Anthony Cornero

Anthony Cornero

Anthony "Admiral" Cornero (August 18, 1899-July 31, 1955) was an organized crime figure in Southern California from the 1920s through the 1950s. During his varied criminal career, he bootlegged liquor into Los Angeles, ran gambling ships in international waters, and operated casinos in Las Vegas.

Early life

Born "Anthony Cornero" in Lequio Tanaro, a small village in Cuneo Province in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Cornero and his family immigrated to the United States after his father lost the farm in a card game and a fire destroyed their harvest. Cornero's father died a few years later and his mother married Luigi Stralla, a former suitor from Italy. After their arrival in San Francisco, Cornero used the aliases Tony Cornero and Tony Stralla as he signed on to merchant ships bound for the Far East.

At age 16, Cornero was arrested for robbery. He pled guilty and was sentenced to ten months in reform school. He would accumulate a lengthy criminal record during the next ten years, including two counts of bootlegging and three counts of attempted murder. By the early 1920s, Cornero was driving a taxi cab for a living.


In 1923, with Prohibition in effect, Cornero became a rumrunner. His clientele included many high-class customers and night clubs.

Using a shrimping business as a cover, Cornero starting smuggling Canadian whiskey into Southern California with his small fleet of freighters. One of Cornero's ships, the "SS Lily", could transport up to 4,000 cases of bootleg liquor in a single trip. Cornero would unload the liquor beyond the three-mile limit into his speedboats, which would bring it to the Southern California beaches. His fleet easily evaded the understaffed and ill-equipped U.S. Coast Guard. By the time Cornero turned 25, he had become a millionaire.

However, in 1926 the law caught up with Cornero. Returning from Guaymas, Mexico, with an estimated 1,000 cases of rum, he was intercepted and arrested. Sentenced to two years imprisonment, he jokingly told reporters he'd only purchased the illegal cargo "to keep 120 million people from being poisoned to death". While being transported by rail to prison, Cornero escaped from his guards and jumped off the train. Cornero boarded a ship for Vancouver, British Columbia and fled the U.S. Eventually reaching Europe, he spent several years there in hiding. In 1929, he returned to Los Angeles and turned himself in.

In 1931, shortly after his release from prison, Cornero established the Ken Tar Insulation Company. However, federal authorities soon discovered it was a cover for a large scale bootlegging operation and raided it. Cornero then moved his operations to a location in Culver City, California. Soon he was producing up to 5,000 gallons of alcohol a day. Federal authorities raided the Culver City site, but found no evidence of bootlegging; Cornero was probably warned ahead of time.

Las Vegas

With the repeal of Prohibition, Cornero moved into gaming. He and his brothers Louis and Frank moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, and took an option on a 30-acre piece of land outside the Las Vegas city limits. He soon opened “The Green Meadows” [The Meadows] one of the earliest major casinos in the Las Vegas area. As The Meadows started making big money, Cornero began investing in other Las Vegas casinos.

However, Cornero's success soon brought unwanted attention. New York gang leaders Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello demanded a percentage of Cornero's gaming profits. Cornero refused to comply and a gang war briefly took place. After the New York mobsters torched The Meadows, Carnero gave up. He sold his Las Vegas interests and moved back to Los Angeles.

Floating Casinos

In 1938, Cornero decided to open a shipboard gaming operation off the Southern California coast. Sailing in international waters, Cornero would be able to run his gambling dens without any interference from U.S. authorities.

Cornero purchased two large ships and converted them into luxury casinos at a cost of $300,000. He named the ships the "SS Rex" and the "SS Tango." Cornero's premier cruise ship was the "SS Rex," which could accommodate over 2,000 gamblers. It carried a crew of 350, including waiters and waitresses, gourmet chefs, a full orchestra, and gunmen. Its first class dining room served French cuisine exclusively.

The two ships were anchored outside the 'three mile limit' off Santa Monica and Long Beach. The wealthy of Los Angeles would take water taxis out to the ships to enjoy the gambling, shows, and restaurants.

In October 1939, the Los Angeles Zoo was facing a financial crisis. Always the good citizen, Cornero offered the zoo a day's proceeds from the "SS Rex." Considering that his ships were earning $300,000 a cruise, this was no idle gesture. Although zoo officials seriously considered the offer, pressure from state politicians forced them to decline it.

The End of the Fleet

The success of Cornero's floating casinos brought outrage from California officials. State District Attorney Earl Warren ordered a series of raids against his gambling ships.

On May 4, 1946, after Warren became governor of California, he issued a public statement stating his intentions to shut down gambling ships outside California waters; he said he intended, "to call the Navy and Coast Guard if necessary." During his address, Warren specifically denounced the newly-built gambling ship owned by "Admiral" Tony Cornero. Warren stated "It's an outrage that lumber should be used for such a gambling ship, when veterans can't get lumber with which to build their homes."

Despite battles with authorities over the legality of their entering international waters, the State of California found a way to circumvent the 'three mile limit'. The state refigured the starting point of the 'three mile limit' off the coastline and determined the ships were indeed in California waters. Without wasting any time, police boarded several U.S. Coast Guard craft and sailed out to Cornero's ships to close them down and arrest Cornero. However, when the police reached the ships, Cornero would not let them board. Reportedly, Cornero turned the ship's fire hoses on the police when they attempted to board and declared they were committing "piracy on the high seas." A standoff ensued for three days before Cornero finally gave up.

Cornero eventually closed his floating casinos. He later tried to reopen land-based illegal casinos in Los Angeles; however, he was thwarted by mobster Mickey Cohen. Instead, Cornero returned to Las Vegas.

Murder Attempt

In Las Vegas, Cornero contacted his friend, Orlando Silvagni, the owner of the Apache Hotel. Cornero made a deal to lease the Apache Casino and rename it the SS Rex (after his former floating casino). The Las Vegas City Council, aware of Cornero's history with The Green Meadows casino and the floating casinos, voted 'no'. However, for some reason or another, one councilman changed his vote and Cornero got his gambling license. Eventually, his gambling license was lifted, and the SS Rex was closed.

Cornero and his wife moved back to Beverly Hills. Cornero made plans to invest in Baja California in Mexico. However, one day when Cornero answered the door to his house, he was shot four times in the stomach.

The Stardust Resort and Casino

As soon as Cornero had recovered from the gunshots, he returned again to Vegas to build another hotel casino, the Stardust Resort & Casino. He bought a 40-acre piece of land on the Las Vegas Strip. He filed an application with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to sell stock in the hotel corporation. When the stock was issued, he bought 65,000 shares for 10 cents, giving him majority control at 51% of all stock. Cornero then set about selling the remaining shares. Finally, he applied to the Nevada Gaming Commission for his gaming license and was turned down. This meant Cornero had invested his money in a half-built casino which he could not operate.

Not to be stopped, Cornero came up with a new plan. He asked his friend Milton B. "Farmer" Page if he would like to take over the project. Page agreed on the condition that he be able to run it. In 1955, Cornero made the first of a number of presentations to Moe Dalitz and his partner Meyer Lansky to borrow money. Dalitz ended up lending Cornero $1.25 million. The second and third loans came soon later and the Stardust Hotel was put up as collateral. Loans with United Hotels were then nearly $4.3 million. As the hotel construction was coming to a finish, Cornero ran out of money again. On July 31, 1955, Canero told a meeting, "We need another $800,000 to stock the casino with cash and pay the liquor and food suppliers."

Unfortunately, Tony Cornero died later that same day, never to see the Stardust finished. In 1958, the Stardust Resort and Casino finally opened and became the largest hotel in the world. It became a huge success that would last for 48 years. Cornero is credited with the very lucrative concept of putting slot machines in the hotel lobby so hotel guests would be lured to stop and gamble even as they came and went.

uspicious Death

When Tony Cornero died on July 31, 1955, he was shooting craps in the Desert Inn Casino in Las Vegas. All of a sudden, he just dropped dead. The official report was that Cornero died of a heart attack.

However, rumors flew that his drink had been poisoned. His body was taken off the casino floor before the coroner or Sheriff's Department was contacted. Cornero's glass was taken and washed; the police never had the chance to examine it. No autopsy was performed and a coroner's jury in Los Angeles determined that he died of natural causes. Cornero's mob role in Las Vegas was taken over by Jake "The Barber" Factor.

In popular culture

*Cornero was portrayed by Cary Grant in the 1943 film "Mr. Lucky". In 1959, it was adapted into a television series with the same name starring John Vivyan and Pippa Scott. The show aired until September 1960.

Further reading

*Henstell, Bruce. "Sunshine and Wealth: Los Angeles in the Twenties and Thirties". San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1984. ISBN 0-87701-275-X
*Wolf, Marvin J. and Katherine Mader. "Fallen Angels: Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery". New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. ISBN 0-345-34770-6


*Capeci, Jerry. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia". Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
*Reppetto, Thomas A. "American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power". New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7798-7

External links

* [ Stardust In Your Eyes: Tony Cornero and the Stardust Hotel] by John William Tuohy
* [ Tony Cornero] at Find-A-Grave
* [ The First 100 Persons Who Shaped Southern Navada: Tony Cornero]
* [ - Tony Cornero] by Jen Leo
* [ Tony Cornero]
* [ An ad for the Rex from 1939]

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