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January 23, 2024

Phil and Sam Held Up By One-Armed Bandits

By Phil Dodds, Gazette News Editor, published 22 January 1954.
<p>Phil Dodds and Sam Gentile on their 1954 road trip</p>
Phil Dodds and Sam Gentile on their 1954 road trip

EDITOR’S NOTE: In early 1954, Gazette News Editor Phil Dodds and Sam Gentile, a Main Street grocer, drove over 9,000 miles from Picton to Mexico and back. They sent back reports for the paper, such as the following.

Las Vegas, Nevada—

FLASH! Headline—“Phil and Sam held up by one armed bandits here.”

’Tis true of not only we Picton lads, but thousands of others. The one armed bandits are slot machines of which there are thousands in saloons, gambling dens, grocery stores, hotels. One plush joint even has models of bandits complete with masks holding the machines, and you pull the six shooter in his hand to spin the wheels.

Using a 25-cent piece, Sam held up one of the bandits and his punch was so hard that the fellow coughed up the jackpot, $36.50. Some of these jackpots run over $500 and nickles, dimes, quarters and silver dollars can be used.

Your reporter found Las Vegas unlike anything ever seen in his travels. It is a wide-open gambling town—all perfectly legal, and the place is never closed. It is amazing to watch perhaps 200 people pulling the levers and hopefully waiting for a lucky combination. The racket is terrific and the players range from colored folk to ladies in mink.

Las Vegas is Spanish for “The Plains” but there is nothing plain about it. It is a picture of pleasure painted in neon, far gaudier than Broadway. Signs in front of gambling places are fabulous. One has a man 60 feet high completely done in neon and he waves both arms. “The Golden Nugget” has a huge golden nugget from which long gold streamers flash. This latter place cost over a million dollars to build.

You name it, they have it—poker, dice, keena, faro, roulette, 21—and you can roll ’em or deal ’em for as much, as little, as long as you like. This is the Silver State and silver dollars are used everywhere.

The other night, Sam and I dined at the fabulous “Flamingo” Hotel, especially to hear Tony Martin and his show (it didn’t take quite all our money). Outside of the hotel is a circular 80-foot tower done in white neon lights in a lacey pattern, which flashes on and off. Words are inadequate to describe the luxuriousness of this hotel—the Royal York is a town model compared to it. Just inside the door was the games room—the inevitable slot machines and all other gambling game. We watched roulette players a few minutes and it seemed common for the wealthy players to start out with $100. or more in chips. Not all are losers and a man who once worked there told us the biggest profit is from the slot machines.

In this section there is also the bar and a stage with free entertainment and orchestra. While we waited for dinner, the magic word “Canada” getting us in without reservations, we strolled in the garden with its flood-lighted trees and flowers, and a blue, heated swimming pool from which a stream issued in the cool air.

The dining room seated around a thousand guests, very dimly lighted with candle-like lights on each table. Being Canadians, we had our photos taken free of charge by the hotel photographer and given a copy. Martin’s songs were more suitable for teen-agers we thought but worth hearing. Show over, we dashed to make the rounds of other equally luxurious hotels, each with the inevitable games room. In this way we saw and briefly heard Frankie Laine, Ezio Pinza with Ray Sinatra’s orchestra, James Melton, and also saw Donald O’Conner dance. At each of the gambling places, there is also a bar and a stage with entertainers, so our stay in that city was prolonged to see everything, as we never expect to see its likes again.

At Las Vegas, Sam visited some cousins (his mother’s sister’s daughter and husband) and we breakfasted with them.

Don’t get us wrong—in spite of this being a city where gambling is legal, it is otherwise a city of fine stores, churches, schools, parks, etc., with population of 30,000 swelled by millions of visitors every year. Despite the number of bars and liquor sold in stores without permits, we saw no drunkeness and police supervision is strict.

It was nice summer (our) weather but it gets so hot in summer here that all homes have several ventilating systems.

NO INCOME TAX

All this might tax your imagination a bit but that is all. Nevada is the only state in the Union with no income tax, no sales tax (2c on dollar here paid on top of price of article), no inheritance tax and no gift tax. Gambling is heavily taxed, of course.

Here, as everywhere we have travelled, motels are the most modern in one could think of, complete to T.V., and are outlined in colored lights with great, flashing signs.

WEDDING CHAPEL

The Wee Kirk Wedding Chapel was one of several we saw her., Built in a quaint style, it was complete with garden gate with an arch of evergreen, seats for the bridal party while they waited, and of course a big sign advising of its purpose—“All details looked after even to securing the license”.

Another was called the Hitching Post chapel and was done in cedar.

READING THE BILLBOARDS

Bill boards proclaim “Las Vegas, the World’s Largest Gambling Centre”. Along the highway we saw signs like: Don’s Saloon—gambling—dancing; Chinese Joss House; Hotel Last Frontier; Gay 90’s Bar; California Club with live girl in a fish bowl (we missed that one); Cortez Hotel Pirates Den: Golden Nugget Million Dollar Gambling Hall: The House of Jack Pots (Bingo with $500. Jackpots every few hours.

Since most of the gamblers are visitors on holiday, and most of them wealthy, the losses do not seem to be damaging, and one night we saw a chap win $60,000.

It was as much fun to watch as to play so we didn’t lose much and it was really fun being “held up”.

If on a trip to the coast, neva, neva miss Las Vegas, Nevada—it’s an experience of a life time even if you may not approve of it in principle.

Note to the Boss— I’ll send the hotel menu home so you can see what one meal and a floor show cost me. Good idea to get a raise, eh? I’ll need it.

Sam (Gentile) joins in sending regards to friends back home. Too much to do and see to write. These hastily done letters are not written in order we saw things. This is done in Los Angeles when we arrived Saturday, January 16. Later, we’ll tell you of the Painted Desert, Boulder Dam and the Grand Canyon, Death Valley as well as the movie capital.

Our plans to interview Marilyn have gone awry—Joe done grabbed her off—he must have heard we were coming. We’ll see what’s left.

Mexico coming up too, so with more than 3,000 miles already covered, this trip is going to be one to be remembered a life time. Wonder piles on wonder, beauty on beauty as we cross deserts, prairies, mountains, canyons, dead lakes,—you just name it, we’ve seen it, from gasping wonder of the Grand Canyon to hair raising drive on mountain edge roads where a sudden swerve would send you hurtling a thousand feet. That’s all over and our return will be more southerly (New Orleans), that is providing our eyes, legs and the Cadillac don’t give out. All prefect so far.

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