Northern Kentucky – A Gambler’s Paradise

I have lived in the Northern Kentucky area all of my life. During my lifetime I have lived 100 miles away from seven race tracks over the years. Not to mention the countless bookies who I have run into during this time. This may seem to be a footnote, but there was once more action here than the law allowed.

Newport, Kentucky was an oasis of action that served players from all walks. Known as ” Sin City,”  Old Newport was making waves long before the explosion of gaming in Vegas. The names the early pioneers all had a stake in the action, and the area was known to offer everything that a gambling sort would enjoy. Located in Campbell County, and less than four miles away from Cincinnati and Covington. This was the place to play for those who enjoyed a drink and some gaming.

There was the “Cleveland Four” who consisted of Moe Dalitz, Morris Kleinmann, Louis Rothkopf, and Sam Tucker. Next to Meyer Lansky, this was one of the most powerful crime syndicates in America. There was the Beverly Hills, The Lookout House, The Stork Club, The Flamingo Club, Beacon Hill, Grandview Gardens, and The Merchants Club just to name a few. The area was known far and wide for offering casino-style gaming and horse parlors. Northern Kentucky played a large role in bringing in gamblers. Bookmaking was getting to be such a huge organized crime enterprise in the area, and Newport became know to be a “layoff ” bank. This is where bookies could sell off some of their action if they were getting too much on one side. The layoff bank would split profits with local outfits for a handling charge.  

There was the “Old Latonia” race course that opened in 1883,  and ran the final card on July 29, 1939. The Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold ran there, and jockey Eddie Arcaro began his career at this oval. After closing the doors during the Great Depression. It was revived again 10 miles to the South in Florence, Kentucky in 1959. It was later bought by Jerry Carroll in 1986, and renamed Turfway Park.  For many years, there were small tracks in surrounding communities. Racing was a part of the fabric that wove the area together. Gambling, and action have been a part of the history of my backyard.

We look to Louisville as the home of the Derby, and Lexington holds the honor of being the capital of the Thoroughbred. But, often overlooked for the colorful characters, Newport offered a playground for adults who wanted to get down some action. There were racetracks, bookie operations, and a template for what Las Vegas would eventually become.