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Cuban Gambling Casinos & The Mafia


March 27, 1958

The Commissioner of Customs
Division of Investigations
Bureau of Customs
Washington 25, D.C.

Dear Sir:

Reference is made to Bureau letter of February 28, 1958, enclosing a copy of a memorandum, dated February 26, 1953, from Mr. Myles J. Ambrose, Assistant to the Secretary for Law Enforcement. Said memorandum requested that background information be furnished relative to the gambling situation in Cuba and the Americans involved therewith

This office has had little occasion to pay much attention to the gamblers here, with the exception of a few who are suspected of trafficking in narcotics, such as WILLIAM G. BUSCHOFF (LEFTY CLARK) and SANTO TRAFFICANTE.  Under the Cuban law a gambling casino cannot be operated in a hotel establishment valued at less than one million dollars.  An operating license costing from twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars is required.  To obtain such license it is necessary to be cleared by this police and officials of the Ministry of the Interior, which necessitates an additional outlay of whatever said officials think the traffic will bear.

Once in operation, the Cuban Treasury Department collects 20% of the proceeds reported: however, due to the pay off to collecting officials the actual amount received by the Treasury Department coffers is much less.  Police officials also came in for substantial cut, which is estimated at between 20 to 30%, in addition to the above mentioned.  About 70% of the patrons are American tourists, the balance being wealthy Cubans and other Latin Americans.

As to honesty of the games, a good estimate would be that they are 90% honest.  The reason for this is that the gambling fraternity considers that setup here as strictly temporary and knows they will eventually have to return to the States.

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If during their stay in Cuba they acquire a reputation for operating dishonest games, it will be difficult for them to obtain positions in the majority of gambling establishments in the United States on their return.

However, some of the casinos, such as the CAPRI, the NATIONAL Casino and the TROPICANA, are rumored to be not too scrupulous, using bust-out dice and rigged equipment manufactured by the late MICHAEL MORRISON in Mexico.  According to information the slot machines are rigged for a very low pay off, due to the extremely high take off of the proceeds by officials.

The FBI office has made an intensive investigation into the matter and detailed reports should be available from that organization.  The Cuban Bureau of Investigation has been mugging and printing the gamblers and the technicians and has practically completed the job.  In the event the Bureau desires copies of the pictures and prints same can be photostated and forwarded.  A list of all gamblers, including the ordinary working technicians, has been furnished James B. De Luca, the Internal Revenue Agent temporarily assigned to Habana, for the information of the International Operations Division of the Internal Revenue Service.  The names of the ordinary technicians are not being included in this report.

For several years prior to 1955 the only casinos operating in Habana were the Tropicana and the  SANS SOUCI.  Both clubs had shows, served meals and drinks, but figured on the meals and drinks only covering operating costs, and made their profit on gambling, from which the net averaged five thousand dollars daily after "deductions."  Since then a number of casinos have opened, and it would seem that the profits would have been thinned down, but the new casinos are attracting a much greater number of gambling tourists, so that the profits of the two original casinos remain more or less the same, and several of the newer casinos are averaging higher profits.

There are listed below the principal gambling casinos in operation in Habana, together with the principal operators of same.  The majority of the operators listed have a piece of the "interest",  and in a few cases all of it: however it is very difficult to determine how much interest each operator has in the __________[unreadable] is the principal owner.

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TROPICANA - operated by LEFTY CLARK, alias WILLIAM GUSTO (FRANK BISCHOFF).  Bishoff has an FBI record of six arrests for minor violations.  This office has received rumors of narcotic activity by him while he was operating in Las Vegas, Nevada.  His principal assistant is PIERRE CANAVASE. Canavase under various aliases is reported to have been closely connected with LUCKY LUCIANO, and was deported from the United States to Italy, and he recently came to Cuba from Italy.  Canavase has a record for smuggling, counterfeiting, bribery, gambling, and violation of United States Immigration laws.

SANS SOUCI NIGHT CLUB - operated by SANTO TRAFFICANTE, who was present at the recent Apalachin, New York meeting.  Trafficante is a native of Tampa, Florida, where he had his father were the principals in the "bolita"racket; and it is rumored that they were also members of the Mafia.  With relation to Santo Trafficante, there is enclosed herewith a translation of a report made by the Cuban police to the District Attorney of Queens County, Brooklyn, New York, dated January 23, 1958, together with a transcript of long distance telephone calls made from the Sans Souci during the period August-December 1957. One of the principal assistants in the operation of the Sans Souci is SID JACOBS, alias SID MATHEWS.

RIVIERA CASINO operated by MEYER LANSKY, FRANK ERICKSON, GIORDINO CELLINI, ED LEVENSON, and DUSTY PETERS, all of whom are well known to your office.  The Riviera Casino is apparently one of the more honest gambling casinos operated in Habana, but information as to the actual backers in not available, unless they could be Meyer Lansky and Frank Erickson.

CASINO INTERNATIONAL, HOTEL NACIONAL operated by WILBUR CLARK, who as far as can be ascertained has no criminal record.  His principal assistants are EDWARD GOFFREDO CELLINI and MERLE JACOBS.  As far as in known, these two have no criminal records either.

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SEVILLA BILTMORE - operated by one AMLETIC BATTISTI, a Cuban citizen of Italian extraction.  Battisti is, and has been for many years, kingpin of the "bolita" racket.  He is the owner of the Sevilla Biltmore Hotel, which he has leased to a Chicago concern, and also owns and operates a bank in the same building.  Mr. Battisti, in the opinion of the undersigned, is capable of anything.

CAPRI HOTEL CASINO operated by NICOLAS DI COSTANZO and CHARLES TURIN. No information is available as to their criminal background.  Both have operated in Las Vegas and the New York area.  It is understood that GEORGE RAFT owns a considerable piece of the Capri Casino.

NATIONAL CASINO actually operated by JAKE LANSKY, brother of MEYER LANSKY.  To the public Jake Lansky is merely floor manager for the casino; however it is understood that Jake and his brother own the major part of the casino and have under their management a number of technicians from Las Vegas.  It is also understood that this casino is operated strictly on the level for the reason that habitues of the casino are the "boys", who demand a square game when they feel like playing.

HAVANA HILTON CASINO operated by CLIFFORD JONES, formerly of Las Vegas, Senator KENNETH JOHNSON of Nevada, and SIDNEY ARCE of New York.  Also interested to a substantial degree are RAMON MENDOZA and MARCOS MENDOZA, both wealthy Cuban industrialists.  The Hilton Casino has only been operating for two days, and their gambling concession is costing them one million dollars annually, payable to the hotel, plus the take of the Ministry of Hacienda and the police.  It is also rumored that SANTO TRAFFICANTE and JOE RIVERS have a piece of the Hilton Casino but, same has not been verified.

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The above is more or less a general picture of the gambling situation in Habana as best as this office is able to furnish at the present time.  In the event that any specific information is desired which might be helpful in your investigation, please advise; and this office will endeavor to obtain same.

Very truly yours,

W. W. Johnston,
Treasury Representative in Charge


cc: Agent DeLuca, IRS

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