam lived for a time within the penthouse suite, was an emblem of luxurious on the Texas coast. Playing was additionally in style, with many underground casinos catering to these with a thirst to wager and cash to gamble.

The Maceos knew they needed to get in on the motion. In 1923, the 2 males made their first entrance into this world with the opening of the Chop Suey on the Nook of twenty first Avenue and Seawall Boulevard. Finally renamed Maceo’s Grotto three years later, the place was shut down for unlawful playing in 1928 after which broken by a storm in 1932. The brothers rebuilt and added an Oriental theme, rechristening the membership the Sui Jen. A decade later, a extra South Seas theme was added and the Balinese Room was unveiled.

The Balinese Room would turn out to be the very best identified of Galveston’s many playing locations. With good views of the seashore and Gulf of Mexico, the Balinese sat on a pier extending 600 toes into the water—and would quickly turn out to be a Galveston hotspot. As vacationers pitched their seashore umbrellas within the mocha-colored sand alongside the seashore and soaked up the solar, blackjack arms had been dealt and roulette wheels spun solely toes away within the Balinese Room.

“It at all times had a guard posted on the entrance entrance to display screen the patrons and situation membership playing cards to those that they needed to enter and to warn of undesirable guests,” writes Frank Chalifant in his e-book Galveston: Island of Likelihood, which focuses on the island’s playing previous and playing chips and collectibles from the period. “The lengthy pier that remoted the Balinese Room from Seawall Boulevard grew to become often known as ‘The Ranger Run.’ By the point legislation enforcement officers reached the restaurant and the windowless again playing room, the unlawful paraphernalia had been hidden.”

The Maceos utilized in depth safety measures. Hidden panels in partitions may disguise tools shortly and craps tables transformed to billiards tables. In all, your complete on line casino may “disappear” in lower than a minute. The on line casino additionally reportedly had some assist from a lackadaisical method by native legislation enforcement, who solely responded to complaints, which had been few.

“The Balinese Room was dwelling to world class entertainers, bootleggers, and arranged crime. It was additionally certainly one of Galveston’s extra notable playing rooms, though there have been quite a few ones all around the island,” says Will Wright, chief artistic officer with the Galveston Historic Basis. “The Balinese was in-built such a manner that when raided, it took officers so lengthy to get to the top of the constructing, that every one indicators of unlawful conduct could be hidden or deserted within the Gulf of Mexico. Legend additionally has it that when notified of a raid, the band would queue up ‘The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,’ the Texas Rangers theme track, when the Rangers would enter.”

As Galveston grew to become extra of a journey and leisure vacation spot, even stars like Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Mel Torme, Jayne Mansfield and Gene Autry carried out on the Balinese Room.

“I can think about what it should have appeared like, with all of the lights,” historian Casey Greene, head of particular collections at Galveston’s Rosenberg Library, advised the Austin American-Statesman in 2011. “The Maceos knew how you can do it accurately. They ran a clear operation. Males wore coats and ties, and ladies wore clothes. It was stylish. I want I had been in a position to go to Galveston in these days. Think about the joy of getting a nationwide figure come to city. We don’t have many anymore.”


A Rising Playing Enterprise

As the recognition of the Balinese Room elevated, the Maceos expanded their leisure empire. The brothers opened the Hollywood Dinner Membership on Avenue S and 61st Avenue. The ritzy Hollywood was identified for a superb meal and drink in a glamorous setting, and naturally, playing. The membership attracted a few of the greatest names in leisure, and it grew to become some of the in style locations within the nation. It met its demise within the late Nineteen Thirties after a raid by Texas Rangers. The Balinese Room would proceed to flourish, nevertheless.

“Rose was the powerful businessman and Sam possessed all of the finesse,” Chalfant writes in Galveston: Island of Likelihood. “Sam grew to become good mates with and booked all the large names within the leisure enterprise. It’s my heartfelt opinion that Sam Maceo was to Galveston what Steve Wynn is to Las Vegas at the moment.”

The Maceos continued with their profitable golf equipment, which included locations just like the Turf Athletic Membership (on line casino), the Studio Lounge (card room and horse betting lounge), and the Western Room. The brothers additionally had a hand in quite a few different enterprise ventures from athletic golf equipment and pool rooms to enterprise loans, verify cashing, actual property and oil. The enterprise loans typically got here with the requirement that the Maceos would provide all merchandising and slot machines to the enterprise, in line with Chalfant, with the service provider’s portion of the take utilized to the mortgage. The golf equipment additionally took bets on sports activities and horse races as nicely, all unlawful in Texas on the time.

Whereas their work could haven’t been on the up and up, the Maceos had been nicely revered by many within the Galveston group and supported many charitable causes and philanthropic ventures. The brothers sponsored free live shows on the seashore, gave cash to church buildings, and even supported the Miss Universe pageant held on the island.

Together with the Maceo empire, there have been many different playing golf equipment. Slot machines had been quite a few—from the big golf equipment and underground casinos to smaller bars and fuel stations. From the Twenties to Fifties, Galveston was a playing oasis. Most legislation enforcement selected to look the opposite manner as locations just like the Alamo Membership, Artillery Membership, Seaside Amusement Membership, Brownie’s On line casino, Embassy Membership, Horseshoe Membership, and extra brazenly flouted playing, liquor and prostitution legal guidelines. And regardless that horse wagering was made unlawful in 1909, the Galveston Downs was nonetheless open for enterprise as late because the Twenties.

As Gary Cartwright notes in Galveston: A Historical past of the Island: “Not one of the playing locations downtown or alongside the Seawall Boulevard went out of their method to disguise what they had been doing, though they didn’t promote both.”


Legislation Enforcement Crackdown

By the Nineteen Forties, casinos flourished all through the island within the years after World Struggle II. The Maceo brothers’ playing gadgets had been prevalent in cities and cities all through the Galveston space. Enterprise was booming, however tragedy quickly struck. Sam died of most cancers in April 1951. His brother continued and managed the enterprise, however handed away himself in 1954 of coronary heart failure.

After years of dodging authorities oversight and quite a few legislation enforcement raids, the deaths of the 2 brothers gave the impression to be an omen for playing in Galveston as federal and state crackdowns started in earnest all through the Fifties. The IRS additionally filed a declare in opposition to Sam Maceo and ultimately received $600,000 in 1964.

In 1957, new state legal professional Will Wilson admonished native officials to “clear up Galveston” or he could be pressured to take motion. Wilson had beforehand labored as Dallas County district legal professional and helped finish the town’s “extensive open playing” and mob wars of Benny Binion and Herbert Noble. Newly elected Sheriff Paul Hopkins took be aware of Wilson’s calls for, and set about to finish the underground playing. Wilson additionally appointed former FBI agent and World Struggle II pilot and hero Jim Simpson as a particular assistant tasked with the job of closing down the playing rackets. He was given extensive latitude in investigating casinos.

Simpson employed two oil employees for a particular mission. They had been educated and despatched to varied casinos in undercover investigations over a 4 month interval in 1956-57. They gambled, drank cocktails, and compiled proof meant to close down the institutions. The 2 investigators ultimately made a number of visits to Maceo golf equipment, together with the Balinese Room. They visited the membership 3 times in Might 1957 on fact-finding missions, noting that the extravagant playing room housed three craps tables, a number of slot machines, two roulette wheels, and a horse racing machine.

Finally, the 2 males gathered proof on 50 golf equipment. In contrast to up to now, legislation enforcement was now taking the “on line casino downside” severely. Raids and legal fees adopted. Then on Might 30, 1957, the brand new sheriff raided the Balinese. Undercover detectives inside stopped workers from hiding tools and proof. All gaming gadgets had been destroyed—and it was sport over for the Balinese Room. Playing and liquor violations pressured it to close down.


Reviving Historical past, however Dealing with Hurricanes

Whereas some playing homes stayed open within the Fifties, most disappeared. The brand new efforts by legislation enforcement and the authorized Las Vegas casinos full with luxurious motels started attracting American gamblers. Hurricane Carla ripped by Galveston in 1961, and the previous Balinese Room sustained appreciable harm. The historic facility went by a number of house owners afterward and functioned as a nightclub and later a gathering room and banquet corridor earlier than closing once more in 1989.

In 2002, Houston legal professional Scott Arnold bought the membership, renovated the constructing, and re-opened with a number of outlets and companies throughout the constructing. Guests may try a few of the historic artifacts (together with the chalkboard ledgers to submit baseball betting odds) on show. The showroom was transformed to a restaurant and far of the retro South Seas décor was stored. Diners may hit the unique dance floor with excellent views of the Gulf from the rear of the property.

“I purchased the Balinese as a result of I may and since it was an iconic piece of Texas—and my— historical past. I had gone there many occasions within the early Nineteen Eighties and believed the South Seas ballroom to be essentially the most lovely room I had ever been in,” Arnold says. “Proudly owning the Balinese was very a lot a labor of affection. I typically felt it owned me. The sense of historical past was palpable— you might really feel it respiratory within the partitions. To be very trustworthy, being ‘Mr. Balinese’ was a fantastic feeling.”

In September 2008, the landmark membership and playing corridor confronted yet one more main storm as Hurricane Ike surged into Galveston. The highly effective water and waves, which rose above the famed metropolis seawall, was an excessive amount of for the just about 80-year-old construction. The Balinese Room was fully destroyed.

From playing and fine eating to world-class leisure and magnificence, the Balinese Room was a forerunner of at the moment’s on line casino expertise. However after Hurricane Ike, this piece of Galveston historical past was gone. Like a nasty roll on the cube tables, the outdated playing corridor officially crapped out. However to many Texans, that legacy will not be forgotten.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Author: Austin Moore