Tony Cornero

Anthony Cornero Stralla was born on August 18, 1899, in a small town in Northern Italy. When Cornero was five years old, his dad lost the money for his Piedmont crops in a card game. The region's other major crop was robbers and bandits. Young Cornero immediately torched the lost crop. Cornero then came with his parents, two elder sisters and two brothers to the United States in 1904. Cornero would use the alias Tony Cornero and Tony Stralla, and in his teens Cornero worked on ships in the Orient.

In the 1920s, Cornero was in the shrimp business, or so it seemed. In 1926, it was stated that it took a lot of Guaymas shrimp to cover up the 1,000 cases of which the Coast Guard caught him with during Prohibition. For that endeavor Cornero spent two years in prison. With all the bathtub booze around, Cornero told newsmen he only brought in the stuff "to keep 120 million people from being poisoned to death."

Cornero jumped off the train while being transferred to prison, and hired on as crew on a ship out of Vancouver. He hid out in Europe, and turned himself in to the tax men in Los Angeles in 1929. He could be very comfortable on the million dollars he'd already socked away.

On December 3, 1931, Cornero's brother, Louis, filed a lawsuit again actress, and wife of Rex Bell, Clara Bow, for $1,100 as a gambling debt she never paid to Louis, one of the owners of the Cal-Neva Lodge. It was stated that on September 11, 1930, Bow gave three checks totalling $13,900 to the Cal-Neva Lodge at Lake Tahoe to pay gambling losses, then she put a stop payment on the checks. James McKay and William Graham, co-owners of the resort, made the matter public and the actress stated she was "gyped" in that she thought she was playing with $.50 chips when in reality they were $100 chips.

Prison time gave Cornero time to consider all those gambling ships anchored three miles off Long Beach, outside the reach of California law - and the gambling ship that took one of those "trips to nowhere," out beyond the 12-mile limit of federal jurisdiction, where real booze could be served to the gamblers.

In October of 1939, Cornero heard the Los Angeles Zoo was in financial straits and literally begging for money. Cornero offered a day's proceeds from gambling ship Rex to help keep the Zoo afloat. Even though the zoo wanted to accept the offer, local authorities told the zoo it was inadvisable to mix gambling money withi pennies donated by school children. The offer was reluctantly rejected.

On May 4, 1946, California Governor Earl Warren reiterated his pledge that no gambling ship will operate off the coast of California and threatened "to call the Navy and Coast Guard if necessary." Warren stated he had particular reference to the gambling ship which "Admiral" Tony Cornero Stralla announced he was opening. Warren stated "Its and outrage that lumber should be used for such a gambling ship, when veterans can't get lumber with which to build their homes."

On May 8, 1946, Cornero coupled an announcement that his gambling ship S.S. Lux would begin operation on June 7, 1946, with a blast at "peanut politicians" who declared war on his proposed floating casino. Taking newspaper men aboard the former Navy mine layer being converted into a nightclub, Cornero denounced as "lies" reports that he used essential building materials in remodeling his ship.

Out of prison, Cornero decided to go into the insulation business. The feds decided that his Ken Tar Insulation Company was, instead, one big still. They closed him down. He opened another still in Culver City in California. It produced 5,000 gallons of booze a day. The feds raided that building, but Cornero had been tipped off and the feds came up empty.

Tony, Louis and Frank Cornero had the liquor trade sewed up in tiny Las Vegas during Prohibition. There were perhaps 5,000 people there then.

"They were the wholesalers with gangster connections in Los Angeles. The Corneros furnished the booze that kept the various Vegas saloons going, and they were pleasant." - Tom Wilson, publicist

They built a resort outside of town, about the time Nevada legislators legalized quickie divorces and gambling in 1931. The Meadows opened with 24 hotel rooms. The brothers spent $31,000 building it. It boasted no cover charge, another apparent variance from the corkage fees where entertainment was provided in those days.

"It had a very nice restaurant and gaming room or casino. They served good meals and pretty good liquor. While gambling wasn't yet legal, they went along all right without any trouble. Nobody ever seemed to interfere with them." - Florence Boyer

Four months later the place caught on fire, and the city fire department dashed out as far the city limits and wouldn't go any further. They had been fighting a lot of fires outside of town, and the city commission had decided they would have to limit their activities to inside the town.

"Flat Refusal of LVFD Said Cause of Hotel Loss" said the Age newspaper. There was no county fire department, and the Cornero brothers had to watch their place burn. They were disgusted and left. A year after the fire, the Meadows Casino advertised the elaborate entertainment establishment, was now under new management. The Corneros leased the building for $5,000 a year to three old associates and were reputed to have outside backing. These individuals included Guido Marchetti (aka One Round Hogan), Frank Miller, and Earl West.

Tending to his Los Angeles business, Tony Cornero split with his partners in a gambling boat off Long Beach. He decided to go it alone with the S.S. Rex off Santa Monica. A total of 300 slots, a 500 seat bingo parlor, six roulette wheels, and eight dice tables. When the Rex opened off Long Beach for gamblers on May 5, 1938, the district attorney's raiders had to fire a few rounds for attention before the water taxis would pick them up to take them to the Rex. Cornero wouldn't let them board. After three hours of rocking in the boats, they began to turn green.

Corner said he'd let the courts decide, and 30,000 gamblers were ferried aboard the Rex in the next week. He lost the first round in court, but won on appeal. The justices upheld Cornero's obscure defense in maritime law: the waters off Santa Monica were a bight (a bend in the coastline), not a bay.

Attorney General Earl Warren seized the gambling ships Texas, Showboat, and Tango on August 2, 1939. Cornero hoisted the gangplank of the Rex to fend off Warren's raiders and trained fire hoses on the lawmen.

After nine days, he turned himself in - again. He griped that there wasn't a barber aboard the Rex. Waving at the state's flotilla ringing the rex, he joked that, "You fellows are violating the Constitution by maintaining a state navy."

War clouds were gathering. Cornero beat the gambling rap in court. The Rex was sold. Some say he lost it in a crap game. It was later torpedoed off one of those Latin American countries. With all those Latin connections, it was easy for Cornero to claim wartime service for stamping out a diamond-smuggling operation (Brazil to Cuba to Germany).

It was noted that one of the early investors in the gambling ships was Wilbur Clark. When the Rex was sold Clark moved to Vegas, recouping his losses in the El Rancho Las Vegas which he bought in 1944.

He converted a surplus Navy mine-laying ship in 1946, opening the S.S. Lux off Long Beach in 1946. His water taxis were seized after two days. He surrendered. He won again in court, but the Coast Guard seized the Lux. It was licensed for coastal trade, they said, but it hadn't done anything but sit off Long Beach. Disgusted, Congress in 1948 outlawed gambling in U.S. Coastal water.

Someone didn't like Cornero's plans for a casino just across the border in Mexico. He was gut-shot while entertaining two Mexican officials in his Beverly Hills home. He recovered. His ships hauled bananas, beef, and lumber along the Pacific Coast. One of the ships burned off Washington. In a financial bind, it was time to fall back on his old Las Vegas connections.

Cornero leased space in the Apache Hotel downtown for a casino, to be called the S.S. Rex (this property is now Binion's Horseshoe). It lasted about a month before he and his landlord called it quits.

Cornero saw the Strip and had a dream for it. He purchased property close to the Last Frontier to create his dream - Tony Cornero's Starlight.

In early August of 1946 it was reported:

"Tony Cornero's ever-touted "luxury" gambling ship Bunker Hill struck a mine - a gold mine - on its opening night as thousands of dime and dollar players almost fought each other at the Long Beach dock for a turn at off-shore gambling tables. This morning a continuing stream of water taxis, carrying 60 persons each, bounced over a choppy seas to the neon-lighted vessel. The trade was expected to dwindle about dawn, but Cornero's aides said they'd keep the ship open 24 hours a day 'if the customers keep coming.'

Plainsclothesmen from the District Attorney's and Sherriff's Office were among the first night visitors but they didn't life a hand to stop the gaming. Their presence gave point to Assistant District Attorney Charles C. Stratton's remark: '24 hours operation should give us all the evidence we need.' District Attorney Fred Howser has announced that action will be taken shortly against operations of the Bunker Hill. Cornero says he will consider 'piracy' any attempts by law enforcement agents to stop his operations. Asked for an estimate of the crowd, one of the 26 master-at-arms (ship police) said "We'd have to talk to an attorney first." The crowd ran well into the thousands however. The parking lot at the water taxi landing at Long Beach was jammed with 3,000 cars at 7:00pm and was kept full despite a steady flow of departing vehicles throughout the night. A line of approximately 2,000 people, eight abreast, milling and shoving waited an hour and a half at a time to board the water taxis. No serious injuries were reported, but women were heard to scream and men cursed at others in back of them to quit ramming then against the barriers. After an hour's wet and bumpy ride in the wallowing capacity-packed taxis, patrons climbed aboard the Bunker Hill and many were disappointed. True, there were plenty of gambling devices stretching 300 feet along the main salon, and a 90 foot bar. There was, however, little to inspire the label 'luxury'."

A few days later the DA announced that he was going to halt operations on Bunker Hill. The Bunker Hill was anchored eight miles off of Long Beach, CA, and Cornero has stated that it is outside the state and county jurisdiction and any attempts to halt the operation would be considered priacy.

On August 30, 1946, it was announced that the Bunker Hill could re-open. The water taxis were also release from being impounded. It was stated that the Bunker Hill was also known as the Lux and if she held anymore gambling, they would seize her again.

In October of 1949, the ship Salina Cruz met disaster one day out of Vancouver bound for Honolulu with a general cargo. a "nick-of-time" rescue saved 17 seamen after a fire turned their wooden lumber schooner into a blackened broken hulk. The officers and men were picked up by the U.S. fish and wildlife vessel Black Douglas just as one of their two lifeboats were sinking. Through a search of Panamanian registry, it showed the Salina Cruz was owned by Seven Seas Trading and Shipping Company of Los Angeles and Anthony C. Stralla.

Cornero's strategy was to get away from the elegance of the Desert Inn and Sands. He wanted to attract visitors in masses, not just the sophisticated and high rollers. He decided that by charging $5.00 a day for rooms and giving guests $5.00 for gambling, he could turn a profit. Hundreds of shares were sold in the company. The new resort was to be called "Tony Cornero's Starlight" and have its own train stop on the Union Pacific track bordering its rear property line but the train station never materialized.

Sometime in 1954, Cornero changed the name and formed the company Stardust Company.

Cornero's vision was to set new world living standards of resort living, "Astronomical luxury at down-to-earth prices". The hotel would offer a new world of pleasure and would be designed with conventions and large meetings in mind, as well as for the general public seeking entertainment and pleasure.

All rooms were going to be air-conditioned and boast the largest theater-restaurant on the Strip. He also envisioned that his resort would hold shops as well as recreational and social programs designed for entertainment and relaxation.

The fates stepped in and Cornero would never see his dream become a reality. On July 31, 1955, Cornero went over to the Desert Inn to gamble. At one of the gaming tables, at 11:17am, Cornero suffered a massive heart attack and died almost immediately.

Cornero's dream did become a reality and it is still going strong. I'm sure Cornero is pleased with the evolvement of his Stardust.

Gary Grant played Tony Cornero in the 1943 movie "Mr. Lucky" co-starring Laraine Day, before she married Leo Durocher. Mr. Lucky then had a year's run as a 30 minute TV show from October 1959 to September 1960. It was one of the shows Blake Edwards produced. After a couple of episodes, its sponsor Lever Brothers, demanded that gambling be de-emphasized so the "Fortuna" became a floating restaurant and nightclub. The TV series provided fame to its musical director Henry Mancini. John Vivyan starred as the Fortuna owner, and his girlfriend was played by Pippa Scott. Conrad Nagel played Chicago Julius' Nehemiah Persoff, the corrupt president of a Latin American country.

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