FAST FACTS: S.S. Rex – Santa Monica Bay’s Gambling Ship

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — Anyone in Southern California who has an itch to play cards, roll the dice, place a bet on a sporting event or partake in any other form of organized gambling can drive up the 15 or catch a flight to Las Vegas. There was a time, however, when card players and gamblers would board a boat or water taxi and navigate a few miles west to S.S. Rex.

Anthony Cornero, who was nicknamed “The Admiral,” operated S.S. Rex as a gambling ship just off the Southern California coast in the 1930s. “All the thrills of Rivera, Biarritz, Monte Carlo and Cannes ‘surpassed’” was the tagline used in S.S. Rex’s newspaper advertisements.

Patrons would board a craft at Santa Monica Pier and cruise over to S.S. Rex. Water taxi service, offered at 25 cents per round trip ride, was offered 24 hours per day. The gambling ship would anchor just beyond the 3-mile limit.

Cornero later moved S.S. Rex several miles south to Redondo Beach, in a reported attempt to dodge authorities from shutting down his operation. The raids still came, however, eventually forcing Cornero to relocate S.S. Rex beyond the 12-mile limit in the Catalina Channel.

Business dropped off, however, forcing Cornero to bring his gambling ship back to the Santa Monica area. Cornero’s return proved to be a bad gamble, however, as California Attorney General Earl Warren – instead of the Los Angeles County District Attorney in previous instances – led the long arm of the law across Santa Monica Bay and into Cornero’s operations.

Southern California’s residents and visitors, obviously, haven’t experienced formalized offshore gambling vessels in local waters since.

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