His name was George Remus. While not well remembered today, Remus
was a prominent figure in the 1920's, that period of American
history known as "The Prohibition Era." Indirectly Remus was
responsible for Newport, Kentucky, becoming famous as "Little
Mexico," known for its nightlife and illegal gambling activities.
A view of York Street in Newport looking north towards
Cincinnati in a town affectionately referred to as “Little
Remus began his career as a law student in Chicago. Never one
to pass up an opportunity, he used his education to find a
loophole to use the prohibition law to his advantage. This
"loophole" would bring him more money in a three months period of
time than some people would be fortunate enough to earn in a
lifetime. Because whiskey was legal for medicinal purposes, Remus
knew that by establishing drug companies this would provide him
the legal right to warehouse whiskey. He moved from Chicago to
Cincinnati, Ohio, one of the nations largest distillery regions.
Thanks to George, the greater Cincinnati region would enjoy some
of the best contraband available.
Rumor had it that George bribed federal agents to guard the
bonded whiskey at his warehouses. Remus extracted the whiskey from
the barrels and replaced it with water so that when federal
inspectors checked the warehouses, all the barrels would be full.
Soon his operations expanded to the bordering states of Indiana
and Kentucky. His reputation for providing the best whiskey in the
Midwest earned him the title, "King of the Bootleggers." Sales
were so immense that Remus had twelve lieutenants who managed
procurement, distribution and public affairs, better known as
bribery. Shipments were sent out by car, truck, and even full
boxcar loads. Bank deposits revealed that within one three months
period, Remus deposited $2,700,000. His net worth was estimated at
$70,000,000. He built a mansion in Price Hill in Cincinnati known
as the "Marble Palace."
But this lifestyle of the rich and famous was not to endure.
Remus had created a monster. He estimated that during his heyday
he had spent over $20,000,000 in bribes. He was quoted as saying,
"Men have tried to corner the wheat market only to learn there is
too much wheat in the world. I tried to corner the graft market,
but there isn't enough money in the world to buy up all the public
officials who demand their share of the graft." Eventually, Remus
was shut down by a few honest federal agents who couldn't be
bought. He as well as his twelve lieutenants went to prison.
Most people acknowledge Bugsy Siegal as the founder of the Las
Vegas casino, but in his own way Remus, Prohibition, and the money
Remus gained through his illegal activities helped to found the
Las Vegas casino and put the small town of Newport, Kentucky, on
the map and in the headlines. During and after Prohibition, it was
estimated that there were over 30,000 speakeasies in Cincinnati
and Newport. On some days the smoke from the "alky cookers" along
the Licking River would block sunlight from downtown Cincinnati.
Little Newport was becoming a town of storefronts, bookmakers, and
bust out joints. The term "bust out joint" was used for illegal
backroom gaming parlors from which a patron rarely left with any
money and at times was lucky to leave with his life.
By the time most of Remus' lieutenants were getting out of
prison, Prohibition was near its end. These men were used to fast
money and not shy of skirting the law to get it. During the early
1930's, Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, paid little heed and
had little interest in the northern border of its state. Law
enforcement in this stepchild area of the state was as lax and
corrupt as that of Tijuana, Mexico. Wanted felons could be seen
regularly in broad daylight in Newport, and thus Newport earned
the nickname of "Little Mexico."
Newport was a prime target for illegal activities. She was to
fall under the influence of one of Remus' brightest protégés.
Peter Schmidt had learned well from Remus, and he was every bit
the opportunist that his old boss had been. He started his adult
working life driving a one horse delivery cart which led to his
driving loaded liquor trucks for Remus. It was said of Schmidt
that "he was a man of vision with the soul of a miser."
Apparently, Schmidt, rather than spending his money extravagantly
as Remus had been want to do, practiced his role as a miser and
stowed his money away. After his release from prison, Schmidt had
money to invest, and Newport would become his star investment.
As soon as he was released from prison, Schmidt purchased a
three story hotel at 928 Monmouth Street and named it the Glenn
Hotel after his son. Mobsters such as Bob Zwick were known to have
lived there, and Zwick was regularly seen standing around in the
lobby with a submachine gun. Another mobster who regularly stayed
at the Glenn Hotel was David Jerus, also known as "Jew Bates."
Jerus had taken part in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in
But Schmidt had bigger dreams than just running a hotel for
wanted felons. He recognized the gaming potential in this town.
However, all dreams were put on hold when federal agents raided
his home on Kentucky Drive only to find Schmidt's 1,000 gallon a
day still in full operation. Even though Prohibition had ended,
many of the locals had grown accustomed to the home brew and
didn't want to buy the expensive legal brands. So Schmidt went
back to prison for another five years.
While Peter Schmidt was sitting in his cell, the superintendent
under whom he had worked during the Remus years had also decided
to set up shop in Newport. His name was Buck Brady, and he had
purchased the Bluegrass Inn located in South Newport. Shortly
thereafter, Brady converted the building into a casino and renamed
it the Primrose. It was considered one of the finest casinos in
the city. The year was 1932.
One year later, Peter Schmidt was released, and he returned to
his hotel to find that gambling was what the city had turned its
eye to. Schmidt renamed the hotel the Glenn Rendezvous and
converted the lobby and back rooms into a casino.
Despite several attempts at being pushed out of town, Peter
Schmidt always came back. The Coconut Grove Restaurant now
occupies this building on Fifth St. in Newport.
By this time the Cleveland Syndicate had gotten word as to the
happenings in Newport. The Syndicate had already moved into
Cincinnati by purchasing the Coney Island Race Track and renaming
it River Downs, which still stands today. The Syndicate began
pressuring clubs and casino owners to sell out and employed two of
George Remus' lieutenants, Red Masterson and Sam Shrader, to
accomplish their goal. Red Masterson soon became known as "The
Enforcer" by the locals.
By 1934 the Syndicate was actively running many of the book
joints and preparing to open the Yorkshire Club at 518 York
Street. In their attempts to rid themselves of all competition,
they found that Buck Brady and Peter Schmidt had no intention of
selling their clubs, so the Syndicate turned to harassment. Two
mobsters working for the Syndicate would regularly pay visits to
the Glenn Rendezvous, not so much as a threat, but rather as an
acknowledgment of Schmidt's disrespect for them. The mobsters were
known to walk in the lobby and urinate on the floor. This became
known as "ding-donging." The harassment continued until 1935 when
Schmidt closed the Rendezvous. He had quietly taken his lumps and
said nothing. Instead of retaliating, he purchased the Old
Kaintuck Castle in Southgate, south of Newport. A new era of
Newport's history was about to begin when Schmidt converted the
Castle into the Beverly Hills Club and opened in 1935.
After the opening of the Beverly Hills Club in 1935, a charter
member of the Cleveland Syndicate named Moe Dalitz visited the
club and was impressed enough to set the wheels in motion for its
acquisition. But Peter Schmidt had realized his dream and no price
would buy it from him. By 1936 the Syndicate had enough of
Schmidt. On February 3, the club mysteriously burned to the ground
killing a five year old niece of the caretakers. The night of the
fire, a citizen of Newport witnessed Red Masterson purchasing a
can of gasoline. Red reportedly was to have said that the onlooker
should read the morning's paper to find out what the fuel was
needed for. The actual arsonist was said to have been Dave
White-field, who also had frequently harassed Schmidt. But this
fire was not going to go unnoticed. The good citizens demanded
justice in the name of the little dead girl. So in needing a
scapegoat, the Syndicate turned over Whitefield, and after a very
speedy trial, he was sent to prison. Red Masterson, for his
silence, was rewarded with control and part ownership of the
Merchants Club located at 15 E. 4th Street.
In 1937 the Beverly Hills reopened as the Beverly Hills Country
Club. Governors of several states attended the grand opening and
declared it to be the finest facility in all the nation. Soon
after, the Syndicate stepped up the pressure on the club. Only two
months went by before the bankroll was robbed and the harassment
of ding-donging continued. It was in 1940 that Peter Schmidt
walked away from the Beverly Hills. He practically gave it to the
Syndicate for little or no money and promised to leave the casino
The Syndicate was far from through in their acquisitions. They
had turned their eyes across the Licking River and toward Kenton
County. A dinner club with a plush casino was doing major business
with the convention crowds from Cincinnati and was also doing
major damage to the income of the Beverly Hills Club. The Lookout
House was situated on a hill in Fort Wright, which viewed
Cincinnati through a deep valley. Its owner was yet another
lieutenant of George Remus. Jimmy Brink had quietly watched the
Syndicate engulf all the profitable gaming joints and probably
knew he was next. So when they came calling, Brink had no
intention of fighting them. He accepted $125,000 cash and 10%
ownership in both the Lookout House and the Beverly Hills Country
Club. In actuality, Brink realized a bigger profit from this deal
and became a bigger wheel in the business of entertainment.
The Lookout House in Fort Wright will play an important part
in syndicate activities beginning around 1940.
The Syndicate was now operating a bi-county business. By
shutting down competitors and buying up the bigger clubs, they had
a hold on what was to become the biggest venture of organized
There was clever management in the convention crowd arena too.
Whenever the Kenton County grand jury went into session, the
Lookout House closed for "repairs," and vice versa was true with
the Campbell County jury and the Beverly Hills Club.
Inside the Lookout House, March 1952.
At this time there were over 20 clubs in Newport and over
two-thirds of them were Syndicate controlled. The largest
Syndicate clubs were the Yorkshire and the Flamingo. The Flamingo
Club, located at 633 York Street, was run by the three Levinson
brothers who were actually Syndicate members. Louie Levinson
probably was the best known of the three brothers. He, unlike most
of his counterparts, was a heavy gambler and enjoyed all night
poker habits. There are two stories about how Louis obtained his
nickname. The first is that as a young boy and school drop out,
Louie had a number of paper routes. On some occasions he would not
come home at night so that he might get a jump on the morning
edition. It is said that his mother called him "Sleep-out Louie."
The second story is that during marathon poker games, he would sit
or sleep out a couple of hands only to wake up with the energy of
a man with eight hours bed rest. The Yorkshire was located at 578
York Street. It was also a Syndicate Club and considered to be the
largest book making operation in town. Both the Flamingo and the
Yorkshire closed in the late 1950s. Only the Yorkshire building
The Flamingo club on York Street was one of nearly twenty
casinos at the height of gaming in Newport.
Remember Buck Brady? He wasn't immune to the Syndicate's
harassment during all this time. Red Masterson, operating from the
Merchants Club, was given strict orders to encourage Brady to sell
the Primrose Club. The Primrose was definitely hurting the
Flamingo and the Yorkshire. Brady knew the Syndicate was going to
take his club by deed or by fire, so he set out to stop this
hostile takeover. On August 5, 1946, Buck Brady waited for
Masterson to leave his Merchants Club casino. When Masterson
walked out and got into his new Cadillac, Brady caught up with him
in the next block. A voice called out, "Hi, Red." When Red
instinctively raised his hand, gun fire rang out from Brady's car
into Masterson's. Both cars wrecked and Brady fled, only to be
found soon after hiding in an outhouse. Red Masterson lived, and
Brady witnessed exactly what he had tried so desperately to avoid.
He lost his casino when the Syndicate offered him his life for the
The Primrose was renamed the Latin Quarter and quickly became
the entertainment hot spot in Newport. It offered dining, dancing,
and a casino to individuals not quite wealthy enough to visit the
Beverly Hills Country Club. Today the Latin Quarter building
operates as Bobby Mackey's Country Dance Bar.
Remember Peter Schmidt and his promise to leave the gaming
industry forever? He lied! He returned to the Glenn Rendezvous in
1943 after walking away from the Beverly Hills Country Club. The
Syndicate continued to pressure him into selling until he finally
gave in. In 1951 the Syndicate paid an undisclosed amount for both
the building and another promise from Schmidt to leave the gaming
industry. The Glenn Rendezvous was renamed the Tropicana and run
by Syndicate mobster Peter “Tito” Carinci. The Tropicana was
destroyed by fire in 1962.
Schmidt played a deceitful game. He had promised to leave the
gaming industry when he left the Beverly Hills. He lied then and
lied again later when he left the Rendezvous. Peter Schmidt took
the Syndicate's money and constructed the Glenn Schmidt Club, a
modern bowling facility with a basement casino. When law
enforcement began to come down on illegal gambling, Schmidt built
a separate building next to the bowling alley to use as a casino.
It was named the Playtorium. Both buildings stand today on 5th
Street between York and Monmouth and are operating as The
Syndicate dinner club.
A post card from the Beverly Hills Country Club.
Cincinnati was the hotbed of conventioneers because of
Newport's night life. But like George Remus, not all that is good
can last, when others call it bad. A group of clergymen, mostly
from Campbell County, formed a Reformers Party. In doing so, they
were able from their pulpits, to put pressure on their
congregations to bring an end to this corrupt business of gaming.
On February 12, 1961, a "United Sunday" was declared in area
churches. All participating clergy preached on the results of
living amongst the sin of gambling. Within four days, the Campbell
County grand jury released a reverse propaganda statement
declaring that, "A community in many ways chooses its way of life
as do individuals. Its choice is reflected in the voice of the
electorate." But the people didn't buy that argument, knowing that
indictment after indictment for corruption never stuck in Campbell
County. Witness-es disappeared, lost their memories, or juries
turned a blind eye toward the evidence.
So the clergy took a thirty-one page document with 500
signatures to the governor and demanded an end to the gambling in
their state. The Reform Party also placed a former Cleveland Brown
football player on the ballot for Campbell County Sheriff. George
Ratterman had played professional ball for ten years and had
earned a law degree in night school. In his acceptance speech as
the party's nominee, Ratterman declared that he would never accept
one corrupt dime nor be influenced by cheap threats. Ratterman
received a standing ovation from everyone in the audience with the
exception of Red Masterson.
The Syndicate realized that Ratterman was a real threat and
must be eliminated to save their clubs, and a plan was put into
motion. Two Syndicate members, including Tropicana owner, Tito
Carinci, contacted Ratterman to discuss closing their clubs in
Newport. Ratterman met them in a Cincinnati hotel bar where he was
unknowingly drugged. The two syndicate members placed him into a
car and delivered him to a room in the Tropicana Hotel. Awaiting
Ratterman was a show-girl named April Flowers who was to be found
in bed with him when a prearranged police raid would find
Ratterman and obtain pictures of him in a compromising position
with a woman other than his wife.
By morning this event was national news. Having already made
bond, Ratterman called a press conference and started by saying,
"A funny thing happened to me yesterday on the way home from the
office," and then continued to tell how he was drugged and that
this entire affair had been a Syndicate setup. This only led the
Reform Party to new heights of conviction. During Ratterman's
trial, testimony implicated official corruption, and the governor
was forced into action by using the State Police, FBI and IRS to
close down the gaming halls.
Tito Carinci and April Flowers at the trial of George
The reign of the Syndicate in Newport and Northern Kentucky,
which started in the thirties, reached its peak by the late 1950s.
By that time the Syndicate practically owned Newport. Their clubs
included the Latin Quarter, Yorkshire, Flamingo, Tropicana, Mer-chants
Club and the Stardust. The names Stardust and Tropicana are still
recognizable having resurfaced in Vegas in the early 1960s, for by
1961 nearly all these clubs were closed and many of the Syndicate
members who were not ensnarled in court actions left for Las
Unfortunately, most of the participants actually in-volved in
the operations of these clubs have passed on and have left little
written history behind. Due to the Syndicate's influence, the
local news media covered very little of Newport's gaming industry.
If it were not for Louisville Courier Journal reporter Hank
Messick, his books Razzle Dazzle and The Syndicate Wife, which
provided much of the information in this article, and the "Casino
Chip and Gaming Tokens Collectors Club," few would remember that
Newport was ever known as "Little Mexico" and that Northern
Kentucky, and not Las Vegas, reigned as the heart of America's
passion for night life and gambling.
Memorabilia collectors own many of the last remnants of this
by gone era.
This story originally ran in The Northern Kentucky version
of Better Living Magazine in February 2003.
Bryan Meade is a Certified Residential Appraiser who is active
in many church and community activities and resides in Fort
Wright, KY with his wife and two sons. He would love to hear from
memorabilia collectors and can be reached at