Back in Time: Gambling joint on Saratoga Lake busted in 1939

Police busted an illegal gambling operation in Saratoga Springs on the night before the 70th running

Categories: Life & Arts

Smart money in Saratoga Lake avoided Mother Kelly’s place on Friday, Aug. 18, 1939.

Police had seen the light. That meant nights of illegal blackjack, roulette and dice games were about to end.

Cops were busy enough that Friday — it was the night before the 70th running of the $3,000 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Springs’ famous course, and Johnstown, Eight Thirty and Sun Lover were among legal bets for the big race.

Some law enforcement men were walking the nocturnal beat in Saratoga Lake. Deputy Sheriffs Arthur Butler and Wesley DeVoe and Saratoga Springs Police Detective George H. West checked out the old, beat-up barn behind Mother’s night club, and saw a sliver of light inside. It seemed out of place.

The investigators couldn’t find anyone in the club who would accept responsibility for the structure. The club owner said he didn’t know anything about the joint. City Police Chief John J. A’Hearn was contacted for a consultation, and made a personal visit to the scene.

A’Hearn climbed a stepladder and said he saw a dice table through a crack in the wall. He roused Assistant District Attorney Patrick Keniry, who in turn roused Judge Robert Frasier at 1:15 a.m. A search warrant would help open the barn doors.

So would a hammer and pinch bar, but they didn’t work. Cops figured the door was locked from the inside, and decided to ram through the wood with a city truck. A secret casino was inside, complete with dice table, roulette wheel, blackjack table and gambling chips. About eight dome lights had been installed in the ceiling. A fan in the ceiling kept air moving.

All bets were off, especially when police removed all game equipment to the Saratoga County Courthouse in Ballston Spa. Cops probably turned off the barn lights — all of them — when they left.

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