Randy Steed reminisces about a bygone age

Once Upon a Time in...


The Private Gaming Clubs of Sixties London


his is quite simply one man’s memories and recollections of a special time and place; the London casino experience of the 1960’s. For many of us, the nascent casino scene of Swinging London’s rambunctious, British rock era was our formative years, both in life and in this new and exciting industry in which we found ourselves totally and willingly immersed. As we all, myself included, tend to have selective memories as the years roll on, I wholeheartedly and without trepidation invite comments, corrections, further insight and constructive input. This colorful and eventful decade certainly deserves to be suitably documented by those of us who were there. My own experiences took place primarily in the smaller, grass roots casinos, which in the States in those days would have been referred to as “sawdust joints” as opposed to “carpet joints.” The exalted environs of John Aspinal’s Clermont Club, Quent’s, Crockford’s and The Pair-of-Shoes (which actually had an oversize pair of dice painted of the roof for easy viewing from the hotel rooms of the adjacent Hilton Hotel) were way beyond the aspirations of a eighteen-year-old, break-in croupier, feeling his way into this new and exciting industry. That being the historical case I leave the posher aspects of London’s rich contemporary casino history to others.
My first Croupier’s job in London was at the legendary sixties, show business hangout, the “Cromwellian Club” in South Kensington which was owned by Tony Mitchell, and the remarkable Aussie wrestling promoter; Paul Lincoln, AKA Doctor Death . This was in December of 1965. I felt I finally had the world in my youthful grasp after responding to the portentous classified advert in the Evening Standard which read “Trainee Dice Croupiers Urgently needed.” I figured here-Igo, tuxedos and martinis, shaken-not-stirred; I’ll have a bit of that please! Actually, I got very lucky as Tony Mitchell had walked into the school one evening and picked me out of the class along with two others. I think Tony figured Craps was the American national game and my Petrol accent would prove to be good for business. He was just re-opening his dice game after the table had been badly scorched by a Molotov cocktail tossed through the ground floor window one night, which of course landing squarely on the Crap layout. Dice tables being in short supply in those days he sent it out to be refinished. This time the table was securely relocated upstairs and the windows on the façade of

y globe-trotting, gaming career began by faithfully attending Tony Black’s Croupier’s school, located a floor above the Mazurka Club on Soho’s Denman Street. I had arrived from Florida the previous year (1964), to work at my father’s electronics business in the Holland Park Mews. The father & son thing soon proved untenable and I found myself washing dishes and waiting tables in South Kensington which barely paid for my four quid a week bed-sitter. About this time I also started working as a board-boy, posting the odds as they came over the wire service from the race tracks. This was for the bookmaker/turf accountants “City Tote Ltd.” located in Shepherd's Market, just off Curzon Street in Mayfair…ten quid a week, before taxes! It was challenging to learn to deal the games in Pounds & Shillings, but even more of a challenge to have to revert back to the decimal system and dollars & cents upon my reentry to the United States in 1968, and employment in downtown, Las Vegas where I had to convert all bets back to Pounds and Shillings in my head, and then back into dollars & cents just to make each payout!




Tony figured Craps was the American national game and my Petrol Accent would be good for business
the building were barricaded with iron security grates. At the time Tony recruited me I’d only been attending the dealer’s school for two weeks and didn’t know much more than a bit of chip-handling and that seveneleven was a natural and two, three, and twelve were craps. The rest came from prowling the West End gambling joints such as Charley Chester’s in Soho, and the Mint on Kilburn Road most nights after work; picking up as much as possible of the better moves from many of the extremely skilled dice dealers that were working around town in those days. The 45, later to be known by it’s official name as the Cromwell Mint was the Croupiers hangout of choice in those heady days. The name “45” still sticks as an icon among veterans of the sixties casino scene. Eventually in late 1968 the 45 would be my final London casino job prior to returning to the United States and employment in Downtown, Las Vegas. The original Cromwell Mint

Cromwell Mint was the Croupiers hangout of choice in those heady days of swinging London
Casino was located in the basement. In subsequent years it would expand upstairs into the noted venue it was to become during the 1970s under the entrepreneurial stewardship of Stevie Rutland, an exhairdresser who had famously squirreled away every dollar he made while working as a dealer for Eddie Cellini in the Bahamian casinos. Eddie, along with his older brother Dino was Meyer Lansky's casino management of choice. The Cellini’s in conjunction with the Ayub Brothers maintained a Croupiers school in London, located in Hanover Square at Fred Selby’s restaurant. Bobby and Freddy Ayub were of Lebanese - American decent and probably the two most
Regular luminaries at The Cromwellian Club:From the top: Brian Epstein, Eric Burden, Lulu, Long John Baldry,



proficient and best respected dice dealers to come out of the Steu-benville, Ohio casinos of the forties and fifties. They were to go on to operate dealers’ schools in Las Vegas and New York as well as casinos in Amsterdam and Yugoslavia till the Balkan wars broke out 1991. The extremely well trained croupier/dealers they turned out either went to work in Dino Cellini’s, posh Colony Club on Berkley Square, where the American actor George Raft was installed as a Casino Director, or to the Bahamas to work either at the

worked together at the old North Shore Club in Lake Tahoe in the early seventies). Anyway, back to London. Previous to Steve Rutland acquiring the Cromwell Mint property it had been controlled by a motley crew of villains and minor professional wrestlers; mostly strongarm men of Polish extraction who worked for the notorious London slum landlord, Peter Rachman. They had successfully intimidated a young man by the name of John Billings out of the operation. First someone slashed the convertible top on John’s cherished Aston Martin, then sadly one night an altercation was instigated at the crap table where John was sitting box.

George Raft

Being so tall, they had to unfold him out of the back of a mini van
The East-End muscle that had been playing next to me barged around behind the table and beat John quiet badly…not pretty. I’d had words with this fellow a few minutes previously but nothing came of it. In retrospect (and fortunately for me) he was obviously on a mission. We didn’t see much of John around the club after that. I know we were all embarrassed for John as he was a well liked, obviously intelligent young gentleman. I learned in later years that he went on to make a success of himself in the jeans business. I doubt John could have been more than twenty-two or twenty three years old at the time. The casino floundered through 1967 and 1968 till Steve Rutland cut his deal. A humourous (in retrospect) side note to Steve’s foray into casino owner-ship was when his first casino, located in Brighton, literally

Paradise Island Casino in Nassau or the Lucayan Beach Casino in Freeport, Grand Bahamas What sticks most in mind was the huge Double-End, New York Style crap table that dominated one entire alcove on the school’s floor. These huge tables with their 5%

It was controlled by a motley crew of London gangsters and minor professional wrestlers
vig on the buy-bets (no place bets, no come line) with the two base dealers positioned at opposite ends of the table, along with a taunt string stretched across the middle of the layout which the dice had to cross to be called a roll, had their final hurrah in mid-eighties Nassau when Tommy Robinson; the American Casino Manager at the Playboy Club convinced the Bahamian Gaming Commission to bow to the new East Coast competition and introduce Vegas Crap Layouts. The Paradise Island casino at the time was under the management of another American Casino Manager; Dennis O’Brian who soon followed suit (Tommy and Dennis were actually friends and colleagues’, having



collapsed one day into a pile of dust and rubble, seems the timbers propping up the building’s exterior walls could have borne a bit more scrutiny. I believe Mike Conti was the manager at the time. I was later to work with Mike in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the early eighties; first at Mike McLaney’s, Royal Haitian Hotel, and later the historical, and exquisitely decadent, Habitation Lerclerc, owned by famed American choreographer Katherine Dunham. For me, at my then formative age, the Cromwellian Club proved to be an exciting and rewarding intro to the business; I was now able to afford the luxury of a seven Guinea bed-sit on Hounslow Square. The Cromwellian had only five tables, but possessed a faded, hip elegance which attracted the show business and rock star elite of those times; on any given night you’d be dealing across the tables to the likes’ of Brian Epstein; the Beatles first manager, and numerous other luminaries of the exploding sixties, music scene. Stars such as Tom Jones, Lulu, and Eric Burden of the Animals, and Jonathan King were regulars and could be found hanging out downstairs most nights, in the restaurant-disco where the Long John Baldry Band, featuring Reginald Dwight aka Elton John on keyboards held sway. One memorable night the American film actor, Lee Marvin wandered, more like staggered into the club (Marvin being so tall and gangly they had to unfold him out of the back of a mini-van) and started

fate would have it Marvin nailed a full house on this first and only hand to out-draw the rest of the table. He gave it a brief moment’s thought and gathered his winning chips into his arms (yes his arms, these were French style jettons’ which were rather slippery and unwieldy) and calmly but wobbly made his way to the cashier’s cage. There was dead silence in the room as the faces’ at the poker table stared in amazed disbelief at their easy-money walking away…not a word was said, just stunned silence. After a year and half at the Cromwellian Club Tony Mitchell sold his partnership to the wrestlers and I

From my first night working at the ‘Apron Strings’ I felt a decidedly chill reception from my fellow American dealers working there at the time.
moved on to his close friend’s New Apron Strings Club on the Fulham Road. I remember blowing off a few hundred quid from the float while undergoing my audition on the lovely old French “Caro” wheel. (It should be noted as a matter of historical record that the first Roulette tables to operate in sixties-London were the traditional French games, complete with four man crew.) The Apron String’s was a favoured haunt of young British nobility and their ladies. There was just barely room enough on the ground flood for one British/American Roulette and a Crap table. Downstairs we had two, maybe three Black Jacks, and a French Roulette table. Two complimentary Backgammon tables were also provided for the enjoyment of members and guests. You could have easily squeezed this entire club into a four-car garage. I do remember one smaller venue on Mayfair’s Curzon Street that was so excruciatingly tiny they had to shoehorn in a two-man-tub crap table or have no game at all. In later years I would take my London experience with these one & two-man-tub crap tables at the Earls Court Card Club and the Villa on Bayswater Road and design a similar but updated layout for use on Norwegian Cruise Line’s smaller ships. This layout, first manufactured by Paulson Dice & Card Company of Las Vegas is now the standard one or two man dice layout offered by the major casino supply companies. I must remember to copyright my creative efforts in the future. From my first night working at the Apron Strings’ I felt a decidedly chill reception from my fellow American dealers working there at the time. Apparently one of

Katherine Donham

playing Pontoon (a distinctly Brit version of Black Jack where the house took the pushes, égaletes’, stand-offs with two aces beating a black jack which paid only even-money). Mr. Marvin kept writing checks on his Beverly Hills Bank till he finally wised-up and unsteadily navigated his way to the poker game (this was the old London five-card-stud game played with a stripped, 32 card deck that was de rigueur in those days.) This particular game attracted many of London’s better behaved villains who were quite happy to have this inebriated American actor sit down at their table. As



their colleagues had just been fired and I was the new unknown kid brought in to fill his spot. I was paid five pounds a night (once again tax free) and 5% of the net-win each week. This was very significant money to me in those early years. It soon became painfully apparent why there was never any 5% waiting in an envelope for me at the end of the week. The American dealers had done everything but back a truck up to the tables in their effort to part the club from it’s bankroll; they succeeded. I was so young and green at the time that it caused me a bit of concern to realise this sort of thing went on to any degree. I thought everyone must be as thrilled, excited and privileged as I was to be in this incredible business. That illusion soon went the way of the wind. The unregulated, wide-open sixties era of British casino gaming had begun with the determined and beleaguered British casino pioneer, John Aspinal, thumbing his nose at the government’s stance in 1960 or 1961 that casino gambling was unquestionably illegal. The government had tried to prosecute Mr. Aspinal for operating private Chemin de Fer games in private residences scattered about the posher neighborhoods of London. The government’s case was based on antiquated laws and statutes dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth century’s. Needless to say Mr. Aspinal’s Barrister’s made a mockery of the government’s case. The situation remained in legal-Limbo for most of the 1960’s as various test cases slowly wound their tedious way through the ponderous British legal system. With the establishment of the rather eccentric 1968 Gaming Act the writing was on the wall for all to see that the golden era of unregulated casino gaming as we knew it was rapidly approaching an inglorious end. Many nights we would be visited by Scotland Yard’s plain clothes officers’. These gentlemen were well known, especially as many of them had been regular punters, so we would change the rules accordingly upon their arrival and revert back to standard operating procedure as soon as they exited the establishment. The zero on the Roulette wheels was often replaced with a labouredly hand-painted “R” to denote re-spin (all wagers would be left in place till the result of the next spin.) Dino Cellini’s Colony Club even went so far as to leave the busted hands uncollected on their Black Jack games till it was determined if the dealer subsequently busted or not, in which case the punter was rewarded with a push/standoff/égaletes. Of course these counter-measures were only a stopgap to the inevitable. All casinos in the U.K. supposedly ceased operation in 1969 while the regulatory licensing process of the 1968 Gaming Act was put into effect. Sadly only a select few of these pre-regulatory casinos, such as the Cromwell Mint, Victoria Sporting Club, and John Aspinal’s, esteemed Clermont Club were to survive the government’s transition to over regulated, exorbitantly taxed, casino gaming in 1971. My next job was back at Pepe’s Mazurka club in Soho. I worked there for a young Italian gentleman named Nino. A facet of the Mazurka Club common to

When I enquired of my fellow crap crew, why it was so quiet in the joint they all went shsssh - It’s the Twins!
most small London clubs in those days was that many venues had different persons or small syndicates booking the action on different games. In essence you could be working in a small club with one party booking the Craps action, someone else the Roulette, Black Jack and so on, always interesting, and never boring. The other facet that I liked the most was that a dealer was paid directly proportionate to his or hers value to the casino operator. As these were very small venues, usually opening at eight or nine in the evening and closing when the last punter went home (or the point-of-diminishing returns had obviously been reached) in the early morning hours, it was imperative

‘The Twins’: Ronnie & Reggie Kray

to get as many rolls, spins, or cards dealt as possible. Needless to say game protection was paramount and quickly acquired in day-to-day dealing to this cagey, colourful player base. One night as I walked in through the Mazurka’s armored-plated door to begin another night’s work there was a palpable silence pervading the room. I glanced over at the poker table where Pepe was sitting quietly ensconced with two young gentlemen who looked to me like Americans, complete with dark suits, white shirts, thin ties, and short dark hair. Seemed a bit odd that a couple Yanks would come into the Mazurka. When I enquired of my fellow crap dealers (probably a bit to loudly) as to why it was so quite in the joint they all went shisssssh at once “It’s the twins!



They regaled me with gruesome tales of his breaking a Sea Captain’s knee caps with a tire-iron.
“So, this was the infamous Kray Twins; Ronnie & Reggie of East London gangland lore, come to pay a social visit…or least it appeared to be social as they left quietly without incident, so I can only surmise they had dropped by to pay their respects to Pepe. Another eventful night at the Mazurka came after having been recently been promoted to the position of “Boxman”. This time I getting paid the princely sum of seven Pounds a night and the usual 5% percent of the week’s win. I had tried to stop an angry, disgruntled punter from leaning over the table to grab the basedealer’s working stack of five-pound chips. As I grasped his outstretched hand, his other hand came around, swiping neatly across the bridge of my nose, just barely slicing it with his fingernails. He then agilely leaped up upon the table and stood there trying to kick me in the face. As I was tangled up in the box man’s chair between the table and the wall all I could do was try to beat him off with the proverbial stick. He then he tumbled back off the table, grabbed a poker chair and started to come after me as I was still tying to extricate myself from said table, chair and wall. Fortunately (and I’m forever grateful) one of the Italians had the nerve to grab the chair from behind this villain as he raised it over his head to bash in my noggin. As this lovely fellow was being wrestled out the door, which he then proceeded to keep pounding on with his head…,remember this was an armor plated door, I was hidden away for the rest of the evening in the kitchen where the staff solemnly informed me I had crossed swords (sticks) with Mad Tony! Apparently Mad Tony was certifiably and sadistically mad. They regaled me with gruesome tales of his breaking a Sea Captain’s knee caps with a tire-iron. I got home Ok that night but upon my return to work the next day I walked down the hall (outside the armored-plated front door) to use the tiny men’s room and lo-and-behold who should be standing at the urinal but good ol’ Mad Tony! Before I could execute a fast about-face, Tony turned, faced me, smiled and held out his hand to shake, “Sorry mate for last night!” Apparently Pepe had, had a word with Mad Tony’s minders and he’d been told to come in and apologise. Always a relief not to meet an inglorious end in a toilette somewhere. As the popularity of the crap game at the Mazurka gained momentum we had the need to purchase more dice as ours were getting a bit beat up in the daily taxi driver grind play. Oddly enough we could never put a nick in dice we later got hold of from the Wagon Wheel casino in South Lake Tahoe. They lasted for weeks

without noticeable wear-or-tear. We had a nice young lady dealing Black Jack for us who’s American boyfriend, (I’ll conveniently forget his name) operated a dice game on the Finchley Road at the pine paneled El Toro Club as well as being a partner at the Mint on the Kilburn Road who we figured should have an abundant supply of extra dice. We asked her to ask him if we could purchase three sets to tide us over. This young lady promptly came into work the next night and handed me three sets of nice new dice. The only problem was when I did the time-honored boxmanscaliber-spin between thumb and forefinger they wobbled in a decidedly portentous manner. Upon examination these dice proved to be not only shapes (convex or concave, I can’t remember) but loaded as well. They would sort of wobble side-to-side as they rolled down the table before flopping over in their predetermined resting place. I was still very inexperienced and not quite sure of the diplomatic, professional way to handle this situation. In retrospect it was more like self-preservation. If I showed Nino and Pepe the dice there would most certainly be a confrontation with the American casino operator. To

John Lennon, Georgie Fame & Paul McCartney at The Cromwellian Club in 1967

make matters worse Nino had been playing in this fellows club a couple nights previously and had lost heavily. This was not getting any easier. Giving the girlfriend the benefit of the doubt as I thought there might be a chance she had nicked the three sets from his dresser drawer to make few extra quid, I confronted her with the situation at which point she promptly broke into tears and said she had absolutely no idea they were dodgy dice and she had just taken what was given to her to deliver. I decided (poorly in retrospect) to keep my mouth shut and stash the dice in my car thing till things blew over, but several days later upon returning to my usual parking spot in the back streets



of Soho I discovered that my old Mini had been broken into and only the dice were missing, even my passport was left untouched. There was one very blond hair stuck in the frame of the rear view mirror -- the American casino operator in question was very blond. I never did mention this incident to Pepe or Nino as there would have been severe consequences for all concerned…matters such as this were settled of court in those days. As twilight loomed over employment prospects in the waning days of 1968 I managed to make ends meet by working an lacklustre few weeks at the Lions Corner House Casino in Piccadilly owned by Fritz Demetrious of Bays water’s, Olympic Casino and then a more memorable few weeks for a demonically tempered Persian named Kouras who operated the Villa on Bayswater Road. Kouras would not permit the Dealers

to go home each night till every shilling had been accounted for. I recall Kouras throwing an empty dropbox across the room at one on the young lady dealers he was displeased with. Scenes like that were nightly occurrences at the Villa so I moved on to my final London job at my home-away-from-home the FortyFive. Sadly the Mint lost it’s following by this time and despite being given a hefty cut of the action; 10% of nothing is still nothing. After weighing up my declining prospects as well as the rapidly diminishing bankroll in the ol’ skyrocket, reluctantly, after four grand, adventure filled years I boarded Icelandic Air for the long propeller driven flight back to the U.S.A. and Downtown Vegas; that’s another story. CL
Published with kind permission of Randy Steed - this feature first appeared on the website www.scarabcasinomanagement.com

Footnotes, trivia, and recollections
s noted the first Roulette games to open in London in the early sixties were the traditional French tables with two croupiers seated either side of the wheel, alternating spins, with another Croupier (usually the apprenticetrainee) seated at the bottom of the table with a short rake to facilitate the payouts and to help the punters place their bets. Given the four man crew and an Inspector, these large tables were certainly not cost effective to operate in small clubs. The hardened American casino professionals who had recently come to town were quick to reinvent-thewheel by placing the obligatory, single-zero French wheels on American tables. This hybrid innovation has obviously become the standard in most of the world where single-zero, British Roulette holds reign. It’s perversely amusing to witness a selfassured American casino supervisor employed abroad for the first time (Istanbul comes to mind) deal with the barrage of call bets such the Voisins du zero, Orphelins en plein, and Finales a cheval etc. as-well-as the skyscraper bets that a 2.78% (2.63 with En-Prison) game engenders, rather than the understandably, underplayed 5.56% American


game. Fitting revenge for those break-in dealers sent on the long quest down Fremont Street by these same smug fellows to fetch the infamous Wheel-Crank. Plastic Black Jack shoes had not yet come into use at this time so beautifully crafted, wooden Chemmy (Chemin-de-fer) or Baccarat Shoes were usually utilized on Black Jack games. Plastic cut cards had also not come into use as yet so a Joker was usually reversed in the four-deck shoe to signify the end of the shoe was approaching. When I first arrived in Las Vegas in the autumn of 1968 the only Nevada casino using Black Jack shoes was the Stardust. The dealers were obviously not pleased with this recent turn-of-events. One heavyset, comical dealer would tuck the shoe under in his armpit and deal it like a hand-held, singledeck, good for a few laughs at the time. According to a conversation I had in later years with Eddie Cellini in El Salvador where he now operates the very successful Bingo Club, he stated they had first introduced Puento Banco or Baccarat shoes onto the Blackjack tables of Havana in the late forties to bring the Cuban dealers under a bit of restraint.