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The Nevada Club (1941-1987) in Reno exemplifies the stereotypic mobsters-and-gambling connection that pervaded The Silver State for decades during the 1900s.
The business began as Robbin and Robbin, opened by Harry Robbin, 65, and his son Isadore Edward “Ed” Robbin, 45, in April 1941, and boasted 21, craps, roulette, bingo and slot machines. Located at 224 N. Virginia Street, it had been Langley’s Tango Club previously. Today, it’s part of Harrah’s property. In November 1941, the name was changed to Robbins’ Nevada Club.
Three or four years later,* mobsters allegedly wormed their way into the club and usurped the Robbins’ control. Despite no evidence they sought any, the two familial proprietors suddenly had these “partners” in 1946:
These new Reno gambling house operators were former members of the Chesterfield Syndicate, which had owned and run resorts, casinos, clubs and speakeasies primarily in the Detroit area. They’d recently relocated to The Biggest Little City due to a crackdown on illegal gambling in Macomb County, Michigan, in which they’d been involved for two-plus decades. Wertheimer, however, had moved from Florida, where he’d run casinos for Meyer Lansky.
Robbins’ Nevada Club “was the foothold the Detroit syndicate needed to transplant the operators into the Reno area,” wrote Jeff Sunzeri in The Nevada Club.
Name is Changed
In March 1946, Robbins’ Nevada Club underwent a $250,000 (about $3.2 million today) makeover, including a building addition and a remodel of the existing part, likely funded by the newcomers. After, it debuted as simply the Nevada Club, offering 21, craps, roulette, keno, chuck-a-luck and slots. The building was three stories, one underground.
Paying the Price
Five months later, in August 1946, a Macomb County grand jury indicted Sullivan, Fitzgerald and Wertheimer with illegal gambling and obstructing justice by paying bribes and requested their extradition back to Michigan. Wertheimer surrendered and, ultimately, paid a fine. Sullivan and Fitzgerald, however, successfully fought and delayed extradition for two years. The duo was extradited in August 1948 and paid fines.
By that time, Wertheimer and Mathis had left the Nevada Club to run the gambling concession at George Wingfield, Sr.’s Riverside Hotel in Reno. Also by this time, Harry Robbin presumably had bowed out as well, as he already was at retirement age when he and Ed had launched Robbin and Robbin.
Out of Commission
About three months after being extradited to Michigan, someone shot Fitzgerald in his home’s driveway in November 1949, about three months after he’d been extradited to Michigan. Critically injured, he didn’t return to running the Nevada Club until spring 1950.
Used as a Straw Man
Until this time, for nine years, all pertinent business applications, such as those for gambling licenses and building permits, had been in Ed Robbin’s name only. This suggests the syndicate members had used him as a front until they knew Nevada gaming regulators would approve them for a gambling license despite their tainted background.
That happened in 1952 after Fitzgerald, Sullivan and Ed Robbin formed the partnership, Nevada Club Enterprises Inc. Sullivan was the club’s general manager; Fitzgerald was the casino manager. Had Ed Robbin then become a co-owner in name only?
Move Made to Fly Solo
Four years later, Sullivan passed away at age 67 in September. Soon after, Fitzgerald bought Ed Robbin’s stake (Ed was 61) and became the Nevada Club’s only owner. Did Ed Robbin have any say in that?**
Fitzgerald continued to run the Nevada Club, along with his other casino properties, until his death at age 88 in April 1981. That event marked the departure of Chesterfield Syndicate members from the ownership and management of the iconic casino.
* A newspaper article noted the Chesterfield quartet began operating Robbins’ Nevada Club in summer 1946, but perhaps it was earlier because Sullivan and Fitzgerald, at least, had been living in Reno since May 1945.
** Note that Ed Robbin had a 20 percent interest in Lincoln Fitzgerald’s Nevada Lodge in Crystal Bay at Lake Tahoe when it opened in 1958. (The Nevada Lodge previously had been the Tahoe Biltmore, the name it again has today.