THE REX GAMBLING SHIP
Big time gambling, complete with mobsters and shooting incidents, found its way to Redondo Beach during the Depression. Chip games, bingo parlors, and a casino were run in full view of the law between 1936 and 1939. For a fare of 25 cents, a water-taxi would transport a visitor to the gambling ship Rex which operated three miles off shore.
The Rex was operated by a colorful character named Tony Conero. Tony was a rum runner during prohibition, and began his gambling career by building the Meadows , one of the first hotel casino operations in Las Vegas in the early 1930’snear the intersection of Fremont Street and Charleston Boulevard. The hotel only had 30 rooms, and Tony only owned the casino for a couple of years. Many people believe that the Flamingo Hotel built by Bugsy Siegel was the first Las Vegas casino, but it was not built until 1945.
After selling the Meadows casino in 1932, Tony outfitted a ship called the Rex for about $200,000 for off shore gambling and anchored it just past the 3 mile limit off of Redondo Beach. Games available included roulette, blackjack, poker and craps. It had 300 slot machines on board, and a bingo parlor that seated 500 players. While operating between May and December 1938, Cornero claimed that the Rex brought in $500,000 a month, and profits of more than $200,000 a month. Although gambling was not a Federal crime, local and state authorities were outraged.
Boatloads of officials tried to board the Rex, but Cornero's crew bluffed them away, sometimes by aiming fire hoses. Cornero's brother, Frank, was even charged with kidnapping an investigator from the district attorney's office, though the charge was later dismissed by a judge who ruled there was insufficient evidence the investigator had been forced to board the Rex. Eventually Los Angeles County deputies were able to board the Rex. The sheriff brought photographers to capture the deputies axing roulette wheels and hurling craps tables overboard.
Extensive litigation with the State of California followed, with Earl Warren, California Supreme Court Chief Justice, vowing to shut the gambling ships down. Finally, the federal government decided that while the gambling was not illegal, gambling ships would hamper preparations for a possible conflict in the Pacific and the Coast Guard seized the Rex in November 1939. Eventually, Tony would raise money from investors and constructed the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in 1955, but died at the gambling tables of the Desert Inn by a heart attack before the completion of construction of the Stardust.
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