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Curly, Razz, Kem Cards & the Mob

Curly, Razz, Kem Cards & the Mob.

After being relieved of duty by Morris Shenker at the Dunes Hotel sometime in 1976, Jimmy Newman, a former Sahara stake holder, made the arrangements to get me a job at the Flamingo Hotel. He was a friend of George Duckworth who was the Casino Manager at the Dunes Hotel. I knew Jimmy from the Sahara and it was my cousin Frank Schivo, who was Milton Prell’s protégé that gave Jimmy a big break in the gambling business. Prell was the mastermind of the Sahara, Lucky Strike, Mint and Alladin Hotels. Schivo worked for Prell in Butte, Montana, wherein Prell had a small jewelry-gift shop in a store front and a small casino in the back. Prell and Schivo came to Las Vegas in 1947 and opened the Club Bingo, where the Sahara would be built after the Club Bingo burned to the ground.

In those days, as today, if there was a problem with an employee the word got around and a “jacket” would be put on that employee. The title “jacket” was basically a “bad rap” or “NG”, meaning “No Good” that indicated the employee was not a good risk for the casino. Word got around quickly about someone’s reputation and if a person had a no-hire indication on him or her, it was virtually almost impossible to get a job.

While I was working at the Flamingo and opportunity to buy into a small bar-tavern in Henderson Nevada call the Drug Store Tavern. I later bought out my partner and applied for a Non-restricted Nevada gaming license and opened two blackjack games, one poker, slots, four pool tables, and a 66 foot long bar. I renamed the place Cowboy Gene’s Casino.

It was a grind and I relaxed all the rules for blackjack players which drew the interest of the local card counters. They played right into my apparent slack blackjack rules. It was exactly what I hoped would happen so the buzz travelled around that Cowboy Gene’s was an easy target. They even had published comments about how “easy” the game was in a local “mailman’s blackjack newsletter. If they only knew the real truth. This strategy worked for me and if I was going to open another casino I would do the same thing, but more of it.

One Saturday I arrived early to do some paperwork, do the hard count and make sure everything was in order for the day and evening shift. In walks Curly, who worked in the Dunes high stakes poker games, who still gambled, drank and chased all night after work. Curly would get busted (loose his money gambling) and stop off at my place for a nightcap or to borrow a “Cecil” or two. A Cecil is gambling slang for a one hundred dollar bill. Curly needed some cash and he knew he could always get a bill from me anytime he asked. It was good business. This method or technique is unheard of in today’s casinos. The owners would not give you the time of the day if you needed a quick bill or two. They would never reach in their pocket but rather give a lame excuse that the Gaming Regulations don’t allow the loaning of money to a player without the proper paper work. That is if you can even find an owner in the casino.

So this Saturday morning, Curly coms in to repay me and also throws a deck of Kem playing cards on the bar top and says,

“See if you can see the marks on these cards!”
Curley knew I like the subject of marked cards and all the other gaffs that existed and he looked at me like he was thinking, [“that dumb mother ****** will never figure out this scam.”]

He was right. I picked up the cards and intensely scanned the backs of each card. I flipped the deck like a cartoon flip book looking for the marks to animate. I saw nothing. I was stumped.

He then says, “What are you looking on the backs?”

I did not understand what the heck he meant. Then I looked on the faces and saw nothing as well until Curley pointed the small scratch lines cut into the hair and face on of all the court cards. The court cards are Jack, Queen and King. If you look at the cards the color and design of the hair on each side of the faces can easily disguise the carefully placed marks.

Curley explained that they were used at the Dunes. This method is extremely dangerous in the game of seven card stud low, also called “razz”. This scam has gone undetected for years in many card rooms. When the person dealing places each card to the players, the index finger of the dealing hand can feel the special markings that have been put on the Kings, Queens and Jacks. The dealer can then signal the value of the player’s hole card. The cards are usually marked with an exacto knife very precisely along the hairlines. The slightest groove will enable the dealer to distinguish whether the card is a big one or a little. There are 12 cards that can be altered which will give the cheat a big advantage.

Curley told me that he worked for Anthony Spilotro and others, taking off many high rollers.