Bert Riddick – Nevada Gaming Pioneer

The Tahoe Village at South Shore Lake Tahoe circa the 1940s

Authoral – Al W Moe

Bert Riddick

Bert Riddick was a Native Nevadan, born in the tiny mining town of Carlin. His wife, Vivian’s family, was from Ely, Nevada, and Bert and Vivian spent their lives in Northern Nevada, traveling between Tonopah, Ely, and Reno.

Riddick was in his twenties, a miner and saloon worker, when he met and first worked for Nick Abelman at the Tonopah Club. He was willing to tend bar, prop-up the poker games, deal stud, faro, and even roulette. He was dexterous and made an excellent dealer, but at 25, he was more interested in how the overall business ran.

When the mining in Tonopah and Goldfield played out, Bert moved his family back to Ely, to be close to Vivian’s family. He was involved with the Bank Club and other casinos but came to Reno at the request of Nick Abelman after Steve Pavlovich made a sales pitch to him in 1927.

After visiting, Bert was willing to invest with Abelman and Pavlovich, but he wanted to be a full partner and insisted that he should handle most of the administrative duties. Riddick left his family in Ely until 1933, two years after legalized gaming came to Nevada. Before that, the partners opened the Ship and Bottle casino in Reno.

Life in Reno

In 1932 the partners invested even more money in the Riverside Buffet, inside George Wingfield’s Riverside Hotel, which Nick managed while Steve and Bert handled things at the Ship and Bottle. Nick had spent more money at the Ship than his partners anticipated, demanding the most elegant floor coverings, artwork, and light fixtures that had ever graced a Reno casino.

To improve the Ship’s income, Bert had John Petricciani (owner of the Palace Club) bring in six more slot machines and another tub-style craps game. Regardless of the additional gaming devices, roulette remained the favorite of the Ship’s patrons, which included Hollywood Starlets and local boxing favorites Max Baer and Jack Dempsey.

According to The Roots of Reno, the partners purchased the Stateline Country Club from Cal Custer. They began a continuous upgrading of the facilities at about the same time, expanding the gaming floor, showroom, and buying more land just past the state line.

When the Ship and Bottle was closed, Bert took over management of the Riverside Buffet (casino), which was now catering to the Nevada casino industry’s most prominent players. On occasion, millionaires won or lose upwards of $50,000 in a single night of roulette play. At the time, a new car cost less than $1,000.

Steve Pavlovich had health issues related to a beating he sustained at the Main Entrance casino in Lake Tahoe and couldn’t stand the higher altitude at the lake resort. He was able to manage duties at the Riverside in Reno. Still, Bert wasn’t interested in making the trek to Tahoe each day or moving his family there for the summer months, so he remained a partner with Steve and Nick, but scouted about for other business ventures.

Ely Calling

In Ely, he and his friend Ole Elliot negotiated a deal with the administrators of the closed Reno National Bank to purchase the Hotel Nevada and casino in 1937. The $80,000 price as financed with a $40,000 chattel mortgage and a trust deed of $40,000. They paid off the notes in two years and nine months.

The hotel was built in eastern Nevada in 1929 for $450,000. In 1932 it was taken over by Leo F. Schmitt, receiver for the closed Wingfield banks, which held notes for $150,000. After Ole passed away in 1938, Bert managed the club with Antone Harrison and Mae Elliott, Ole’s wife. She passed away in 1941, and Bert finally owned the property outright when he purchased Mae’s sister’s shares in 1943.

Bert sold his interest in the Stateline Country Club soon after that but received a monthly cut of the profits from the Riverside casino until he sold his interest there in 1949. As with other causes and other years, Bert was named vice president of the White Pine Racing association in Ely in 1950, held at the Bank Club. He was generous with his time, and his financial support for all things involving his adopted home town of Ely.

Bert also had an interest in other small casinos in eastern Nevada, including the Eureka Bank Club. He was happiest when holding the reins of the casinos he was involved with, never turning loose until he passed away May 25, 1957, in Reno.

Eureka’s Nevada Club

Nevada Club Eureka circa the 1940s


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