Heritage, 2011, Volume 4 Page: 5
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However, these romantic places were not the major source
of the Maceos' wealth. Instead, one of the primary sources
of income came from the slot machines that the family
owned and had placed in most restaurants, bars, news-
stands, and tourist traps throughout the island and Galveston
County. The Maceo clan also made huge sums from the hid-
den bingo parlors, tip books, the numbers racket, and sports
betting that took place in the backs of newsstands and
under the bar at places like the Spot Tavern, the Imperial,
the Embassy, and the Pirate clubs.
The Maceos' fancy dinner clubs were just shy of being
loss leaders, revenue-wise, but their true mission was to
draw regional and statewide publicity, build the credibility
of Galveston's tourist industry, and bring crowds. This
strategy included luring the average Joes who came from
Houston, Dallas, and other nearby cities. The middle class
may not have frequented the pricey dinner clubs, but their
families came to the beach, and the men heading these
households would soon be feeding the slots and betting on
The Maceo family operated all of their businesses under
the umbrella of their Turf Athletic Club. There were no
stockholders; the Maceos owned 100 percent of the TAC
enterprise, and expansion of the family's businesses was lim-
ited to their combined personal wealth and credit.
The family's illicit businesses operated without licenses or
contracts. Should the citizens of the island ever feel that the
Maceos' entertainment venues were no longer welcome, a
report to the proper authorities of the family's illegal enter-
prises and demand that the laws be enforced was all that
would have been needed. But why didn't anyone make that
choice? Doing so would have meant that Brother Harold
Fickett's First Baptist Church and Father Dan O'Connell's
St. Mary's Cathedral, as well as one charity after another,
would no longer have the Maceo family to tap when they
needed a big contribution. It would also have put an end to
the enormous profits generated by gambling that were spent
by Maceo employees, who not only deposited their pay
locally, but also spent it on food, housing, and clothing
within the city. Additionally, Maceo family wealth was
banked and spent locally, and their children went to the
island's schools. All but Sam Maceo, who lived with his fam-
ily in a penthouse at the Hotel Galvez, had homes in the
The majority of ancillary businesses that gambling sup-
ported in Galveston was seasonal. Everything on the island
happened between the first weekend in May, called "Splash
Day" and the first Monday of September, Labor Day. As soon
as that holiday was over, many local businesses closed down
until the start of the next season. Consequently the major
portion of those who were employed by the casinos, restau-
rants, and beach amusements were itinerants, as were the
clientele of those establishments. For eight months out of the
year, these temporary workers were not in Galveston to
earn paychecks and spend them in the local stores.
Perhaps ironically, this seasonal business concept worked
well for Galveston. The Maceos knew they had to be on
the island, day in and day out, to protect their interests.
The clan also had to worry about public opinion and do
their best to be considered an asset to the city. And, as
such, they had to be benevolent.
Inevitably, though, the island economy began to suffer.
Local stores had been profitable, not because gamblers
brought them exceptional business, but because of the
inconvenience and expense for Galvestonians to drive to
downtown Houston to shop. However, when the Gulf
Freeway and Gulfgate Mall opened in the mid-1950s,
many islanders began to spend their money in Houston
stores. Frantically, local merchants put up "Shop
Galveston" billboards, but if this helped at all, it was mar-
ginal. The island's tourist and retail economies were hem-
orrhaging, and eventually the downtown shopping dis-
trict breathed its last breath, along with the bingo parlors
and gaming establishments.
While organized gambling began when Galveston was
first settled, just prior to the Civil War, the Maceo Era,
the period that those interested in the island's history
most want to hear about and discuss, was only around for
30 years. While relatively brief, Galveston's Maceo Days
were historically distinctive-never to be resurrected, but
Bill Cherry is an author of Bill Cherry's Galveston
Memories and The Night Owl; he was "born on the
island" [of Galveston] but now lives in Dallas.
All photographs are from the author's collection. Oppo-
site: Historic postcard of Beach Boulevard in Galveston.
This page: The interior of the Balinese Room, one of the
establishments owned by the Maceo family.
Volume 4 2011 ITEXASHERITAGE 5
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 4, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254223/m1/5/: accessed December 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.