This area east of the Maumee River is no stranger to casino gambling — legal and illegal.
Las Vegas-style gambling came to East Toledo in 2012 in the form of the 290,000 square foot, $200 million Hollywood Casino Toledo on the banks of the Maumee River, which opened just after the Memorial Day holiday last year.
Of course, that casino is legal with 33 percent of gross revenue going to taxes. Illegal gambling clubs here date back to Prohibition days and its unlikely any of the profits went toward taxes.
|Author Terry Shaffer with a Toledo police mug shot
of infamous Toledo mobster Thomas “Yonnie” Licovili.
Author Terry Shaffer describes its history in his 146-page book, Illegal Gambling Clubs of Toledo: The Chips, The Dice, The Places and Faces.
In his research, Shaffer discovered Bon Aire Supper Club, Social Club 51, the El Rancho Ballroom, the Terminal Social Club, and Ted Stone’s Café — all located along the Woodville Road strip from East Toledo to as far east as present-day Millbury.
His book goes city-wide in describing the culture surrounding Toledo’s infamous mobsters and lists 72 different illegal gambling operations dating back to the turn of the century.
Included are detailed descriptions of the clubs from the dates of operation, the location, the owners and operators to the police raids that attempted to shut them down.
“A lot of this research, the pictures, mug shots that are in there, came from the Toledo Police Museum. They had discovered the long lost mob files. They had three cases of files from the Licovolis (headed by mobster Thomas “Yonnie” Licovili) to everything else and they had been missing for years.
“They’d been subpoenaed a few times and no one knew where they were. They had been moved one time, and then another and they lost track of where they were,” Shaffer continued.
“I just happened to stumble upon them when I went there to find out what I can for this book, and the director said, ‘Well Terry, I’ve got the missing files.’ I guess when they were putting the museum together they started digging into old places and gathering stuff together and the old files showed up, so I was the first researcher to have access to these.”
Shaffer, a Toledo resident since 1966, is a graduate of the University of Toledo and a local business owner. He has spent the past 15 years researching and collecting vintage casino gambling chips and has become a popular luncheon speaker for civic organizations.
Shaffer explains that the opening of the Hollywood Toledo Casino motivated him to get his book finished.
“It forced my personal deadline,” Shaffer said. “I’ve been researching it out of a personal interest for a long time. It came out of a casino chip interest, and then I found a few illegal chips that belonged to a Toledo club and that really brought my interest forward and I started really collecting them.
“Because of my chip interest, I started researching the history and who the people were that were involved. From my own collection I wanted to find out the bottom line — who really ran these, when were they operating.”
Woodville Road strip
In his research, Shaffer discovered The Bon Aire Supper Club, 2188 Woodville Road, which was owned by Joseph Urbaytis and Edward “Big Edge” Wojnarowski, alias Wagner, opening in 1943. We know the location today as the Woodville Army/Navy Surplus Store, but the Bon Aire building is gone.
Jimmy Dugan took over in 1946 and changed its name to Terminal Social Club (aka Dugan’s). The craps table attendant at first was Stanley “Jerry” Marinski and then Dugan in 1946.
Games at the Bon Aire included craps and poker, but it all came to an end after a raid and murder in November, 1951.
Urbaytis (1900-46), best known as leader of the gang that pulled off the great million dollar Toledo Post Office robbery of 1921 at the age of 21, was murdered on November 5, 1946 by ex-con Frank Burns. The gun used by Burns was formerly owned by Detective Captain George Timiney and had been reported stolen in June 1946, five months before the Urbaytis shooting.
In the 1921 post office robbery, Urbaytis and 12 others were convicted of Toledo’s largest and most historic heist, writes Shaffer. Urbaytis was sentenced to 60 years, but escaped twice.
After his second escape, he was sent to Alcatraz. His sentence was reduced to 25 years after a successful appeal addressing the judge’s excessive 60-year sentence. After his release in 1943, he opened the non-licensed Bon Aire club on Woodville Road just outside Toledo.
Social Club 51 was located at 221 Mary Avenue in the Northwood area, just off Woodville Road and was owned by Joseph Yappallo (alias Joe Yap) and William Kelly, and also involved in operations were Joseph Lerous and Herbert Tarsha.
It opened in 1964 with blackjack and poker tables, opening at 2:30 a.m. and closing between 7 and 8 a.m. Big money nights were Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Shaffer writes.
Club 51 closed after a raid on January 23, 1965. According to Shaffer’s book, the police chief knew about the club since October, 1964, but held off conducting the raid until he had enough evidence.
“There were approximately 60 gamblers playing poker and blackjack present at the time of the raid,” Shaffer writes. “The entrance door was equipped with two-way glass for use by the door tender. On the night of the raid, the door tender was Joe Yap.”
In Wood County
The El Rancho, 1460 Woodville Road, was located three miles east of the city limits near Millbury. The original gambling building was destroyed by fire.
After its gambling days, the location later became the Sun Oil Recreation Center and was outfitted with baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a swimming pool and camping and picnic areas.
Its short life as gambling club began on November 9, 1944 by owners Ed Warnke, R.E. Rhinehart and members of the Academy Club. It closed just four days later after being raided.
“They were pretty sharp out there. The sheriff’s department didn’t let them go too long,” Shaffer said.
Games included craps, blackjack, and horse racing. The gambling house was to never close, including Sundays, and had free 10 minute taxi shuttle service every few minutes from two cigar stores on 210 and 625 St. Clair Street in downtown Toledo.
The tip-off to the Wood County Sheriff’s Department came from a competing club called the Forest Park Club just three miles down the street.
“According to officials, the call for action came from rivals posing as newspaper men who complained about the El Rancho operating a gambling establishment,” Shaffer wrote.
Before Sun Oil bought the building in the early 1970s, it was reopened as The El Rancho Ballroom featuring live big band music and dancing.
Another east side club mentioned in Shaffer’s book is Ted Stone’s Café, 2172 Woodville Road, owned by Ted Stone and operated by Benny Aronoff. Aronoff had moved his Buckeye Club operations out to the café for a short time in 1936 while the heat was on in downtown Toledo.
(Illegal Gambling Clubs of Toledo: The Chips, The Dice, The Places and Faces is published by Harry Chipper Publishing, Toledo, and can be purchased at the Toledo Police Museum, HappyChipper.com, and Amazon.com for $22.95.)