by Gene Trimble
In the early 1930's, the building that was to become The Arrowhead Club sat on the edge of a beautiful 9 hole golf course in Branch Hill, Ohio. The golf course was owned by a wealthy black man, by the name of Gaither. This fact in itself would have been unusual for the time. Danny Nason spent many enjoyable days playing golf with Mr. Gaither while his father and uncle took care of business at the Arrowhead.
The building was a run down barn of a building. It was on the edge of Indian Hills where the elite and conservative of Cincinnati society lived. In 1970 and 71, I lived in Indian Hills. I leased a huge house built by the German Ambassador to the United States in the late 1800's. It sat in the middle of over 100 acres. I guess I was lucky, "the elite and conservative of Cincinnati society" never noticed I was there.
It is not known when Joe Bauer held his 1st private games in the building but together with the Nason's a scheme was hatched. Joe could get the fix in Clermont County to open a full fledged gambling joint. He would supply the protection and the Nason's would supply the bankroll and gambling expertise as their part of the partnership. The Nason's brought in "Sleepout Louie" Levinson and Lefty Clark from Detroit to supply the bankroll. The 1st try at a casino went bust in a few short months. The elite clientele they were after would not accept outsiders nor would they park their Rolls Royce's outside of a dump.
The Nason's - Bob, Harold, Danny, Frank & Sam
The Nasons went to Sammy Schrader. You might know the name as Sammy was the Cleveland Syndicates man in Northern Ky. He operated Beverly Hills after they took it away from Peter Schmidt in 1940. Sammy introduced the Nason's to Gilbert Smollen. I think you will find that Gilbert was a part owner of the Desert Inn when it opened in 1950. A deal was struck. Cleveland would supply the bankroll and receive a payment each month. The Nason's and Bauer would run the casino as partners but Bauer would be the front man. Bauer was legit and the respectability was needed in Branch Hill. I feel certain you will scoff when I tell you what Cleveland gave our 3 heroes for a bankroll. $4,100! Years later Gilbert Smollen told Danny what Cleveland had invested in the deal. It was to pay expenses only. The gambling would take care of itself as you will see. The building was painted and the inside was redecorated. Velvet drapes were hung everywhere. Instant success!
The theory was, If they built it right, the elite would come. The theory proved to be true. It opened as a small invited only club and blossomed into the forerunner to Beverly Hills. When Frank Conforti worked there, they had 6 crap tables, 3 roulette wheels, 20 BJ tables, 2 hazard tables, poker tables, a faro bank and slots. The slots would prove to be a bad idea, as you will see. Big name entertainers of the day appeared at the club. I have reason to believe, the JSB chips were used in the poker games, but I can not prove it, yet. The scanned chip is one of the chips recovered recently by John Benedict.
Was the gambling on the up and up? It was not. I am a little perplexed by this. I have 1st hand knowledge of at least 4 other casinos the Nasons operated. The gaming in all 4 was strictly on the up and up. I think I can explain this difference in part 4 of this series. Many clubs of this era did use "devices" when there was an opportunity to make a decent score. They considered these devices to be just plain "Good Business." I would have no idea how many old timers I have spoken to over the years. Not one of them ever considered these devices, when used by the house, as cheating. They always called it "gambling with an edge." It was cheating, only when a customer brought them into the games. It was common courtesy to tell a friend "Best not to shoot tonight, the dice are cold."
The area is known for some of the best blackjack mechanics in the world. At times the clubs would employ them and at times they would use their skills against the house. Some roulette wheels in this era had batteries. No chance was taken with a dead battery in the middle of a big hand. The batteries powered a small needle. When needed, the needle would jet out and knock the ball in a desired number. The balls had to be changed regularly as they would get too many small pings in them from the needle.
House men at the crap tables were know as "Buster," as in Buster Bob or Buster John. A busters job was, what else? He ran in the dice. The stick men also used a special stick. When the end was turned, a set of "The dice of the Week" would drop out to the shooter. Many types of crooked dice were used including Tappers, Tops, Double 5's, 6 Ace Flats, and Splitters.
I guess this was a little early in time for the electro magnet described in my story of the Red Carpet in Biloxi Ms. In this era, a casino operator (or anyone else for that matter) could buy dice that would guarantee or eliminate any number the dice can roll. Tappers are unique as they have very small channels drilled into the dice. The channels are half filled with Mercury. If a "Buster" wanted to throw a seven, he would hold the dice with the 1 and a 6 up and tap the dice on the table a couple of times. This would settle the mercury. Next he gives them the old heave ho. Instant 7!!
I have known for some time that crooked dice were made by some of the big name distributors of the era. I now have proof. I have a 1930's catalog from the Kansas City Card CO, owned by the Mason CO, (hub mold). It advertises all versions of crooked devices, for sale. I also am aware of a shipment of Splitters that was sent to a casino in MS from Christy Jones in Las Vegas. The package was returned to CJ unopened, by accident. Federal authorities tracked the shipment and used the information to obtain warrants. They raided CJ offices and several joints on the gulf coast. Jones Brothers in New Orleans was so notorious for making crooked dice, the local operators would not buy square dice from them. I have been told about catalogs from HC Edward's containing the same hot little items.
By 1935 the Arrowhead was on a roll. Big name entertainment, plus the elite did not mind losing their money in plush surroundings. Joe Bauer and the Nason's were a good team. Cleveland and the powers that be in Clermont County were paid each month. By 1937, the only club to rival the Arrowhead was right across the river, Peter Schmidt's Beverly Hills in Southgate, Ky. Unfortunately, 1937 also proved to be the beginning of the end for The Arrowhead.
I promised the rise and the demise of the Arrowhead in this column. I also promised the Nason's ties to Las Vegas. One out of three ain't bad! One little clue, next months column could be titled "The Bag Man Did It." But I have settled for
Part III - Arrowhead Club
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