Smooth Operators on the Las Vegas Gambling Scene

The Cornero Brothers--- two ex-bootleggers from Los Angeles, who ran The Meadows Club until it closed down after the completion of the Hoover Dam, were the first to appear in the Las Vegas area.

More significant for the growth of gambling in Las Vegas was the relocation of casino operators purged from Southern California by municipal reforms of 1938 10 1939.

A host of well-known gambling dens had flourished on Spring Street in Los Angeles during the 1920s and 1930s.

Guy McAfee, the 'overlord' of these operations and a former vice squad captain on the police force, first sensed the imminent crusade for purification in 1938 and began to relocate his interests to Las Vegas.

He brought both experience and capital to the southern Nevada town, taking over one downtown club and one operation located on the highway to Los Angeles.

As reformers closed in on Los Angeles clubs in 1939, other operators moved away from the metropolis. Some, like Tony Cornero, launched gambling ships anchored off the southern California coast.

When state and federal officials closed down such floating casinos as well in the years between 1939 and 1942, another swarm of professional gamblers descended on Las Vegas.

In addition to Cornero and the legendary Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel, this second influx included Chuck Addison, Bill Curland, Farmer Page, and Tudor Scherer, the foursome that opened the downtown Pioneer Club in 1942, one of the city's best managed casinos.

Bold men like these, experienced in large-scale gaming operations as well as in the general business of 'vice', helped to transform local gambling into a more sophisticated, more successful enterprise.

The significance of the coming of Angeleno casino operators to Las Vegas was twofold. They made up the first clearly defined group of emigrants from the world of organized crime to set up 'legitimate' business in southern Nevada.

Men like McAfee foreshadowed the arrival of both seasoned personnel and tainted funds from underworld activities.

Figures from the realm of organized crime, who ranged from petty shills and dealers to full-fledged gangsters, ultimately spawned a host of problems for Las Vegas and Nevada.

As the Review-Journal covered the municipal reforms in Los Angeles during the late thirties, its editors proudly assured readers that state legalization and local regulation would forestall any such corruption in Las Vegas.

Initially confident that the last frontier town could remain impervious to organized crime and municipal corruption, the paper grew apprehensive by 1942.

Editors now warned that an influx of known racketeers jeopardized the development of Las Vegas into a 'nice' play center or an 'industrial capital of a great inland empire.