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Once Upon a Time in...

London
Randy Steed
reminisces about a
bygone age
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The Private Gaming
Clubs of Sixties London
T
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.

M
y globe-trotting, gaming career My first Croupier’s job in London was at the
began by faithfully attending Tony legendary sixties, show business hangout,
Black’s Croupier’s school, located a the “Cromwellian Club” in South Kensington
floor above the Mazurka Club on Soho’s which was owned by Tony Mitchell, and the
Denman Street. I had arrived from Florida the remarkable Aussie wrestling promoter; Paul
previous year (1964), to work at my father’s Lincoln, AKA Doctor Death . This was in
electronics business in the Holland Park December of 1965. I felt I finally had the
Mews. The father & son thing soon proved world in my youthful grasp after responding to
untenable and I found myself washing dishes the portentous classified advert in the
and waiting tables in South Kensington which Evening Standard which read “Trainee Dice
barely paid for my four quid a week bed-sitter. Croupiers Urgently needed.” I figured here-I-
About this time I also started working as a go, tuxedos and martinis, shaken-not-stirred;
board-boy, posting the odds as they came I’ll have a bit of that please! Actually, I got
over the wire service from the race tracks. very lucky as Tony Mitchell had walked into
This was for the bookmaker/turf accountants the school one evening and picked me out of
“City Tote Ltd.” located in Shepherd's Market, the class along with two others. I think Tony
just off Curzon Street in Mayfair…ten quid a figured Craps was the American national
week, before taxes! It was challenging to game and my Petrol accent would prove to
learn to deal the games in Pounds & be good for business. He was just re-opening
Shillings, but even more of a challenge to his dice game after the table had been badly
have to revert back to the decimal system scorched by a Molotov cocktail tossed
and dollars & cents upon my reentry to the through the ground floor window one night,
United States in 1968, and employment in which of course landing squarely on the Crap
downtown, Las Vegas where I had to convert layout. Dice tables being in short supply in
all bets back to Pounds and Shillings in my those days he sent it out to be refinished.
head, and then back into dollars & cents just This time the table was securely relocated
to make each payout! upstairs and the windows on the façade of

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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 seven-
eleven 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 ex-
hairdresser 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,

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proficient and best respected dice dealers to come out worked together at the old North Shore Club in Lake
of the Steu-benville, Ohio casinos of the forties and Tahoe in the early seventies). Anyway, back to London.
fifties. They were to go on to operate dealers’ schools Previous to Steve Rutland acquiring the Cromwell Mint
in Las Vegas and New York as well as casinos in property it had been controlled by a motley crew of
Amsterdam and Yugoslavia till the Balkan wars broke villains and minor professional wrestlers; mostly strong-
out 1991. The extremely well trained croupier/dealers arm men of Polish extraction who worked for the
they turned out either went to work in Dino Cellini’s, notorious London slum landlord, Peter Rachman. They
posh Colony Club on Berkley Square, where the had successfully intimidated a young man by the name
American actor George Raft was installed as a Casino of John Billings out of the operation. First someone
Director, or to the Bahamas to work either at the 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
Paradise Island Casino in Nassau or the Lucayan make a success of himself in the jeans business. I
Beach Casino in Freeport, Grand Bahamas What doubt John could have been more than twenty-two or
sticks most in mind was the huge Double-End, New twenty three years old at the time.
York Style crap table that dominated one entire alcove The casino floundered through 1967 and 1968 till
on the school’s floor. These huge tables with their 5% Steve Rutland cut his deal. A humourous (in retrospect)
side note to Steve’s foray into casino owner-ship was

It was controlled by a when his first casino, located in Brighton, literally

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

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collapsed one day into a pile of dust and rubble, seems fate would have it Marvin nailed a full house on this first
the timbers propping up the building’s exterior walls and only hand to out-draw the rest of the table. He
could have borne a bit more scrutiny. I believe Mike gave it a brief moment’s thought and gathered his
Conti was the manager at the time. I was later to work winning chips into his arms (yes his arms, these were
with Mike in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the early eighties; French style jettons’ which were rather slippery and
first at Mike McLaney’s, Royal Haitian Hotel, and later unwieldy) and calmly but wobbly made his way to the
the historical, and exquisitely decadent, Habitation cashier’s cage. There was dead silence in the room as
Lerclerc, owned by famed American choreographer the faces’ at the poker table stared in amazed disbelief
Katherine Dunham. at their easy-money walking away…not a word was
For me, at my then formative age, the Cromwellian said, just stunned silence.
Club proved to be an exciting and rewarding intro to After a year and half at the Cromwellian Club Tony
the business; I was now able to afford the luxury of a Mitchell sold his partnership to the wrestlers and I
seven Guinea bed-sit on Hounslow Square. The
Cromwellian had only five tables, but possessed a
faded, hip elegance which attracted the show business From my first night
and rock star elite of those times; on any given night
you’d be dealing across the tables to the likes’ of Brian working at the ‘Apron
Epstein; the Beatles first manager, and numerous other
luminaries of the exploding sixties, music scene. Stars Strings’ I felt a
such as Tom Jones, Lulu, and Eric Burden of the
Animals, and Jonathan King were regulars and could decidedly chill
be found hanging out downstairs most nights, in the
restaurant-disco where the Long John Baldry Band, reception from my
featuring Reginald Dwight aka Elton John on keyboards
held sway. One memorable night the American film fellow American
actor, Lee Marvin wandered, more like staggered into
the club (Marvin being so tall and gangly they had to dealers working there
unfold him out of the back of a mini-van) and started
at the time.
Katherine Donham 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 shoe-
horn in a two-man-tub crap table or have no game at
all. In later years I would take my London experience
playing Pontoon (a distinctly Brit version of Black Jack with these one & two-man-tub crap tables at the Earls
where the house took the pushes, égaletes’, stand-offs Court Card Club and the Villa on Bayswater Road and
with two aces beating a black jack which paid only design a similar but updated layout for use on
even-money). Mr. Marvin kept writing checks on his Norwegian Cruise Line’s smaller ships. This layout, first
Beverly Hills Bank till he finally wised-up and unsteadily manufactured by Paulson Dice & Card Company of Las
navigated his way to the poker game (this was the old Vegas is now the standard one or two man dice layout
London five-card-stud game played with a stripped, 32 offered by the major casino supply companies. I must
card deck that was de rigueur in those days.) This remember to copyright my creative efforts in the future.
particular game attracted many of London’s better From my first night working at the Apron Strings’ I felt
behaved villains who were quite happy to have this a decidedly chill reception from my fellow American
inebriated American actor sit down at their table. As dealers working there at the time. Apparently one of

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their colleagues had just been fired and I was the new
unknown kid brought in to fill his spot. I was paid five
When I enquired of
pounds a night (once again tax free) and 5% of the
net-win each week. This was very significant money to
my fellow crap crew,
me in those early years. It soon became painfully
apparent why there was never any 5% waiting in an
why it was so quiet
envelope for me at the end of the week. The American
dealers had done everything but back a truck up to the
in the joint they all
tables in their effort to part the club from it’s bankroll;
they succeeded. I was so young and green at the time
went shsssh - It’s the
that it caused me a bit of concern to realise this sort of
thing went on to any degree. I thought everyone must
Twins!
be as thrilled, excited and privileged as I was to be in most small London clubs in those days was that many
this incredible business. That illusion soon went the venues had different persons or small syndicates
way of the wind. The unregulated, wide-open sixties booking the action on different games. In essence you
era of British casino gaming had begun with the could be working in a small club with one party
determined and beleaguered British casino pioneer, booking the Craps action, someone else the Roulette,
John Aspinal, thumbing his nose at the government’s Black Jack and so on, always interesting, and never
stance in 1960 or 1961 that casino gambling was boring. The other facet that I liked the most was that a
unquestionably illegal. The government had tried to dealer was paid directly proportionate to his or hers
prosecute Mr. Aspinal for operating private Chemin de value to the casino operator. As these were very small
Fer games in private residences scattered about the venues, usually opening at eight or nine in the evening
posher neighborhoods of London. The government’s and closing when the last punter went home (or the
case was based on antiquated laws and statutes point-of-diminishing returns had obviously been
dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth century’s. reached) in the early morning hours, it was imperative
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 ‘The Twins’:
be left in place till the result of the next spin.) Dino Ronnie &
Cellini’s Colony Club even went so far as to leave the Reggie Kray
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 to get as many rolls, spins, or cards dealt as possible.
push/standoff/égaletes. Needless to say game protection was paramount and
Of course these counter-measures were only a quickly acquired in day-to-day dealing to this cagey,
stopgap to the inevitable. All casinos in the U.K. colourful player base. One night as I walked in through
supposedly ceased operation in 1969 while the the Mazurka’s armored-plated door to begin another
regulatory licensing process of the 1968 Gaming Act night’s work there was a palpable silence pervading
was put into effect. Sadly only a select few of these the room. I glanced over at the poker table where
pre-regulatory casinos, such as the Cromwell Mint, Pepe was sitting quietly ensconced with two young
Victoria Sporting Club, and John Aspinal’s, esteemed gentlemen who looked to me like Americans, complete
Clermont Club were to survive the government’s with dark suits, white shirts, thin ties, and short dark
transition to over regulated, exorbitantly taxed, casino hair. Seemed a bit odd that a couple Yanks would
gaming in 1971. come into the Mazurka. When I enquired of my fellow
My next job was back at Pepe’s Mazurka club in crap dealers (probably a bit to loudly) as to why it was
Soho. I worked there for a young Italian gentleman so quite in the joint they all went shisssssh at once -
named Nino. A facet of the Mazurka Club common to “It’s the twins!

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They regaled me with without noticeable wear-or-tear. We had a nice young
lady dealing Black Jack for us who’s American
gruesome tales of his boyfriend, (I’ll conveniently forget his name) operated a
dice game on the Finchley Road at the pine paneled El

breaking a Sea Toro Club as well as being a partner at the Mint on the
Kilburn Road who we figured should have an abundant

Captain’s knee caps supply of extra dice. We asked her to ask him if we
could purchase three sets to tide us over. This young

with a tire-iron.
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 boxmans-
“So, this was the infamous Kray Twins; Ronnie & caliber-spin between thumb and forefinger they
Reggie of East London gangland lore, come to pay a wobbled in a decidedly portentous manner. Upon
social visit…or least it appeared to be social as they examination these dice proved to be not only shapes
left quietly without incident, so I can only surmise they (convex or concave, I can’t remember) but loaded as
had dropped by to pay their respects to Pepe. well. They would sort of wobble side-to-side as they
Another eventful night at the Mazurka came after rolled down the table before flopping over in their
having been recently been promoted to the position of predetermined resting place. I was still very
“Boxman”. This time I getting paid the princely sum of inexperienced and not quite sure of the diplomatic,
seven Pounds a night and the usual 5% percent of the professional way to handle this situation. In retrospect
week’s win. I had tried to stop an angry, disgruntled it was more like self-preservation. If I showed Nino and
punter from leaning over the table to grab the base- Pepe the dice there would most certainly be a
dealer’s working stack of five-pound chips. As I confrontation with the American casino operator. To
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
John Lennon,
with gruesome tales of his breaking a Sea Captain’s Georgie Fame &
knee caps with a tire-iron. I got home Ok that night but Paul McCartney at
upon my return to work the next day I walked down the The Cromwellian
hall (outside the armored-plated front door) to use the Club in 1967
tiny men’s room and lo-and-behold who should be
standing at the urinal but good ol’ Mad Tony! Before I make matters worse Nino had been playing in this
could execute a fast about-face, Tony turned, faced fellows club a couple nights previously and had lost
me, smiled and held out his hand to shake, “Sorry heavily. This was not getting any easier. Giving the
mate for last night!” Apparently Pepe had, had a word girlfriend the benefit of the doubt as I thought there
with Mad Tony’s minders and he’d been told to come in might be a chance she had nicked the three sets from
and apologise. Always a relief not to meet an inglorious his dresser drawer to make few extra quid, I confronted
end in a toilette somewhere. her with the situation at which point she promptly broke
As the popularity of the crap game at the Mazurka into tears and said she had absolutely no idea they
gained momentum we had the need to purchase more were dodgy dice and she had just taken what was
dice as ours were getting a bit beat up in the daily taxi given to her to deliver. I decided (poorly in retrospect)
driver grind play. Oddly enough we could never put a to keep my mouth shut and stash the dice in my car
nick in dice we later got hold of from the Wagon Wheel thing till things blew over, but several days later upon
casino in South Lake Tahoe. They lasted for weeks returning to my usual parking spot in the back streets

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of Soho I discovered that my old Mini had been broken to go home each night till every shilling had been
into and only the dice were missing, even my passport accounted for. I recall Kouras throwing an empty drop-
was left untouched. There was one very blond hair box across the room at one on the young lady dealers
stuck in the frame of the rear view mirror -- the he was displeased with. Scenes like that were nightly
American casino operator in question was very blond. I occurrences at the Villa so I moved on to my final
never did mention this incident to Pepe or Nino as London job at my home-away-from-home the Forty-
there would have been severe consequences for all Five. Sadly the Mint lost it’s following by this time and
concerned…matters such as this were settled of court despite being given a hefty cut of the action; 10% of
in those days. nothing is still nothing. After weighing up my declining
As twilight loomed over employment prospects in the prospects as well as the rapidly diminishing bankroll in
waning days of 1968 I managed to make ends meet by the ol’ skyrocket, reluctantly, after four grand,
working an lacklustre few weeks at the Lions Corner adventure filled years I boarded Icelandic Air for the
House Casino in Piccadilly owned by Fritz Demetrious long propeller driven flight back to the U.S.A. and
of Bays water’s, Olympic Casino and then a more Downtown Vegas; that’s another story. CL
memorable few weeks for a demonically tempered
Persian named Kouras who operated the Villa on Published with kind permission of Randy Steed - this feature first
Bayswater Road. Kouras would not permit the Dealers appeared on the website www.scarabcasinomanagement.com

Footnotes,
trivia, and
recollections

A
s noted the first Roulette games to open in game. Fitting revenge for those break-in dealers
London in the early sixties were the sent on the long quest down Fremont Street by
traditional French tables with two croupiers these same smug fellows to fetch the infamous
seated either side of the wheel, alternating spins, Wheel-Crank.
with another Croupier (usually the apprentice- Plastic Black Jack shoes had not yet come into use
trainee) seated at the bottom of the table with a at this time so beautifully crafted, wooden Chemmy
short rake to facilitate the payouts and to help the (Chemin-de-fer) or Baccarat Shoes were usually
punters place their bets. Given the four man crew utilized on Black Jack games. Plastic cut cards had
and an Inspector, these large tables were certainly also not come into use as yet so a Joker was
not cost effective to operate in small clubs. The usually reversed in the four-deck shoe to signify the
hardened American casino professionals who had end of the shoe was approaching.
recently come to town were quick to reinvent-the- When I first arrived in Las Vegas in the autumn of
wheel by placing the obligatory, single-zero French 1968 the only Nevada casino using Black Jack
wheels on American tables. This hybrid innovation shoes was the Stardust. The dealers were obviously
has obviously become the standard in most of the not pleased with this recent turn-of-events. One
world where single-zero, British Roulette holds heavyset, comical dealer would tuck the shoe under
reign. It’s perversely amusing to witness a self- in his armpit and deal it like a hand-held, single-
assured American casino supervisor employed deck, good for a few laughs at the time. According
abroad for the first time (Istanbul comes to mind) to a conversation I had in later years with Eddie
deal with the barrage of call bets such the Voisins Cellini in El Salvador where he now operates the
du zero, Orphelins en plein, and Finales a cheval very successful Bingo Club, he stated they had first
etc. as-well-as the skyscraper bets that a 2.78% introduced Puento Banco or Baccarat shoes onto
(2.63 with En-Prison) game engenders, rather than the Blackjack tables of Havana in the late forties to
the understandably, underplayed 5.56% American bring the Cuban dealers under a bit of restraint.

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