In 1938, Meyer Lansky took his gambling services to Cuba. Fulgencio Batista, the handsome young sergeant who had made himself the strongman of Cuban politics five years earlier, wanted to boost the country's gaming revenues. Before the Depression, Havana's two casinos that were associated with Oriental Park, the city's racetrack had been meccas for rich American winter visitors. But now both the track and the casinos were doing badly, and it was Meyer Lansky's job to help put them straight.
The problem was partly the Depression - crooked stewards, races fixed, horses that were hyped or nobbled. American owners were becoming less and less inclined to risk their better thoroughbreds on the sea voyage to Havana, while no sensible bettor would chance his money with the track's bookies or with the local, Cuban casino dealers.
In January 1937, a new decree had transferred the bulk of Cuba's gambling operations from civil to military control, but the revenues had not lived up to Fulgencio Batista's expectations. So Lou Smith, the respected operator of several successful horse and dog tracks in New England, was offered a contract to clean up and operate the racing at Oriental Park. Smith - who, Meyer later recalled, "had no idea how to run a casino" - passed on the job of cleaning up the track's two casinos to his friend Meyer Lansky.
Lou Smith was one of a group of New England friends that Meyer had made through bootlegging and gambling. Joe Linsey had served time for an infringement of the Volstead Act. He was in the dog track business. Ben Gaines, born Ginsberg, was a hotelier. Moving to Boston for the sake of Buddy's medical treatment in the early 1930s had strengthened Meyer's links with the fraternity.
This copyrighted excerpt from "Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life" is reproduced here by kind permission of the author, Robert Lacey, and his publishers, Little, Brown, a division of Time Warner Inc.
An excerpt from Chapter 13 - Dance of the Millions
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