by Gene Trimble
One morning in February I was perusing chequers.com and came upon a post that stopped me in my tracks, "Arrowhead Club, Cincinnati, Ohio." All illegal collectors know the "INN" inside of an arrowhead diamond mold chips are from Saratoga Springs, NY. My first thought was to open up this little gem of a post and punch holes in whatever sham this guy was pulling. Crest & Seal Chips? Arrowhead Club in Cincinnati?? No way!!! Up to this point I felt as if, I had at least heard of, every little nook and cranny in the area that had gambling. (This little ego problem I have, suffered more than one small abrasion over this story.) The "Posted By" once again stopped me in my tracks. John Benedict is known to be one of the most reputable dealers in the business. I read the post, looked the scans over very carefully, read the information 3 more times, and immediately emailed John to send me a set. If they were authentic, they were a real find. If they were not authentic, it was still a fair price for 3 unknown crest & seal chips.
One thing this post did do, was to get my juices flowing. I had to find out for myself if the chips had any connection to a Cincinnati casino. Especially if it was a casino unknown to me. I was knocked for a loop on my first call to an old friend. I felt as if I had hit the lotto when he said "Sure I heard of it, I dealt craps there in 1937!" Whoa, Big John, nice find! The Arrowhead closed on November 19, 1937. I can safely say it was operational in 1931. I have hopes of proving a middle to late 1920's opening date before this story runs its course. The credit for the story goes to the following people. I thought I would get the credits in early in case some of you became bored and did not read "The Rest Of The Story."
A Special thank you, to the following:
Frank "Chin" Conforti 86 years young and in his words "I am still a player." He is the nephew and namesake of Frank "Screw" Andrews, and has been my friend since the early 60's. Chin has dealt craps or sat box at The Arrowhead, Beverly Hills, Lookout House, Glenn Schmidts, etc. After 1960 he worked The Fremont, Four Queens, Caesar's Palace, and the Bahamas.
Danny Nason, age 75, son of Harold Nason and nephew of Sam Nason. Danny remembers having dinner and watching the shows at the Arrowhead on many occasions. He played many rounds of golf on the 9 hole course where the club was situated. He was 13 when the club closed. Danny became a full partner in the Nason's other properties until the Kefauver hearings started the beginning of the end in 1952. His resume includes such illegals as Beverly Hills, Newport KY and The Riverside, Deerfield Beach, FL. Also Las Vegas properties The Desert Inn, Horseshoe, Sands and Riviera. He opened the Aruba Caribbean in 1972 as GM and operated it until 1976.
Two other long time employees of Las Vegas casinos that wish to be un-named. One is 86 and still works the pits of a major strip property. Their early resumes include The Arrowhead. Do you know of any other chips issued in 1926 that the history of them could stretch into the new millennium?
All four came to Las Vegas on what is described as the Northern KY airlift of the early 60's. It was a mass exodus of gaming workers from a crumbling empire. Some of them wound up at the top of the legal gaming business.
Fellow chipper Dave Horn of Northern Ky. He was kind enough to make the trip to the USPC Museum in Cincinnati and take the pictures of the JSB sample chips for me.
My father in law Bernie Lehmkuhl drove a cab in the era of the gamblers in Northern KY. I can always count on him for names, places, and background needed for my stories. I wish I had his almost total recall. Since I have none, even a little bit would help.
John Benedict who furnished the catalyst for my research. At this time it looks as if there is enough history behind the JSB crest & seal chips for a 3 part column and I still have appointments with 2 more old timers.
Last but not least, my wife Carol, who happened to be in Cincinnati when I bought the chips from John Benedict. She gave me my first clue that the Arrowhead Club really existed. She drove out to Branch Hill and found an Arrowhead apartment complex on a golf course, just where John Benedict said the club should have been.
The era is the late 20's and early 30's, prohibition is coming to an end. The country is trying to survive some of its most troubled times. Joseph S. Bauer is a well-respected member of Cincinnati society with a love of gambling. He bought the JSB chips for private game use, in 1926. Sam and Harold Nason are hustlers, gamblers, and bootleggers with some mob connections. The Nason's considered Joe Bauer to be their mentor and the doorway to opportunity. They are also "Players." Danny describes both of them as being able to bet with both hands at the same time. The only thing Harold liked better than a 2 to 5 horse bet was a 1 to 5 horse bet. Think about it! How can you win? Like most hustlers they will do whatever has to be done to make money. Like most men in the business at the time, they were plenty tough when they had to be. The three men are friends and have one thing in common. They are all broke! The Cleveland Syndicate is looking for a new source of income. Per Danny Nason by way of his father Harold, the Cleveland Syndicate did not have all that much money either. The end of prohibition sort of busted their little bubble.
Next month, the rise and fall of The Arrowhead Club and the actual bankroll required to start it. The size of this club will surprise you, as it did me. The demise of Joe Bauer. The Nason's rise to the top of the areas gambling hierarchy and the many Nason ties to the 1950's, and 60's Las Vegas casino industry.
I welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Forward to Part II