December 19, 2020 – Texas restaurant mogul and NBA owner Tillman Fertitta’s family ran the mafia in Galveston during the first half of the 20th Century. Fertitta, 63, owns the Houston Rockets and is the star of CNBC’s Billion-Dollar Buyer reality television show.

His great-great uncles, Sam (The Velvet Glove) Maceo and Rosario (The Iron Glove) Maceo, lorded over the Galveston underworld from Prohibition until the 1950s and built a nationwide reputation for themselves as smart, resourceful and well- connected wiseguys. Fertitta’s grandfather, Vic Fertitta, owned one of the Maceos’ favorite haunts and along with his brother Anthony, helped manage the Maceo gambling network. Some of his cousins had links to the Kansas City mob.

Galveston was one of the country’s premier coastal resort towns and vacation destinations of its day and the Maceos turned the “Island” into a little Las Vegas in Southeast Texas before Las Vegas was even Las Vegas. They were instrumental in the development of the Las Vegas Strip in the 1940s and the birth of the modern gambling and entertainment mecca, too.

Sam was a smooth, politician-type mob figure, building a network of insiders, financiers and loyalists in multiple sectors of the community that rivaled any mafia boss in America at that time. Rosario, sometimes called “Papa Rose,” was a little more ruff around the edges and acted as his chief muscle, leading an enforcement unit known as the “Night Riders.” The crime syndicate they led controlled gambling, prostitution and drugs in the region and expanding as far as big-city outposts Dallas and Houston.

The Maceo brothers operated out of the Turf Athletic Club. Teaming with veteran Galveston gangland boss Ollie Quinn of the Beach Gang, the Maceos opened-up the Hollywood Dinner Club on the property and then The Balinese Room nearby on a pier overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Quinn mentored the Maceos in the ways of the mob. The Fertittas were put in charge of The Balinese Club.

The Hollywood Dinner Club was mainly used as a casino, while The Balinese Room became the top entertainment venue in the area, hosting acts like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, George Burns and the Marx Brothers, but also contained a casino inside. The Texas Rangers shut down the Hollywood Dinner Club in 1939. Two years prior, Sam Maceo was busted in a federal narcotics case out of New York City that he beat at trial.

The Maceos took a good chunk of their illicit profits and pumped the dirty cash into clean businesses like investments in oil and real estate. Together, they were two of the first financiers for the Desert Inn hotel, just the fifth resort-style casino to open what became known as The Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard, in the spring of 1950. Monies coming in from the Cleveland and Detroit mafia families was also invested.

Sam Maceo died of cancer in 1951. Papa Rose was felled by heart failure three years later in 1954, having turned over most of the Maceo brothers rackets to the Fertitta family. Anthony Fertitta made a name for himself as an ace lieutenant of the Maceos by personally escorting representatives from Chicago’s Al (Scarface) Capone mob off the Island on a scouting trip in the early 1930s.

Tillman Fertitta grew up in Galveston. He began his food empire in the 1980s, founding Landry, Inc., which today owns Morton Steakhouse, Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse (named after his uncle and grandfather), Saltgrass Steakhouse, Del Friscos, McCormick & Schmick’s, Mitchell Fish Market and Landry’s Seaford chains. In 2005, Fertitta purchased the Golden Nugget hotel and casino chain with outposts in Nevada, New Jersey, Mississippi and Louisiana. He outbid singer and actress Beyonce Knowles, a Houston native, for the Rockets in a 2017 buy.

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