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JULY 2017
horse-betting parlor in the state during the
Depression, generating so much business
that it was often referred to as the “Tip Book
Capital of the United States.”
This was despite a raid by the Texas Rangers
in 1935, which did the opposite of deterring
the Maceos and instead led them to revamp
the club and enhance it with a legitimate
façade. A new supper club was added called
the Turf Grill, and the second floor was
opened up and transformed into the Studio
Lounge, sleek and gleaming with modern
interior fashion.
For nearly two decades the Turf Athletic
Club thrived, until any form of leadership
within the Free State of Galveston was
dissolved with the death of Sam in 1951
and then Rose in 1954. From that point,
the remaining vested interests in their
enterprises chose to lease the properties
and businesses instead of running them as
a cohesive unit. This created a disjointed
network that weakened popular opinion,
which ultimately led to the infiltration of the
Texas Rangers and the inevitable demise of
Galveston’s alternative economy in 1957.
The last tangible memory of Turf Athletic
Club would place its final bet against the
sands of time, a bet that would be called in
ten years later by First Hutchings and Sealy
Bank and their bulldozers. In 1968, 2216
Market was demolished along with the rest
of the 2200 block of Market Street to make
way for a display of architectural dominance
that would forever affect the cityscape of
downtown Galveston.
providing families with extra income and the Maceos with a discreet and low profile
employee—rarely would anyone suspect that a schoolboy with a sack lunch was
actually carrying thousands of dollars in cash.
Already more than ten years into establishing Galveston’s vice economy, brothers
Sam and Rose Maceo chartered a private corporation on August 6, 1932 along with
a handful of other local partners. Ollie Quinn, the leader of the Beach Gang whose
Prohibition era activities provided the brothers’ initial entrance into the bootlegging
business, allowed the use of his old DeLuxe club to establish Turf Athletic Club.
The name itself conveyed the Maceo’s aim to create a big-city gambling scene in
Galveston—it hearkened to the dirt and sod combination used in dog- and horse-
racing tracks and was a widely used name for large gambling clubs in New York City.
Initially, the front half of the club housed slot machines and the back half was a pool
hall that led into another hidden building in the alleyway that hosted a twenty-four-
hour sports book.
Behind the ticket window were twelve to fifteen men dressed in crisp white
shirts, black ties, and black slacks who handled the exchanges in front of massive
billboards that listed baseball scores, race results, and betting odds. From the pit,
the bookies would also take phone bets any time of the day, provide security, and
perform credit checks for gamblers at both TAC and the Balinese.
When races and games were live, gamblers would sit and listen to the radio.
The remainder of the time, the operation was driven by the pleasing clatter of a
technological advancement usurped by betting establishments all over the nation to
provide instantaneous results of sporting events from all over the country.
A wire ticker-tape system that connected two hundred cities in thirty-five states
was born from the information monopoly of a man named Moses L. Annenberg.
His Nationwide News Service was supplemented by hardware from the American
Telegraph and Telephone Company. “As a result of the racing wire, the TAC most
successfully harnessed the gambling energy in Galveston.”
Apart from the bookie bets, another popular gambling game among patrons of
the club was a simple tip-book operation. A tip-book with exactly one hundred and
twenty pages was passed around, and betters would tear out pages for ten cents
apiece. When all the pages were pulled, a winner was called who would claim
eighty percent of the pot for a ten to two dollar split with the club.
At any given time in the back room of Turf Athletic Club, the air was a sea of
cigarette and cigar smoke, tinged with the stench of hard liquor, and the floor was a
nearly solid white expanse of paper racing forms and tip pulls. It became the biggest
Hutchings-Sealy Bank building side view from 22nd Street