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Swanky Miami Casino-Fortress

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Although gambling was illegal in Miami, Florida, in the 1940s, one lavish casino operated there for five years with the blessing of the local sheriff.

Club 86, on Biscayne Boulevard, which belonged to local mobsters, the S&G Syndicate, was noteworthy for its lavishness and security features.

Here’s how a United Press reporter described it:

“. . .luxurious furnishings, secret rooms, armor-plated walls, bulletproof glass and concealed catwalks for machine gun-toting guards like something out of Hollywood. In the main gaming room, well-heeled customers and visiting mobsters walked on a huge carpet costing $15,000 [$148,000 today]. They stood beneath 11 handmade Cuban light fixtures and dropped $500 and $1,000 bills at any one of six roulette wheels, three crap tables, one chemin de fer* layout and a chuck-a-luck** setup.

“If the law got curious, two panels swung out from the main room to allow the gambling equipment to be pushed into a storage room — all in a matter of seconds. When the ‘heat’ was on, the 30 x 60-foot main room was kept vacant but favored customers gained admission to a secret ‘sneak room’ for a session with chips marked up to $2,500.

“The club, built during the 1945 period of wartime shortages, was designed to prevent a sudden invasion of stickup men looking for easy loot. Behind the walls of the gaming rooms were catwalks where armed guards watched the proceedings below them through slatted ventilators. They were locked in the galleries behind a door of steel that had a peephole of bulletproof glass.

“At their elbows were switches that controlled six warning lights used for flashing code signals to croupiers, stickmen and laddermen in the room below. Everything was arranged to prevent a repetition of the famous 1932 holdup of the Embassy Club when bandits, customers and employees alike were shot down by trigger-happy guards standing on a trellised catwalk” (Nevada State Journal, Oct. 26, 1950).


*Chemin de fer is a French card game.
**Chuck-a-luck is a carnival-type game played with three dice and a cage.


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