Nevada Pioneer Steve Pavlovich

Steve Pavlovich was born in Yugoslavia in 1889. He came to America armed with dreams and a promise of a good life. What he found were rough-and-tumble characters who would rather beat you for your pennies than give you the time of day. He traveled from New York to New Jersey to Wyoming before arriving in the acrid, dusty deserts of Nevada, ready for adventure. The town of Tonopah was the most promising, and Pavlovich found a job at the Tonopah Club, working for Nick Abelman in 1910 as a bartender and faro dealer.

He was quick with numbers and could tell Abelman how the joint was doing without consulting his ledgers and was trusted to haul roulette wheels and poker tables to new clubs in towns like Manhattan and Bellehelen. In each new location Pavlovich as a one-third partner with money-man Abelman.

Pavlovich was a sure-shot with a six-gun, once drawing quickly from behind the bar and stopping a robbery in Bellehelen with a single slug into the door jamb next to the head of the would-be robber who stood with a shotgun pointed at a table of poker players. The man dropped the rifle and fled into the street where he was apprehended. The rifle was tacked above the bar’s back-glass as a reminder until the saloon (and the town) was abandoned.

In 1917 Pavlovich was the manager of Abelman’s Big Casino, having learned much from the small-town saloons. In 1922, Steve and his wife, the former Mary Dabkovich struck out on their own to Reno where they opened the Mizpah buffet, a dining and gaming establishment in the heart of town. They enjoyed the amenities that Reno provided, but there was too much competition for a small club to compete with, so they moved back to Tonopah until Abelman sold his businesses in 1927 and asked Steve to help run new casinos with him in Reno.

Bert Riddick, who also partnered with Steve and Abelman in several clubs, had moved back to his home in Ely, Nevada, so Steve traveled there with Mary to see the area and convince Bert that he should consider a move to Reno too.

The partners shared interests in Ely saloons like the Bank Club, which had one of the first Keno games in Nevada after the legalization of open gaming in 1931. The new laws allowed more money to be safely spent on casinos, and Nick opened the plush Ship and Bottle on N. Center Street in Reno with Steve handling the action during the evening.

When the club turned profitable, the partners turned their sights on the Riverside Buffet and the Stateline Country Club. It was decided that during the summer months, Steve would manage the Tahoe Casino, and he and Nick worked continuously on the interior. Pavlovich took great pride in the club’s restaurant, adding personal favorites like Louisiana frog legs and Idaho trout to the club patron’s favorite meal, filet mignon – which was available for $1.50 with vegetables, potatoes, and a dessert.

Pavlovich also loved to play 21 and spent time at neighboring casinos. One afternoon he found himself stuck $3,000 at the tiny club next door, the Main Entrance. When he caught the dealer dealing seconds from the deck to beat him, Pavlovich pulled his .44 and demanded the cheating dealer return his money.

Instead, a bouncer hit Steve repeatedly with a chair until he collapsed on the floor. Pavlovich, his head and face swelling, was taken to Reno’s Lawton Springs where the owner, Felix Turillas, secured a doctor and kept watch over him for two weeks.

His right eye was swollen shut and troubled him for the rest of his life. The cheating dealer was administered to by Bones Remmer, who made sure he wouldn’t trouble Steve ever again. Afterward, Lake Tahoe’s 6,100 elevation bothered Pavlovich and he worked exclusively at the Riverside casino in Reno. He sold his interest in the club to Mert Wertheimer in 1949.

After retiring in the 1950s, Steve and his wife moved to San Diego to be close to their son, but they missed their friends and the adventures of Nevada. Diabetes had reduced Steve’s eyesight and mobility, and one evening he took the same Frontier model revolved that had caused his problems at Lake Tahoe and turned the muzzle on his chest. His wife followed in death soon after by ingesting poison.

Super Easy Aces Field Trial

The hot new table game Super Easy Aces begin a field trial tomorrow at Primm Valley Resort in Primm, Nevada, along highway 15 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

If you haven’t stopped at Primm, I understand. It used to be just a tiny bar and casino called Whiskey Pete’s with a big two-story facade like Harvey’s Wagon Wheel and George’s Gateway had at South Shore in the 1940s.

When the club opened, it was considered to be Clark County. Later it was called part of Jean, Nevada. In 1996, the town was officially named Primm, Nevada. Why? Well, let’s see.

The town started as a way-station along the long, lonely road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Many a vehicle needed a fillup of gas and water during the trip, and Pete McIntyre opened a tiny gas station to supplement his mining income.

With a 10-gallon hat and a pair of holstered pistols, Pete greeted drivers with a wary eye. If he liked you, he explained the Whiskey Pete’s name. Yup, you could fill your car’s tank with gas, and your Mason jar with moonshine, if you passed muster. But back to the Primm name.

Enter Ernie Primm

About the time Pete passed away in 1933, Ernie Primm was running card games in Gardena, California. In 1936 he opened the Monterey Club and kept his eye on Las Vegas, where newly-legalized gaming was taking hold in the small town.

He took some of his cash and purchased the old Whiskey Pete’s gas station and sandwich shop for $15,000. The purchase came with 400 acres of dry desert land Ernie thought might be valuable as a casino center some day. But that someday was 20 years away.

Instead of opening something new in the sand outside Vegas, Ernie headed to Reno, where casino owners were doing quite well, thank you. He refurbished a large retail store directly across from Harold’s Club and fought the Reno City Council for two years, demanding that he be allowed to open a casino on the “other side” of the street from the Big Boy’s. Finally, in 1955, his wishes were granted.

Ernie’s Primadonna Club was very popular, competing on an even footing with Harrah’s, Nevada Club, and Harold’s Club for players. The casino ran for nearly twenty years before it was sold to Del Webb and became the Sahara Reno.

Back at the little gas station on Highway 15 (what used to be Highway 91) from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the variously named Whiskey Pete’s/Bordertown gas station and diner got a face-lift. Well, a refurbishing and a facade. A great big one.

Opening in 1978, Whiskey Pete’s had a majestic total of 12 motel rooms for weary travelers and a handful of slot machines plus a blackjack table. Ernie passed away in 1981, but his son, Gary, kept the small casino going and found financing to build the Primadonna casino in 1990.

The resort center added Buffalo Bill’s casino in 1994. Today, Affinity Gaming owns the three-casino resort. Visitors are also attracted to the area by a popular golf course and the Las Vegas Outlet Mall.

Affinity Gaming runs a total of ten casinos in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, and Iowa.

The New Super Easy Aces

The new Super Easy Aces Field trial starts tomorrow at Primm Valley Resort. Game inventor Paul Harry can be seen explaining the exciting game on a feed from the casino featured on KTNV Channel 13 Las Vegas.

In a nutshell, the game is a new table-style offering with a deck of 54 cards. However, the deck consists of just aces, twos, threes, and fours with a couple of jokers. That’s it. Wagering is on a single card dealt to the player (bet on an ace, two, three, or the joker) and a match-bet with the dealer.

The game is fast, easy to play, and a lot of fun to catch some good cards or even a joker for a payoff of 25 to 1. The Dealer Match bet pays 100 to 1.



Legal US Sports Betting


Betting on your favorite team wasn’t legal in Nevada until the 1940s, but you could always find a local bookie who would lay a line for you.

At the Country Club, you could talk to Doc in the bar, any night after 9 pm and get a bet down. Nickle lines were popular, but a dime line (lay $1.10 to win $1.00) was standard. If you were betting a big favorite like the New York Yankees or the San Francisco Seals, you might have to bet more than $2.00 to win $1.00, but that was just to even out the wagers.

Once legalized in Nevada, most casinos offered some type of a book, although it was often one run by Bugsy Siegel and offered just horse racing.

In 1951, the Federal Government implemented a 10% fee on all wagers and Nevada sports books had to be creative to take wagers and make a profit. It was so crazy that in the 1960s there were no sports books in any Las Vegas casinos until Jackie Gaughan opened a book inside his Union Plaza in 1975 when the 10% fee was struck down.

After that, Lefty Rosenthal opened a fancy sports book in the Stardust, where he was running the skim at the casino (as outlined in Vegas and the Mob). The sportsbook was popular but didn’t make enough money to even skim a little, although Lefty allowed friends to make an occasional wager well-after the official start of a game. That, of course, was against the law and against the owner’s wishes, but Lefty didn’t care.

Sports Betting Today

Recently, the US Supreme Court made betting legal nationwide with a 6-3 decision, siding with New Jersey and striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

With the ruling comes a brave new world for illegal bookmakers, and, I suppose, a safer, more profitable one for legal punters. And who will the legal eagles be? Think William Hill and IGT first.

For the past decade, William Hill has handled more than half of the sports wagering in Nevada, the only US state that allowed legal wagering. Following the decision of the Supreme Court (Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association – May 2018), New Jersey legalized gambling on athletic matches based on a previous state ballot. And, William Hill entered agreements to handle sports wagering at Ocean Resort Casino and Monmouth Park Racetrack. More casinos will be added in the future.

As for IGT, the company processed more than $12 billion in wagers last year. Their US sports wagering deals (through their PlayShot system) may be single partnerships with casinos in Delaware, Mississippi, and West Virginia (and perhaps Maryland quite soon), or could be in partnership with William Hill US.

Up in Rhode Island, the lottery department chose IGT to provide the sports betting platform and William Hill to provide the actual sports betting operation and risk management. The partner’s contract is for a five year period and has a mutual-consent option for two more five-year terms.

Several other smaller operators are already in operation in New Jersey. The strongest will survive.

Online Wagers

In New Jersey, DraftKings Sportsbook went live August 1. They were followed by PlayMGM, SugarHouse, FanDuel, and William Hill. Online wagering is likely to be legal. To make your bets, you have to physically visit one of the casinos and sign up.

West Virginia plans to allow online wagering with some restrictions. Time will tell.

Although 20 states tried to push-through sports wagering proposals, only a few were successful. Delaware already had casinos, horse racing, and was ready for sportsbooks. It was not ready for online bets, so search elsewhere.

Unfortunately, your search in Mississippi won’t yield online wagering only. As results are evaluated by states currently on the betting fence, some may be disappointed by overall results.

Sportsbooks don’t exactly make a casino profitable. They only compliment the bottom line with a small and shaky profit compared to slot machines or table games.

Sports wagering profits are made by splitting the majority of wagers along a point spread or movable money line so regardless of who actually wins a sporting event, the bookie holds a small profit (often as low as 2%).

And when will online poker rooms be legal in all states? Soon, I hope.

George’s Gateway Club at Lake Tahoe

This has always been one of my favorite photos of George’s Gateway Club because it sets the time in casino history so well. The cars show their age, and the simple fact that you could park right next to the building is significant to me. The early ’50s presented a simpler way of life – and gaming too. Inside the club, there was one bar, one restaurant, one craps game, one roulette table, five 21 tables, and less than 100 slot machines.

You can probably also see that the building itself is actually a converted Quonset hut. Strangely enough, George Sam Canon, who owned a bar and dance hall in Colfax, California called …(drum roll please) the Quonset Club, decided during the winter of 1948 to dismantle the hut piece by piece, pack it up, and haul it to South Shore Lake Tahoe on a couple flatbed trucks.

He and his partners rebuilt the club with those huge signs proclaiming the casino to be George’s, but he actually only held a 50% interest. Nonetheless, George was certainly the boss. By 1950 the club had 60 employees, including several family members like George’s wife Anna and their daughter, Barbara Anne, who according to friend Steve Passalacqua, actually stripped the bark off the wooden log beams used in the rustic dining room with a draw knife. Although under 21, she also made change for slot players, paid jackpots, worked in the cage, and became a dealer when she did turn 21.

The Gateway was a summer business, but George Canon tried hard to make Lake Tahoe a year-round resort. When he sold the Gateway to Bill Harrah in 1955, he and his partners started the Heavenly Valley ski resort. After selling his share of the business in 1960, George operated George and Tex’s Gateway club in Jackpot, Nevada until it burned. Afterward, it was rebuilt as Diamond Jim’s.

Back at the lake, Bill Harrah also rebuilt, first turning the Gateway into Harrah’s Lake Club before switching sides of the highway with Harvey Gross (Harvey’s Casino) and opening Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – eventually building the high rise hotel in 1973. Lake Tahoe had some of the greatest casinos in Nevada – and they are still going strong!

Thanks for reading – Al W Moe

My Early Poker Games and Chips

I saved my first casino chip in 1978. Although I wasn’t old enough to legally play poker at the Pacheco Inn (now the California Grand), I managed to get away with a few hours of Low ball to start my playing career. I lost.

I didn’t go home completely empty-handed, because, from the $20 in chips that I started with, I still had three $1 chips in the pocket of my jeans as I drove home. I was disappointed since I had a job that paid $2.50 an hour, and a $20 crunch was more than a day’s pay after taxes.

On the other hand, I convinced myself that I had gone through a great learning experience, and decided to keep the chips forever, as a kind of tribute to my first poker game against what I thought were really tough players. After four years playing against my high school buddies who could blame me for being optimistic?

In fact, in the very first game I ever played for money as a freshman in high school, I was ahead almost $5 before by some strange turn of events I started losing hand after hand. By the end of the night my buddy, Barry Wilson, was losing $10. I was stuck $9.20 and had to give a marker to one of the big winners.

It was problematic that the player I gave the marker to was a senior, while I was just a freshman, but the real issue was that I had a crush on his 15-year old sister, Denise. When I scraped up the money, I walked over to their house and rang the doorbell, hoping Steve would answer.

Did he? Of course not. Denise opened the door, looked excited to see me, and then asked why I was there. When I explained that I had to see her brother, she gave me a strange look, called him, and then passed quick judgment on me as I paid Steve and got my marker back.

Denise said anybody that would play poker for money was stupid. Strangely enough, she wasn’t the only one. Denise completely dismissed me after the poker payoff debacle. I was heartbroken but got over it when I started beating the games I was playing in on a regular basis. ‘Twas not the case for my buddy, Barry.

Barry had to take a job at Village Inn Pizza to pay his poker loses at the tender age of 14. Plus, I lost the time we had spent together swimming, shooting pool, and watching him crash his bike, which was a regular occurrence. I will admit that one of the times it was because I threw a pool towel at his head, missed, and it landed in the spokes of his bike.

Immediately after that, the towel stopped his back tire, the bike skidded to a fast stop, and my friend Barry continued on – in the air – until gravity brought him back to earth.

He got up from the asphalt with burns on his arms and knees and never complained, just gave me a grin and pulled the towel out of the spokes and the chain. What a guy! I eventually took to calling him, Wipe-out Wilson. Cooking pizzas was probably a safer experience for him.

I rather enjoyed beating the seniors each week, but eventually, they stopped inviting me. My first barring. A number of casinos in Nevada would later add me to the list of 21 players they barred, but fortunately, they don’t exclude you for being a good poker player, and I’ve been able to supplement my income with poker winnings for the past thirty years.

As for those poker chips I saved from the Pacheco Inn, they were brown with a covered wagon on the inlay. The mold was a Hat & Cane (Christy & Jones Co.), and there was a $1 symbol on them – but no name.

When I made it up to Lake Tahoe in 1978, the first club I collected a chip from was the Park Tahoe. They were gray with a gold hot stamp in the middle with the “Park Tahoe – $1 – Stateline Nevada.”

I was too cheap to save one of the red $5 chips with the coin inlay, but the rim of the $1 chips had four sets of dice and four sets of cards around it – made by the Nevada Dice company. I wrote Nevada’s Golden Age of Gambling after that. It’s about the casinos of Nevada from 1931 to 1981 – Kindle is free for Kindle Unlimited members.

Believe it or not, I still have one of each of those two early examples of now old (obsolete) casinos. That early trip also netted my a few chips from Harrah’s, Harvey’s, and the Sahara Tahoe. Every one of those chips is now worth some money ($5-$20 each), and whenever I saved chips, I saved more than one – and traded them with other collectors. It has been a lot of fun.

Do you remember your first collecting experience?

Thanks for reading – Al W. Moe.


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