Outlaws: The Maceo Brothers
Gulf waters gaming and the end of the gangster era in Texas
The brothers worked as barbers upon arriving in Galveston in 1910, but after prohibition began in Texas in 1918, the Maceos entered bootlegging, eventually gaining near-complete control of the illegal alcohol trade in the city. By this time, Galveston was attracting large numbers of tourists from the mainland, and in 1926 they built the Hollywood Dinner Club, a nightspot that boasted dining rooms, a ballroom, and areas where guests could wager at craps, blackjack, roulette, and other games.
The Maceos also operated thousands of slot machines in stores and restaurants throughout the island. Mike Gaido of Gaido’s seafood restaurant once quipped, “The Maceos didn’t ask if you wanted their slots; they just asked how many.”
From time to time, locals and outsiders encouraged officials to “clean up” the town, but then the reform spirit passed. In June 1951, Price Daniel, the Texas attorney general, used state court injunctions to end walk-in casino gambling. Slot machines disappeared from public places, while gaming houses like the Balinese Room became “private clubs.”
In 1956, local attorney Jim Simpson and newly elected Texas attorney general Will Wilson recruited undercover investigators to gamble in Galveston, then prepare detailed notes about their experiences. On June 10, 1957, Simpson called for the gambling houses to cease operations. A week later, Texas Rangers began removing illegal equipment and destroying it.
Even without the court injunctions and raids, the Gulf Coast gambling operations faced doom. By then, legal high-stakes gambling in Las Vegas drew gamers from throughout the United States, and Las Vegas thus superseded Galveston as America’s “Sin City.”
From the January 2013 issue.