by Gene Trimble
Trimble on Chips, April, 1999
This Gene Trimble article appears courtesy of Gaming Times Magazine
A short ten hours ago, I stepped off a plane from Biloxi, Ms. It was my 1st visit to Biloxi and its new riverboat gaming. I must say, I was not impressed with the riverboats. The Grand at Biloxi was the only one that I considered, the employees to be friendly. I was disappointed in the number and types of poker machines, when compared to the vast amount of reel machines. I do know a lot of people that work in Biloxi, so it was still a good experience. My friends blamed me for the foul weather. It appears the weather arrived about an hour after I did.
Although the casinos were un-impressive, the reason for my visit to Biloxi was impressive. The Blast From The Past chip show held at the President Casino was a rousing success. It was geared to the illegal casinos that flourished along the coast from the 1920's through 1991. Organizer Bob Gabel did a great job of putting the show together. I consider illegal chips to be my favorites and I was not disappointed. I have never seen so many illegals in one place. I am sure there are many illegals at other shows including the national convention. At this show all dealers and traders had the illegals showcased. The theme of the show is not the only reason I went. The other reason was Bob promised at least one operator of the illegal casinos would be in attendance. I was not disappointed. In fact a 2nd operator showed up on Sunday. Besides the operators, Bob had Verta Lee the federal magistrate that issued the warrants to close the gambling along the coast. She is 81 years old and quite a lady.
History, stories, and chips, what more can you ask for? I bought, traded, begged, and connived 140 new illegal chips for my collection. I believe some of them will be new additions to the Gaming Table, thanks to Rip Poulos who spent all 3 days at the show, talking to the collectors. He spun so many stories, I could not write them all down. He reminded me of several operators of Newport, KY illegals, I have met in the past. I could overlay some of Rip's stories with Martin Miller's stories and you might not know which city the story came from. Martin operated the Merchant's Club in Newport. It must have been a grand era for the people that lived it. They were flashy, they knew everybody, and in their minds, they ran the city. Today their operations have become legal riverboats, and these gentlemen are left out of the action. I wonder if the riverboat operators will have grand tales to tell to my grandson 50 years from now. Maybe, but in my opinion they will never top the stories of the illegal casinos.
Rip Poulos is a very distinguished looking gentleman. He talks rather slow but exact. The best part is, he can talk a long time about his chosen profession. He has no apologies for his life. He choose to do it and he was good at it. Being good is how you stay in this type of business for over 30 years. The local cops in most cases are your allies. The Fed's and the good church going members of the community are usually your enemies. Rip says it was always hard to break in a new county sheriff. Rip managed gambling joints for over 30 years, without spending a single day in jail. He told me, "As far as I was concerned it was legal". It was out in the open for everyone to see. He did manage to get one federal indictment for intrastate transportation of gambling equipment. If you are running a crap game, you need dice. Christy Jones in Las Vegas was the supplier and balked at sending dice to Ms. Rip found out that drug stores could legally sell dice and had CJ ship them to the corner drug store where he would purchase them and document the sale. His records got him in hot water a few years later, when the Fed's got hold of them. They viewed the "Old Drug Store Trick" as a way a to skirt the law. Just a minor set back as Rip got probation.
Mickey McCool was the operator of the gambling in Gus Stevens Supper Club, Porterhouse Steakhouse, 406 Club, and the Magnolia Club from the 1930's until 1961. The 406 and Magnolia Club was the same property in different years. About 1960, Mickey started looking for someone to take over his enterprises. Of course he would retain a percentage of the profits from the bankroll. His choice for this very important assignment was Rip Polous. From what I have learned, Mickey made a good choice.
Dig back in your memory and you just might recall hearing of Gus Stevens Supper Club. On a fateful night in 1966, Jayne Mansfield appeared there. After the show Jayne and her husband were in a automobile wreck that cost Jayne her life. Rip recalls talking to Jayne on her way to the car. Nothing of importance, just small talk. It could have been her last small talk.
Rip watched crap games for 30 years. He witnessed many gamblers getting broke, losing their homes, and wives. He still looked forward to hitting the tables in Las Vegas and rolling the bones for himself, on a regular basis.
The scanned chips were used by Rip at Gus Stevens in 1965 & 66 also at the Porterhouse which burned down in 1965. The bulk of the RP chips were confiscated by the FBI. Rip had 23 red with 3 yellow, 40 black with 3 yellow, 30 yellow with 3 red, 30 purple with 3 yellow, and 40 gray with 3 yellow inserts.. As you can see, I had one of them autographed. I know of 7 other autographed ones.
More stories and more chip ID's from the Gulf Coast next month, when Rip Polous's story will continue. Also a little more on Verta Lee's role in the coast saga.
In last months column I started Rip Poulos's story of a 30 year gambling career along the Gulf Coast. In part II Rip's story will identify 8 more chips used in Mississippi. But first, as I promised, I need to tell you a little about Verta Lee Swetman.
Verta is 81 years old and recently retired from a 48 year career in the Federal Court system in Mississippi. She and Rip were on opposite sides of the law and today, they are still friends. To understand gaming on the Gulf Coast, you must understand that most people wanted it. It was a way of life. It has always been there, out in the open for everyone to see. Most judges did not look at the gambling as a crime. Verta Lee may or may not have felt this way, but she also had a job to do.
If you saw the movie Mississippi Burning with Gene Hackman, you will recognize this story. In 1964 J. Edgar Hoover needed a warrant to search the property where the 3 slain civil rights workers might be buried. He told the agent in charge to travel 200 miles, in order to bypass two other US Commissioners, and get the warrant from Verta Lee. He was afraid the other two would alert the KKK. Verta issued the warrant, took the affidavit home with her, and put it under her pillow. The next day, the FBI found the bodies. The times were different in those days. Many people in Mississippi did not want the bodies found. Great harm could have come to anyone helping the FBI.
Verta's handling of this situation, once again brought the FBI to her door in 1970. There was a big push on to close the gambling joints. In one day Verta issued 200 warrants. She told me, she signed her name so many times, she thought her wrist was sprained. Once again, there was fear that other commissioners would alert the gamblers. The Fed's confiscated over 1,500 slot machines and many of the casino's chips, in this massive raid. Over the years, several County Sheriff's went to jail for protecting the gambling.
I could compare the last two months columns to the movie, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Ms Gulf Coast. Verta Lee would most certainly be "The Good." That leaves Rip to be "The Bad." The only Ugly one on the coast that weekend was me. Maybe not! I forgot, both Susong and my brother in law was there also.
Last month we had scans of Rip's RP chips. This month we are featuring 8 other chips used by Rip or was used at other Gulf Coast casinos. At this time I hope there is room to scan all of them. All of Rips chips have been forwarded to the authors of the Gaming Table. The green Magnolia Club-SqinCir is listed in the GT as a Florida chip. Rip positively Id's it as a Biloxi chip. The most chips of any one kind that Rip had, is 40. I got the only LEH - H/C he had. I feel certain more of all of them will show up, due to the amount of publicity that Bob Gabel got on the Blast From The Past chip show.
Magnolia Club SqinCir Biloxi 40's & 50's Ran by Mickey McCool. Magnolia Club Rect/Heart Biloxi 40's & 50's Ran by Mickey McCool. JEH H/C Long Beach Ms 70's Jerry Heydon (crap game). 406 Club LgSqs Biloxi 40's & 50's Ran by Mickey McCool. GNK HHR Biloxi 60's 406 Club, does not remember
the persons name.
Fiesta HorseShoes Biloxi 60's & 70's Now Treasure Bay Casino. Grove LgSq Biloxi 40's & 50's Not scanned. SC Rect/Heart Biloxi 40's - 50's Social Club-2nd floor of
the Union Bar.
The Fiesta was open from 1950 to 1993 and was closed to make way for Treasure Bay. It was owned by John Mladnich. It was the first club on the coast to offer entertainment, year around. Like Gus Steven's Supper Club, the gambling was moved to private clubs when liquor was legalized along the coast.
In the past four months, I have written stories about 22 chips that were not listed in the Gaming Table, The Sal Sagev 5, Hacienda 4, RP Biloxi 5, and other Biloxi chips 8. I have had many good comments about the stories. Thank you to all. Actually the real credit belongs elsewhere. Credit for the Biloxi chip finds belongs to one man, Bob Gabel. He did all the work, I only reported on it. Credit for the Hacienda find belongs to my friend, an unnamed chipper. He not only found them, he said something to me, that sparked my interest. Without that spark, they might still be un-attributed chips, today. The Sal Sagev story happened because of two chippers making unproved claims in order to make a big profit. I actually set out to disprove their claims. I think my story might have hurt the price on the SSC chips. That was not my intention. I begrudgingly give the credit and dedicate the SSC story to these two nice, but just a little bit greedy, chippers.
I am old, tired, and researched out. At least until that next little spark "Lights My Fire".
Two short days ago, I was sitting around, racking my brain for an idea for this column. For the last four months, I have been lucky enough to have something to write about, that was important to the hobby. It made me feel important, also. It was not going to be easy to go back to the gibberish I had been writing for the last several years. What a let down! How would I ever cope with this ego demoralizing event in my journalistic career? It might be easier for me to jump off the "Top Of the Mint," if I could remember where the Mint used to be.
Fortunately there was a savior close at hand. I hate to admit it but it was my wife. She is the director of the Carnival Of Poker at the Rio and it was to start in a few days. To my amazement Rip Poulos called me and informed me he was coming to the Rio tournament. Not ground shaking news as far as my column goes but it would be good to see him. Just before he hung up and as an after thought he informed me he was bringing me a new Biloxi chip.
Whoa! That's column material. I will be important for one more month. Mr. Big Shot lives for 30 more days. I was elated! Wait a minute! Only one new chip? That will not fill a column. Hmmmmm! OK, OK, in my mind I formulated a plan. I will throw in a little important stuff and a little gibberish. These chip nerds will never know the difference. I have been getting away with it for years. There is no reason for them to catch me at it now.
Rip arrived at the Rio, played a satellite, won it, played the $500 limit hold-em tournament and proceeded to get busted in just a few hands. So that gave us plenty of time for dinner at the All American Grill.
I managed to pick his brain for a little more information on Biloxi casinos. The Grove chip I had in last month's column had a real weak hot stamp. It actually said Grove Club and is defiantly a Biloxi chip and should not be confused with The Grove in Vinton, LA. The Grove Club was on Hwy. 90, right on the beach close to where Treasure Bay is today. It was opened from the 1940's until the late 50's.
There were other clubs in Biloxi but Rip has not found chips from then as yet. Joe Simon's club had a chip with JS on it. The Merry Mansion was true to its name. It was in a huge mansion right on the beach. The Plaza was an upscale club also in Biloxi. When I heard the name The Plaza, I immediately thought of the mustard Plaza $1 Skey chip that some of us are attributing to the Union Plaza and others are attributing to Cuba. The owner of the Plaza is no longer with us but Rip does know his son. I am arming Rip with a picture of the Plaza Skey, in hopes the son can ID it for us.
The Red Carpet Club was also on the beach in Biloxi. This should not be confused with the Red Carpet Club listed in the Gaming table as Slidel La. Slidel is 50 miles from Biloxi and Rip has no knowledge of a Red Carpet there. The Red Carpet was in Rip's language a "Juice Joint." This was the 1st time I had heard this term used in years. A juice joint has crooked gambling. The term pertains mostly to craps. A large electro magnet is placed in the floor under the table. The dice will do what the operator wants them to do, when a pocket switch is activated. This is activated when a shooter is on a hot roll of the dice and the layout is full of chips. Walla, instant 7! An old timer from KY once told me he could make the dice jump right off the table, out the window, into the middle of the street and come up 7. I suspect he was exaggerating a little but maybe not much. Another old timer told me he had a "crap joint" that could be worn around the waist. An agent would wear it and sit around a bar pretending to be drunk. The old timer would then proceed to hustle a crap game among the other patrons. I never did figure out why crap shooters think 7 is a lucky number. The last time I shot craps was in the middle 80's and I never wanted to see a 7. Rip tells me the magnet was found when the Red Carpet was tore down. If you think the odds on gambling are tough to beat today, what do you think your chances were back then? Legalized gaming and Gaming Commissions have put the makers of such devices out of business.
The owners of the Red Carpet were Harry Bennett and Dewey De'Angelo. The "Juice" was brought to Biloxi from Oklahoma by Jimmy James and installed in 1960. The Red Carpet closed in 1962. All three men involved met untimely deaths. Harry was shot down in front of his apartment right on the beach. Dewey was found in the trunk of his car also with gunshot wounds but I doubt he died a quick death. His ear had been cut off and stuffed in his mouth. My guess is Dewey was bending the wrong ears with too much information. Jimmy also met an assassin's bullet. The deaths are well documented in the Biloxi papers and had more to do with drugs than the ripping off of a few crap shooters at the Red Carpet. There is a lot of speculation on whether the Dixie Maffia did in fact exist, as an entity. If there was such a thing as the Dixie Maffia it was not very forgiving in 1962, per the newspapers of the day.
Rip has found two different Red Carpet Club chips. One yellow and one purple, both are Large Squares mold.
At this point, I guess I will throw the ball back in Rip's court. Come up with another chip or I will be reduced to faking a column for next month. Just in case you do not, "Thank You." You have been a major help to the hobby.
I welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.