By Michael Linder
The Great Venice Gambling Raids of 1948 hit smack in the middle of the Communist scare — in full swing and zeroing in on comic books, a subversive plot by Commies, corrupting youth with bosomy babes on pulpy pages.
So claimed the paranoid and easily-outraged as Red Menace panic spread, even though a squad of investigators dispatched by L.A. County Supervisors ten days after passage of an ordinance banning “lurid comics” couldn’t find any on Los Angeles magazine racks.
Still, the mere thought of Russki subversion prompted L.A.’s jittery City Council to axe 17 municipal workers who refused, for reasons all their own, to sign loyalty oaths.
And when blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, sentenced to a year in jail for dissing the House Un-American Activities Committee, was busted on a drunk charge in Venice — no one seemed surprised.
But Communists were not to blame for the Venice Menace — gambling! Cops swept in with a vengeance in late ‘48, knocking down 11 Bridgo parlors where folks paid good money to toss balls into a box, hoping to cash in.
The Fortune Bridgo joint on Ocean Front Walk at Market Street was among the targets as police flexed muscle and flashed badges, protecting the fragile morality of Angelenos in those quaint pre-lottery days.
Bridgo was about all Venice had going for it since the rickety old amusement pier was torn down in ‘46. A simple game: toss five balls into a bingo card-like grid, make ‘em land in a row to win. A game hatched by former Venice mayor William Fisk Harrah years earlier.
But fed up with City of Angels bluenoses, Harrah had cashed in, packed up, and moved to Reno where gambling was legal and casino history was made. Along his legacy, “Bridgo Row” as Hearst’s Herald Examiner called Ocean Front Walk, cops were in a tizzy.
“Bridgo is gambling, not a game of skill” bellowed LAPD investigator J. E. Hamilton who thrilled a packed Police Commission hearing room with his left-handed demonstration of how Bridgo balls bounced randomly into their numbered holes, proving his point to cheers from onlookers (who may well have been placing quiet side bets on J.E.’s proficiency).
Venice Bridgo was dealt a fatal blow and folks who’d won a few bucks in the tawdry beachfront casinos were forced to look elsewhere to scratch their lucky itch. Venice had been saved from iniquity.
For the moment.