Thursday, April 4, 2013

Florida's casino gambling and bingo madness - 1930s, 40s

For more Florida history visit my other blog, 

By Jane Feehan

 (For today's betting venues, see: )

While politicians and law enforcement looked the other way, residents and tourists engaged in casino gambling in South Florida during the 1930s and 40s. Legal status of gambling seesawed in Tallahassee depending on the governing administration. It wasn’t until the early 1950s, after hearings led by U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver, that early casinos in Florida were permanently closed;  a connection was made to at least 50 members of organized crime. But until then (and not until the Seminoles opened up theirs decades later), casinos were popular in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Slot machines were ubiquitous in the early 1930s; in 1935 the Florida Supreme Court legalized them. Bingo, sometimes called corn games when payoffs were made in merchandise, drew thousands to casinos (and to churches). Patrons tried their luck at roulette, dice and other games. Nearly 2,000 customers crowded one large casino just over the Dade County line in south Hallandale seven nights a week during 1938.

For $2 a patron could play six games to win $50, $100 - or much more. Operators would dump all remaining proceeds into the final game, driving the winnings up to at least $1000, a considerable sum during the Great Depression. The house took no cut, knowing they now had players for more lucrative games. The casino provided bodyguards to women who won and wanted escorts home to safeguard their winnings.

Casinos or gambling clubs, many with floors shows, abounded in Miami: Royal Palm Club at Bay Front (not the Royal Palm, Miami’s first hotel) owned by Miami Beach councilman Art Childers; the Little Palm (Walter Winchell’s favorite), also owned by Childers near the old Herald building; the Brook Club on the beach, and the Beach and Tennis Club at Lincoln Road and Collins; Sunny Isles Casino; Palm Island Club on Palm Island, where Al Capone lived; the 86 Club on 86th Street and Biscayne; the Island Club on Poinciana Island, where a reporter once found a cop in the kitchen making a sandwich; the Riviera Club, a crooked joint on Sunny Isles; the Teepee Club on SW 8th Street, the Deluxe Club on NW 27th and the Turf Club on NW 79th Street.

Broward County touted a number of casinos, the most famous being the Colonial Inn on Hallandale Beach Boulevard. La Boheme, Greenacres, and Plantation Resort also operated in south county.The IT Club on South Federal Highway and Lopez Restaurant attracted gaming customers in Fort Lauderdale and surrounding communities.

Gambling was reserved for wealthy tourists known to casino management in Palm Beach County. Patrons were scrutinized through door peep holes before entering. Residents were not allowed to play.

Today, as in the old days, casinos still manage to part people and their money. Now it’s legal - and perhaps less glamorous. Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For more on the Colonial Inn, Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, use search box or see labels at right.

Miami News, Nov. 18, 1935
Miami News, Feb 3, 1938
Palm Beach Post, Mar. 28, 1938
Miami News, Dec. 9, 1976

Just out 2014, Meyer Lansky's daughter - Sandra Lansky's story

Tags: Early gambling in South Florida, casino gambling in Miami, casinos in Miami Beach, Dade County history of gambling, Broward County gambling in the 1930s 1940s, Florida gambling in the 1930s, 1940s. Organized crime in Florida, Florida slot machine history, Florida bingo history, film industry researcher,  historical researcher

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