VIDEO VAULT| The wild history of the El Rey Casino – News3LV

El Rey Junket Andy Martello Collection.jpg

LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — 

Asked to name masters of gambling promotion and gimmicks, many Southern Nevadans might mention Benny Binion, Jackie Gaughn or Bob Stupak. In his book “King of Casinos,” comedian and author Andy Martello makes the case that Willie Martello, no relation, belongs on that list.

Perhaps the reason Willie Martello is not better known, is that it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” His wild El Rey Casino was about 50 miles south of Las Vegas in the much smaller town of Searchlight.

“After the mines dried up, I mean it really was almost a ghost town,” describes Andy Martello. “There was maybe 50 people in the entire town. About the only businesses that did survive were bars and casinos. There were actually a handful of casinos in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s out there.”

Willie Martello first set up shop in 1946 with a modest casino named after his favorite brand of beer, but it became more than a bar with a couple of slot machines. He put in table games and Searchlight’s first swimming pool. Esteemed chef Luigi Scirocco was lured away from Los Angeles.

To support this operation, a big step up from anything Searchlight had seen previously, Willie needed more than locals.

“People that were on their way to Las Vegas,” says Andy. “He took it upon himself – ‘I have to get people to stop. If all they do is stop for gas, maybe I can get them to gamble a little or buy a meal,’ or something to that effect.”

Searchlight may seem a bit off the beaten trail today, but before I-15,

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