Framework

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Aug. 23, 1928: The spacious gaming room of the Johanna Smith was photographed after U.S. marshals and the Coast Guard seized the gambling ship off Long Beach. This panorama, made from two prints, was published in the Aug. 24, 1928, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: George Watson / Los Angeles Times

June 1931: Players at the Horse Wheel game on the gambling ship Rose Isle, anchored seven miles off Long Beach. This photo was published in the June 18, 1931, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Wide World Photos

June 1931: Players at the craps table on the gambling ship Rose Isle, anchored seven miles off Long Beach. This photo was published in the June 18, 1931, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Wide World Photos

Dec. 30, 1936: Torn from its anchorage by high winds, the gambling ship Monte Carlo was driven aground at Coronado Beach near San Diego. Two caretakers aboard sent up flares and were rescued by the Coast Guard. Officers on the beach are shown recovering gambling equipment that washed ashore. This photo was published on page one of the Jan. 1, 1937, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

A 1938 raid on the Rex is met by water sprayed from fire hoses manned by the gambling ship's crew members. The negative is dated Sep. 14, 1938, but the photo was probably taken Sep. 7, 1938, the day of a raid in which fire hoses were briefly used, the Los Angeles Times reported. This photo was not published in The Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 14, 1938: Gambling on the Rex continues during a raid by Los Angeles sheriff's deputies and Santa Monica police. Fifty-one people were jailed -- but no gamblers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

May 14, 1938: Gathered around the roulette wheel on the Rex are, from left, ship owner Tony Cornero, Capt. George Conreras of the sheriff's vice squad; Chief Investigator John Klein of the district attorney's office; D.A. investigator Jeff Wheeler, Santa Monica Police Chief Charles Dice, and D.A. investigator Paul Coad. This photo was published in the May 15, 1938, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

June 5, 1939: A full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times promotes gambling -- and dining and dancing -- on the Rex.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

July 28, 1939: Officers serve an abatement order issued against the Rex. From left are sheriff's Capt. George Contreras, Santa Monica Police Chief Charles Dice; an unidentified young man; ship trustee Fred S. Grange, ship Capt. W. J. Stanley and bingo operator R. Donan. This photo was published in the July 29, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Jack Herod / Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: The Bonito, California Fish and Game Commission patrol boat, used for raids on gambling ships.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: Authorities board gambling ship Mount Baker off Long Beach. This photo was published in the Aug. 2, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: Hoses spray water from the Rex off Santa Monica in an effort to repel a raid on the gambling ship.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: The Rex, off the Santa Monica coast, has water hoses deployed to repel a raid on the gambling ship.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: Rex owner Tony Cornero, third from right, watches with associates as they defy attempts by authorities to board the vessel. Three other gambling ships were raided and closed. This photo was published in the Aug. 3, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: Crew members on the Rex use fire hoses to drive off police officers attempting to raid the gambling ship. In the foreground is one of a fleet of water taxis used to ferry patrons from Santa Monica to the Rex. Authorities seized the water taxis, leaving an estimated 600 patrons marooned on the Rex. This photo was published on the front page of the Aug. 2, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: Police officers on the Bonita, left, attempt to board the Rex. This photo was published in the Aug. 2, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

Aug. 1, 1939: Gambling ship Tango off Long Beach is raided by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and district attorney's investigators.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 2, 1939: Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. George Contreras examines gambling equipment aboard the gambling ship Texas.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Pacific Press Photo

Aug. 4, 1939: Sheriff's Capt. George Contreras, left, on a patrol boat, asks Tony Cornero, far right, on the Rex, his gambling ship, whether he is ready to surrender. Cornero replies in the negative. This photo was was published in the Aug. 5, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 10, 1939: A 10-day siege of the Rex ended when Tony Cornero, the gambling ship's owner, surrendered. Here Cornero, left, talks with Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. George Contreras on a boat docking at Santa Monica Municipal Pier. This photo was published in the Aug. 11, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 29, 1939: Deputy Sheriff George Contreras, right, and Deputy Oscar Johnsen pose on the Rex with roulette wheels that are to be destroyed after a settlement with Tony Cornero, owner of the gambling ship. This photo was published in the Nov. 30, 1939, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Pacific Press Photo

May 1941: The Rex, converted from a gambling ship into a cargo ship in Newport Bay. This photo was published in the May 26, 1941, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 8, 1946: Gambling ship operator Tony Cornero is shown in county jail after being arrested for launching a new gambling boat off Long Beach. It was shut down within 48 hours. This photo was published in the Aug. 9, 1946, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Sep. 17, 1946: Tug boats circle the Lux before towing it into Long Beach Harbor. The gambling ship, owned by Tony Cornero, was seized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

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Gambling ships were a fixture off the Southern California coast in the 1920s and ’30s until a series of raids on Aug. 1, 1939.

Looking back at the phenomenon in an article published in the March 6, 1980, Los Angeles Times, staff writer Jim Specht reported:

Gambling ships began appearing in waters off Los Angeles in the late 1920s, offering card games, craps, roulette and bingo to delighted patrons and causing frustration and headaches for authorities.

Through newspaper, radio and even skywriter ads, ships with names like Rex, Star of Hollywood, Tango, Showboat and Texas attracted thousands of customers who were ferried by water taxis from piers in Long Beach, Redondo Beach and Santa Monica.

(According to federal laws, U.S. residents and any vessel under the U.S. flag cannot be involved with a gambling ship. According to a Coast Guard spokesman, a foreign ship staffed with foreign people would have to operate outside the three-mile limit. However, since 1949, transportation between a gambling ship and the U.S. shore is prohibited no matter what nationality is involved.)

The fact that California law prohibited gambling was no deterrent, since the jurisdiction of the state laws at that time extended only three miles. U.S. coastal waters extended to 12 miles, but there was no federal law against gambling, so the ships seemed perfectly legal.

Battles raged between the forces of law and the gamblers, both in court and on the high seas. Efforts by authorities ranged from legal maneuvers to seizure by force, with little success for more than 20 years.

“The gambling ship era was the most colorful in Los Angeles history,” said Henstell, 34, a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan,” and Tony Cornero was its most colorful figure.”

Cornero operated the Rex, which was anchored in Santa Monica Bay from May, 1938 to the end of November, 1939…

The Rex was probably the most lavish of the gambling ships, with 300 slot machines, six roulette wheels, eight dice tables and a 500-seat bingo parlor.

“It was a class operation – posh, with a nice restaurant, a bar and all the games,” Henstell said. “Cornero was one of the first to realize what Vegas learned later: You don’t play to the high roller but to the middle-class businessman.”

The idea paid off as thousands lined up on the Santa Monica pier to take water taxis 3½ miles to the Rex; there were more than 850,000 patrons in one year, according to one report.

The battles against the gambling ships reached a climax with the Aug. 1, 1939, raids. An article in the Aug. 2, 1939, edition of The Times reported:

Moving the arm of California law out to sea yesterday representatives of the state and county governments closed three gambling casinos off Santa Monica and Long Beach and blockaded another, marooning 600 patrons on board.

More than 250 deputy sheriffs and district attorney’s investigators participated in the raids, which were conducted with utmost secrecy.

At Long Beach, the Mt. Baker (The Showboat) and the Tango were boarded and taken over by officers who placed nearly a score of men in custody and seized more than $30,000 in stakes. …

Off Santa Monica officers boarded the Texas and arrested four men, but when they approached the Rex, owned and operated by Tony Cornero, they met with stubborn resistance.

The gangway to the vessel was barricaded with a steel door and an iron mesh gate backed up by three heavy fire hoses [spraying] water overside.

While officers occupying the Bonita, California Fish and Game Commission patrol boat hove to beside the gambling ship, the operators continued to defy them throughout the day and night.

The siege of the Rex would last until Aug. 10, 1939, when Cornero surrendered.

After World War II, Cornero anchored another gambling ship, the Lux, off Long Beach. The operation was quickly shut down by law enforcement. Cornero, whose real name was Antonio Cornero Stralla, was arrested. On Sept. 17, 1946, the Lux was seized by the Coast Guard.

Cornero moved to Las Vegas, helped start the Stardust Resort & Casino. He died July 31, 1955, while playing craps in the Desert Inn Casino.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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1 Comment

  1. August 1, 2013, 5:34 pm

    It's US Marshals and how come there is no mention of Earl Warren, as part of the law enforcement community to bring an end to the gambling ships?

    Now, let's bring the ships back. California needs the tax revenue.

    By: Steven Moshlak

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