- Anthony Cornero
Anthony "Admiral" Cornero (
August 18, 1899- July 31, 1955) was an organized crime figure in Southern Californiafrom 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.
Born "Anthony Cornero" in
Lequio Tanaro, a small village in CuneoProvince in the Piedmontregion 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 cabfor a living.
In 1923, with
Prohibitionin effect, Cornero became a rumrunner. His clientele included many high-class customers and night clubs.
shrimpingbusiness as a cover, Cornero starting smuggling Canadian whiskeyinto 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 limitinto 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 Columbiaand 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.
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 Costellodemanded 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.
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 cuisineexclusively.
The two ships were anchored outside the 'three mile limit' off Santa Monica and Long Beach. The wealthy of
Los Angeleswould take water taxis out to the ships to enjoy the gambling, shows, and restaurants.
In October 1939, the
Los Angeles Zoowas 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 Warrenordered a series of raids against his gambling ships.
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
Californiafound 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 Guardcraft 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.
In Las Vegas, Cornero contacted his friend, Orlando Silvagni, the owner of the Apache Hotel. Cornero made a deal to lease the
Apache Casinoand 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 Californiain 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 Commissionto sell stockin 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 Commissionfor his gaming licenseand 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" Pageif 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 Dalitzand his partner Meyer Lanskyto 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 liquorand 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.
When Tony Cornero died on July 31, 1955, he was shooting
crapsin the Desert InnCasino 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
coroneror 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 juryin Los Angelesdetermined 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 Grantin the 1943 film "Mr. Lucky". In 1959, it was adapted into a television series with the same name starring John Vivyanand Pippa Scott. The show aired until September 1960.
*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
* [http://www.americanmafia.com/Feature_Articles_26.html Stardust In Your Eyes: Tony Cornero and the Stardust Hotel] by John William Tuohy
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8985 Tony Cornero] at
* [http://www.1st100.com/part1/cornero.html The First 100 Persons Who Shaped Southern Navada: Tony Cornero]
* [http://www.lasvegaslogue.com/history/vegas-history/legends-of-vegas/tony-cornero.html LasVegasLogue.com - Tony Cornero] by Jen Leo
* [http://www.lvstriphistory.com/ie/cornero.htm Tony Cornero]
* [http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2007/05/ss_rex.html An ad for the Rex from 1939]
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